Earlier this year, I wrote a review about The Good Bean’s Sweet Cinnamon Chickpea Snacks. I liked them so much that I reached out to the company to conduct an interview. Below is part of a phone conversation with The Good Bean CEO, Sarah Wallace. Sarah was nice enough to chat with me and share some info about the company, flavors to look forward to, and basically make me hungry for more of her tasty products.
Dairy-Free State: I know that you’ve done a lot of food marketing in the past. What made you decide to break out on your own and start The Good Bean?
Sarah Wallace: I was a brand consultant and did a lot of brand building. I just helped craft these brands from the ground up and I got to see the excitement that was part of the process of building these brands [like Kashi, Barenaked Granola, and Pop Chips] and bringing them to market.
So, I just really wanted to do something on my own…that was healthy and substantive and also something connected to my own roots. I grew up in India and I grew up eating these roasted chickpeas as an after-school snack. It seemed like such a great snack and so full of nutrition, and yet, so satisfying.
Also, I noticed that people were roasting their own chickpeas here in town but nobody was doing it in the marketplace, so it seemed like a really good opportunity and a good interesting product to bring to the market.
DFS: So you picked chickpeas over other types of snacks because you grew up with them, but there’s a lot of other health benefits for chickpeas, too, right?
SW: Absolutely, yes. They are incredibly healthy, just ridiculously incredibly healthy.
DFS: And your chickpeas have more fiber than a normal chickpea that you would find in a hummus or something like that?
SW: All chickpeas are good for you, basically, and our chickpeas have a great deal of fiber and protein, something you would have in a hummus. But the nice thing, too, is that our chickpeas, we just roast them, so there’s very little oil involved.
Hummus is nice, but I think people like crunchy, salty snacks, and there was really nothing I could find in the marketplace other than nuts, which are full of fat, that have that kind of crunchy, salty, almost like junk food kind of factor that were actually good for you.
Especially gluten-free snacks. I mean, a lot of gluten-free snacks don’t really have a lot of nutrition, if you think about gluten-free crackers or gluten-free chips. I really wanted to bring something to the market that was gluten-free and nut-free but also had a lot of nutrition and wasn’t just a manufactured process[ed food].
DFS: I mean that’s why I was really drawn to them. I found them on Spencer’s Market and I thought they were really unique. I bought the Sweet Cinnamon ones and I thought they were really delicious.
SW: Oh, I’m so glad!
DFS: So it’s just kind of the nature of the chickpea that it ended up fitting with a lot of people who have things like gluten and nut allergies?
SW: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it just happens to be naturally gluten-free and nut-free and also is full of nutrition and has a low glycemic index. It’s just such a great, simple, humble food that has so much nutrition in it.
We don’t have to add things, and you know, these days, there’s so much functional food out there, especially in nutrition bars, just adding all these extra vitamins and minerals and omegas and DHAs and this and that and the other. We don’t have to do anything to the beans, and the beans speak for themselves nutritionally. We just make them taste good by adding flavor.
DFS: What’s your favorite product that you’ve come out with?
SW: Wow, that’s a hard question. I would have to say, the smoky chili is probably my favorite flavor because I like spicier things, and so for me the smoky chili is a really nice product. It’s also really nice as a snack when you’re having a cold drink or something. And also putting them in a salad.
I mean, I really like putting all of our products on as toppings. For example, the cinnamon that you like is a great gluten-free and nut-free granola. It has so much nutrition…granola is delicious and everybody loves it, but it’s not really that good for you.
The sea salt is great in salads, the pepper is really great with tuna salad, just a super topping. I think it’s a product that could be in your pantry, as well as a snack that you have in your car or your gym bag.
DFS: Yeah, I saw the suggestion on the back of the sweet cinnamon that it would be good in ice cream, but it didn’t make it past my desk, so…
SW: Right, that’s great!
DFS: Yeah. So, your foods are free of GMOs and hexane and are fair trade, and all of those great things. What kind of steps did The Good Bean have to take to receive all of the certifications that they did?
SW: We get every batch tested for all of these allergens and for gluten-free status, so we have a very very low, less than 3 particles per million (ppm) gluten presence in our products because it is naturally gluten-free and nothing we use in our products has any gluten in it.
As far as being a non-GMO product, chickpeas are naturally non-GMO, so there are some products in the world like soy and corn and tomatoes that are genetically modified and so they need certification to say that this particular breed of soy or corn isn’t genetically modified. But in chickpeas, there is no chickpea in the world that is genetically modified, and naturally it’s a non-GMO item.
And we make sure that everything we put on the chickpea, everything we use to roast it or everything that we use as spices or seasonings are all 100% certified non-GMO from our suppliers.
DFS: That’s really interesting. I didn’t know that about chickpeas.
SW: There’s this huge thing right now about GMOs and not having GMOs in your food and that’s great, but the thing that I think people don’t realize is that not all foods are GMO foods. Most foods are not GMO foods and that’s good for them to stay that way, but we don’t need a certification on a chickpea for it to be a non-GMO food. It doesn’t exist in any other form, so it’s naturally non-GMO.
DFS: What steps do you take to lead a healthy lifestyle?
SW: The main thing that I do to lead a healthy lifestyle…is that I actually cook 90% of my food that I eat. More than 90%, 99%. I love to cook and that helps, of course, and I live in Berkeley, which is a great place with the most fantastic produce from farmers markets and great stores, and so, I pretty much cook every day.
And, I happen to love leafy greens and just really humanely raised proteins. I don’t try to diet or…take lots of supplements or flax this and chia that, I just eat healthy food all the time that I make. I don’t ever by frozen foods, ever. I don’t ever buy pre-packaged meals of any kind, ever. And it’s not even a healthy choice as much as it’s an aesthetic choice. I like food too much to have it be packaged for me.
I’m just one of those people that exercises and eats good foods, and I don’t go all crazy about it. I’m pretty moderate: I enjoy a glass of wine now and then, that’s not a problem. I do not eat desserts, that’s just one thing I don’t ever do, ever.
DFS: Oh, that would be hard for me. I cook a lot of dairy-free baked goods and things.
SW: Yeah, I love to make desserts. I just don’t personally eat them. I just make them for other people.
DFS: Oh yeah. Generally my rule is that I’ll leave two cookies at home and bring the rest to work and pawn the rest off on my co-workers.
SW: That’s a good way to do it.
DFS: If you could describe The Good Bean in a sentence, what would that sentence be?
SW: Probably that it is the perfect high-protein, high-fiber snack for every body. I’m using the word “everybody” in a bit of a pun that it’s a really simple food and it’s food that everybody can have. It’s not particularly elite or fancy, it’s just the perfect bean. We didn’t want our food to be so good for you that it wasn’t fun anymore, and we think The Good Bean is actually fun to eat, I mean, I would eat it even if it wasn’t good for me. But it happens to be good for me.
DFS: What’s your office culture like?
SW: It’s very relaxed and casual. We have a really beautiful big loft space in Berkeley that we work out of. We’re a very simple company. I mean, we like each other and we’re not too corporate about anything. I’ve worked in that culture for a long time and I knew I didn’t want that for our company and so, you know, people get to dress however they want and everybody’s really close and it’s really slack.
We’re a small company, we’re still new, so there’s no big hierarchy, there’s no walls in our office, everybody just works out of the main place. When we’re trying out new flavors or doing taste tasting, everyone in the office comes together and we all taste test everything and all give our opinion.
DFS: Where are your products currently sold?
SW: Our bars are sold at Whole Foods nationwide, except for Florida, and our snacks are sold in a lot of natural independent stores all over the country. We’re sold on Amazon, of course, and again, we’re a new company. We’re getting new distributions every day, literally…We just got accepted at World Market so that’s going to be a nice location for us.
DFS: Outside of your products, what do you like making with chickpeas?
SW: This is the funny thing…my friends make fun of me because I cook with chickpeas all the time, and you would think that I’m sick of them, but I’m not. I’m Indian, so I make a lot of Indian spiced chickpeas. I also make a lot of chickpea pancakes, believe it or not. I stay away from most carbs and most gluten. Not because I have allergies, just because I find them not to be as nutritious and healthy.
DFS: Any plans on offering new flavors or new products in the future?
SW: Lots of plans. We just actually were at the Natural Products Expo which is a big industry trade show for us. We just launched three new flavors at the show that are not in stores yet but will be soon. We just launched chocolate flavor, mesquite barbecue, and Thai coconut lemon flavor.
DFS: Those all sound delicious. Are they all dairy-free?
SW: They’re all dairy-free. Our entire line of snack foods are vegan.
(Note: Dairy-free folks, the bars are not dairy-free, but all snacks are safe!)
DFS: Awesome, because they all sound really good.
SW: Yeah, very good. And we’re also gonna be actually doing larger bags with Ziploc so it can be more of a pantry staple rather than just being a snack that you buy and eat.
DFS: Is there anything else that you want anyone to know about The Good Bean? Any final thoughts?
SW: Generally, I just want to say that The Good Bean and chickpeas in general are just a really healthy food that people should really think about. And, I think people in America are really trained to eat a lot of sugar and salt and not find things tasty when they’re processed if they don’t have that level of sugar and salt, and I just think that it’s not necessary. Food can be delicious when it’s nutritious. I would love for everyone to just eat better food and not just people who shop at fancy markets. I would like everybody, anyone at a corner store to be able to eat healthy and delicious food. That’s kind of the goal of The Good Bean.