How women-owned Skinny Dipped Almonds started on a dining-room table and a shoestring.
Breezy Griffith and her mom, Val Griffith, stopped at a Starbucks on a long car trip and got some chocolate-covered almonds. “And we thought to ourselves: Why does there have to be so much chocolate on a chocolate-covered almond?” she says.
It sounds random — one of a million road-trip conversations that get left in the middle of nowhere — but not long afterward, in 2014, they were hand-dipping individual almonds with a fork, the dining-room table covered in hundreds of them drying. (“Think this is scalable?” is the caption one of them wrote for a snapshot of the industrious scene, a small chandelier a blaze of light above.)
Many setbacks ensued; many things were learned the hard way. But now Skinny Dipped Almonds are available at 1,500 stores across the U.S., including Whole Foods, PCC, Bartell and more.
“We didn’t know anything when we started,” Griffith admits. The initial budget was $5,000 from her parents’ savings. Along the way, her two best friends, Lizzie Resta (whom she met in preschool) and Chrissy Haller (a former roommate), joined her and her mom on the project. None of them had a business background, much less any experience with packaged snacks, but, they thought, why not work with the people you love?
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Griffith tells how, before the road-trip inspiration, the company was shaped by a tragedy. She’d moved to New York (where, among other things, she made sorbet to sell at farmers’ markets). Back here in Seattle, her little sister’s “first boyfriend-slash-best friend in the world,” Josh Dickerson, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. He continued playing baseball for O’Dea High School throughout his illness (you may remember a Seattle Times profile of him). “He was just a bright star,” Griffith says. “Like no one I’d ever met.” She flew back over and over to be a part of what she calls an incredible support network. Dickerson’s death just after his 18th birthday underscored, indelibly, the preciousness of time and the importance of family.
“That just changed us forever,” Griffith says. “And we thought, jeez, we’re already a close family, but let’s find a way to spend more time together.”
The notion of work that would bring Griffith back to Seattle and bring them closer together, long-term — a family business — was hatched. The fateful road trip happened. They arrived at the perfect formula for the lightly chocolate-coated almond.
Griffith acknowledges that almost everyone thinks their mom is the best cook, but she insists her mom’s “palate is unreal,” and says that’s driven the Skinny Dipped Almonds R&D.
They use fair-trade, ethically produced dark chocolate; the almonds are free of the propylene oxide that’s used to pasteurize 90 percent of them in the U.S. and is also found in jet fuel. The almonds are roasted for a rich, toasty flavor, and they’re dipped in an organic maple sugar glaze, giving them a crispy layer that, once you know it’s there, seems like a tiny stroke of genius on each nut. (“No one wants to bite into a squishy almond,” Griffith correctly observes.) Then there’s the chocolate coating, plus an all-natural finish of powdered cocoa, espresso or raspberry (which even those who scorn fruit-flavored chocolate confections may find delicious).
The first setback came when snack manufacturers told them it was categorically impossible to put such a thin coating on a nut. Dining-room table, maybe; mass production, no. The first stroke of luck came when Griffith found an artisan chocolatier on “an esoteric chocolate blog” and tracked him down for a consult; he happened to be in Seattle, and he happened to think it was possible to thin-coat a nut. He’s since gone from making 10-pound batches of Skinny Dipped Almonds to operating the 10,000-square-foot Monroe production facility.
Packaging presented the next challenge. There aren’t really resources for those looking to break into the snack game, so Skinny Dipped Almonds was making it up along the way. Griffith’s mom, Resta and some interns designed the logo and the bags, but the number of nuts they were dealing with was, in terms of the industry, a joke. Griffith found herself in Spokane, begging a snack packager to help them out. “I pleaded with him, ‘Please, can you please package 20 pounds of product for us?’ ” This was a guy who dealt in pounds by the millions, but he did it.
Then there was distribution. Griffith carried samples everywhere and gave them to everyone; they shopped Skinny Dipped Almonds door to door, store by store. Ken’s Market on Phinney Ridge was one of their first stops. They asked if they could put some by the cash register. “He was like, ‘Oh, great, I’ll take three boxes,’ ” Griffith says. “We were like, ‘Awesome! We have them in the car.’ ”
They even did their own trucking in the beginning, with Griffith and Haller getting a 23-foot rental to drive a load of nuts over to Spokane for packaging. The pallets in the back of the truck weren’t tied down, and when they opened it halfway there, nuts had spilled everywhere. They had to clean out the truck themselves, and all the nuts had to be thrown away. “It was every cent that we had in the bank. It was everything … But we were able to come back from it,” Griffith says. “We scraped together a few thousand dollars, we did it again — we learned.”
Griffith’s dad drove out to help them that day, and she hastens to note that he and other men in their lives — her boyfriend, Haller and Resta’s husbands — have been of great help. Early on, Griffith offered a stranger at a restaurant a sample in a Ziploc bag. He loved the nuts. “I remember him asking me a lot of questions that I pretended I knew how to answer with the utmost confidence,” she says. He turned out to be high up at Vitaminwater, and he became both a mentor and an early investor.
But, Griffith says, “We’re women-owned and women-run, and really proud of that.” They make collaborative decisions, relying on the group’s instincts; they know when to ask for help. “We had to be really scrappy and resourceful,” she says. They’ve now secured venture-capital funding, very little of which, she points out, goes to women-owned businesses; one goal is to give back to other female entrepreneurs in the future.
“It’s funny,” Griffith muses, “along the way, we have been told many times by men, ‘This is how you’ve got to do it.’ But I think we’re doing it pretty well.”
By the end of the year, she anticipates Skinny Dipped Almonds will be in 4,000 stores. They’ve brought on some males in sales. And the packager in Spokane who gave them a chance just sent her an email the other day, Griffith says. “He said, ‘Congratulations. I remember when you brought 20 pounds to me, and I just sent you full truckloads back.’ ”
They’re just now looking for a PR firm, preferably women-run. Feel free to get in touch, Griffith says, if you know one.