Skeeter Nut Free

With big contracts, this Jacksonville snack company is seeing business go nuts

July 23, 2015 in

Three years ago, two dads who had been friends since college were frustrated by what they saw as a lack of wholesome and fun treats that would appeal to their nut-allergic kids.

That frustration led them to create Skeeter Snacks, a startup baked snacks company focused on nut-free treats.

With no real previous business experience, the founders started a round of friends and family fundraising, then expanded their capital raise out into the investment community they had ties with in their native Northeast.

And they grew.

This past year, Skeeter Snacks, now based in Jacksonville, delivered 25 million servings of its nut-free grahams and cookies last year, including to customers like JetBlue Airways and the New York City Public Schools. The bagged snacks, made with wholesome ingredients in a nut-free manufacturing facility in upstate New York, tap into the growing demand for tasty treats for kids who are both allergic to nuts as well as group situations (birthday parties, school trips, after-school practices, etc.) catering to mixed crowds of children.

National estimates put the number of children in the U.S. with some for of nut allergies at about 2 million, or about one child in every classroom.

Much of the growth of the business can be attributed to the founders’ decision 18 months ago to hire Larry Appel, a former Winn-Dixie corporate executive, to handle day-to-day operations as chief executive officer of the company. Appel, who lives in Jacksonville, hired talented senior officers he knew from his days at Winn-Dixie to help him run the company.

The company recently earned an “A-plus” rating from a leading school food program trade group and has done a good job of capturing that market, with their pouches on cafeteria lines in school districts across the country as well as in the KinderCare franchise of early-learning centers.

The baked goods are sold in boxes on the shelves of retail outlets from Stop & Shop to Safeway, and Appel has plans to increase their market presence.

“Our goal is to be the No. 1 brand in the nut-free market,” said Appel.

With tripled sales over the last year, Skeeter Snacks is now considered an “early-growth company,” according to Appel.

The Business Journal asked Appel to share his top three tips for ways to smartly scale a business:

1. It’s all about the people. Pick a good team and surround yourself with great people.

2. Be focused and know that when you’re still small you can’t do everything. Pick 3 or 4 things instead of 10 to do, but do them really, really well.

3. Don’t be afraid to think big. Our founders always said we could be on JetBlue, and here we are.