Jane Yuan is what those in the business world call an overnight success story — a woman who had the right (delicious) idea at the right time. An idea that when combined with her love for natural foods + business smarts + loads of hard work became Simple & Crisp. Jane’s artisanal dried fruit crisps are handcrafted in Seattle, where all of the fruit is farmed sustainably and much is sourced from her own "backyard". Today, she tells us about her entrepreneurial path, how it felt when she landed products on the shelves of her "dream retailer" Whole Foods Market and her favorite Simple & Crisp pairing (hint: it involves cheese)!
Tell us — how was Simple & Crisp was conceived? Did you stumble upon the idea? And when did you realize you created something unlike anything else in the market?
I never would have imagined myself doing what I do today even three years ago. I feel as if Simple & Crisp found me. It was a kitchen hobby turned dinner party hit turned consumer packed product in nine months. It all started with the inspiration of dehydrating oranges when I tasted a dried orange confection at a restaurant in LA. It was so tasty, but what I loved most was the way it looked, so I wanted to make my own version at home. It was important to me to maintain the natural beauty and keep it simple — I didn’t want to add complicated ingredients or chop the fruit into pieces. I wanted to highlight the beauty and simplicity of nature in each slice. I also wanted to have the slices thin and the texture crisp and the flavor natural, not sweet. I began drying everything: apples, pears, grapefruit, kiwi, lemons, limes and more, but my favorite was the oranges, apples and pears. I would serve my fruit crisps at my dinner parties and pair them with cheese and ice cream, which not only added beauty to everything, but it paired well too! That’s when I began to wonder why there wasn’t anything like it on the market. Why wasn’t there elegant dried fruit? I felt like it was an idea that found me.
You are based in an area where you have access to lots of incredible, seasonal produce. How important is to you — and to the business — to source fruit that is grown in a sustainable, responsible manner?
Being based in Seattle, we are lucky to have access to the best apples and pears in the world. We source from growers that are sustainable and responsible in their practices because it’s important to us to maintain the highest quality standards in all aspects of our business. Not only do we value quality, sustainability and integrity for ourselves and our customers, but we work with many premium retailers as well as Whole Foods Market US and Canada, who have high standards for products.
We know Whole Foods Market maintains the strictest quality standards in the industry, so we’re sure it feels like an immense honor for your product to be carried among the finest natural and organic foods available! Can you describe the moment you found out when Simple & Crisp would be carried in their stores nationwide?
I feel so lucky to have Whole Foods Market as our retail partner — they were my dream retailer when I first started my journey. They’re the leaders in setting the bar when it comes to natural foods and have the highest standards for their products. They also place immense value on local producers. My initial journey into Whole Foods Market was with Denise Breyley, their forager for the pacific northwest region. She met with me and helped me refine my product and gave me the opportunity to share Simple & Crisp with regional buyers, my first big customers. Our biggest break came when Simple & Crisp was featured at the Cypress Grove Cheese booth at the Fancy Foods Show in San Francisco. Cathy Strange, the global cheese buyer for Whole Foods Market had a bite of our fruit crisps with Cypress Grove’s delicious chèvre and the rest as they say is history! A little over a year after launching our company, we were on a new national journey with Whole Foods Market, and it changed our path forever. We’re so excited for the road ahead. Not only has Whole Foods Market given us the opportunity to be on a national platform, but we're also fortunate enough to be part of their Local Producer Loan Program, where they provide low interest loans to small batch producers like Simple & Crisp. They are a supportive retailer and I feel honored to be carried in their markets nationwide and in Canada.
Are there any hidden health benefits to eating dried fruit (besides that it is indeed fruit)?
You can never go wrong with eating too much Simple & Crisp. It’s all fiber and antioxidants! What I love most it that you can pair it with cheese and the fiber of the fruit helps your body process and break down the cheese. It’s much healthier than a cracker! Kids love snacking on Simple & Crisp and parents love it for their kids, since it gives them something to crunch on (and they don’t realize it’s healthy for them). It’s a fun and easy way to get more fruit into their diet.
We love your pairings matrix on the website! Will you share a few of your favorite recipes?
I love cheese! My favorite pairings are sharp cheddar with our apples, since the tartness of the apple sharpens the cheddar. I also love brie on our oranges with a dab of fruit preserve — it’s like marmalade with cheese. And I love blue cheese with pear. The natural sweetness of the fruit pairs perfectly with the saltiness of the cheese. Just add a glass of Chardonnay to these cheese pairings and you’re set!
What has been your proudest achievement as a small business owner thus far?
I’m proud that I’ve been able to take an idea and have it come to fruition. I also feel proud that I’ve created (and am pioneering) a new category of “crackers.” Innovating dried fruit and disrupting crackers was never my intention, but it happened to turn out that way. But most importantly, I’m proud that I’ve been able to introduce a new concept of eating, where the “fruit crisp” can be everything from a cracker alternative to an elegant garnish. It’s the perfect pairing from savory cheeses to sweets to cocktails. I look back at our last two years and feel like we’ve accomplished a lot. I can’t wait for what’s next!
* We'd love to know, what local treasure have you discovered at Whole Foods Market?
This post was sponsored by Whole Foods Market, America's Healthiest Grocery Store.