The Making of A #BetterBoxedCereal
I started Seven Sundays with one mission: clean up the cereal aisle. I believe that the way you start your day matters. When we eat well in the mornings, we rise and shine for the world the whole rest of the day. This is even more obvious now observing our kids.
Before Seven Sundays, and before discovering muesli in New Zealand, Brady and I ate a lot of traditional breakfast foods. Both of us had grown up on boxed cereal and we had agreed upon an adult version that was “not that bad for us.” I won’t call it out by name, but let’s just say it has two (I repeat, TWO!) scoops of raisins. I recently looked it up and this unnamed cereal has 18g of sugar per serving, a LOT considering its perception as one of the healthier boxed cereals. And let’s face it - most cereals are so much worse - full of empty calories and long lists of highly processed, low cost ingredients. We lived in New York back then, and most days I’d be tired and hungry again by the time I got off the subway near my Midtown office.
Earlier this year, we set out to create a better boxed cereal. In true Seven Sundays style, we had a lot of passion and little-to-no experience. I had a strict set of guidelines: this cereal had to be free of refined sugars, artificial flavors and natural flavors (yes, there is weird stuff in natural flavors too). It also had to be allergen-friendly (grain free, gluten free and nut free). Lastly, it had to have a good amount of plant-based protein so that it keeps you going all morning like our muesli does instead of quickly crashing.
Our idea of new product innovation does not happen in a laboratory wearing white coats, it happens from the ground up - literally - standing in the dirt under the hot sun brainstorming with farmers and food processors. This is what we found ourselves doing earlier this year, standing at least one sunflower plant apart from each other. The setting is the quaint Central Minnesota town of Pierz, and the backdrop is a blooming Sunflower field. Smude’s makes a beautiful golden cold-pressed oil from these sunflower seeds. And out there in Pierz, masked up and with kids in tow, an idea was sparked, meaningful conversations were had, and a new sustainable sunflower protein was brought back to the test kitchen.
What makes sunflower protein sustainable? First, we need to talk about regenerative farming. We go right to the source for our knowledge of soil health and farming practices. We have learned so much from our regenerative organic farmers like Whole Grain Milling (Welcome, MN), Grassway Farms (Maynard, IA) and A-Frame Farms (Madison, MN). In a recent conversation with Luke Peterson of A-Frame Farms, Luke boiled it down for me, “The key to regenerative farming is crop diversity. Diversity puts resilience back into our food system, benefitting the soil, animals, and people along the way.” Having a market for rotational crops like buckwheat, seeds and small grains is key for more farmers to adopt regenerative practices which in turn builds the health of soils, sequesters carbon, and grows more topsoil for future generations.
Sunflower seeds are particularly beneficial in the Midwest and Great Plains states. They are native to this area and non-GMO, naturally drought-resistant, great for pollinators (this was confirmed on our visit to Smude’s! 🐝 ), and they have deep tap roots that help draw up nutrients to the top soil from deep in the soil profile. Smude’s source their sunflower seeds from local farmers and have substantially grown the acres of Sunflower fields on the landscape in Minnesota.
Smude’s is left with a solid byproduct from the oil pressing process which has historically been wasted or picked up by local farmers for animal feed. With some additional milling, sifting and testing (and serious convincing) they were able to upcycle this protein and fiber rich byproduct into a quality food-grade sunflower flour. Then with the help of a local, family-owned cereal processor in central Minnesota, we were able to create our new sunflower cereal.
From there, we called on many of our long-time partners – like Woodspur Farms who turns California-grown Medjool dates into a dark, rich date syrup – to naturally sweeten our new cereal with fruit. And Van Drunen Farms who makes vibrant freeze-dried strawberries and blueberries to naturally color and flavor our cereal using real fruit instead of artificial colors or flavors. We also made some new friends like Lutsen, Minnesota-based Sawtooth Mountain Maple Syrup to source a beautiful pure maple syrup and Wildly Organic in Silver Bay, Minnesota for coconut oil and coconut sap sugar.
So it is with a little grit and a lot help from these local suppliers that we are beyond proud and excited to announce the launch of our new Grain Free Sunflower Cereal, in three flavors – Real Cinnamon, Real Cocoa and Real Berry. Made with plant-based, Midwest grown, upcycled sunflower protein. Miraculously, the cereal meets all my guidelines: no refined sugar, gluten free, grain free. And the best part? It is subtly sweet and with a strong crunch so it satisfies my boxed cereal craving. Oh and my kids love it too, especially Emry, who was there with us on that ground-breaking day in Pierz. His favorite is the Cocoa and I feel good feeding it to him (sometimes several times per day!).
Our Sunflower Cereal hits shelves at all Whole Foods stores nationwide this month and will soon be available on our website and on Amazon (good things take time). Check it out, and if you see me in the cereal aisle proudly admiring and straightening our boxes, please say hi!