SAN DIEGO — Sydney Chasin has been eating gluten-free since she was 7. That meant she couldn’t grab just any bread or munch on just any kind of store-bought treat.
She described it as a time “well before gluten-free is what gluten-free is today,” so she started experimenting in her family’s kitchen with healthy snacks that actually tasted good.
This life-long craving for better-tasting, gluten-free snacks and a proclivity for business, led the 26-year-old entrepreneur to start her own snack company called Chasin’ Dreams Farms.
Her product “Tiny Pops” are hand-held packs of crunchy sorghum, an ancient grain that is air popped and comes in three different flavors — sweet and salty, cinnamon and cocoa. A handful of these look like mini-popcorn and taste like munching on a nutty flavored rice cake, which can be eaten on their own or as a topping.
These tiny treats earned Chasin a first-place win and a $20,000 grant last month from the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest — a national competition that had a record of more than 18,000 entries. She plans on using the grant to help fund inventory as well as amplify the company’s online presence — the first prize also comes with services to help her business audit its Search Engine Optimization, sustainability and marketing.
Additionally, she was the contest’s “Entrepreneur Choice Award winner,” a recognition appointed by previous contest winners and small-business owners. This award is based on a variety of factors from product uniqueness to whether the business has a positive impact on the environment or community.
Chasin officially launched the company in 2018. But first, she took out a credit card with a $5,000 limit and the mindset of using the bare minimum to start her business.
She was working at a restaurant in New York City and after her shifts, she’d come back to her Brooklyn apartment to make prototypes of the sorghum snack. Her mentality was to take it step by step from incorporating the business to creating a solid prototype to show investors something real down the line.
“I think one of the biggest drivers is that I wanted to be an entrepreneur and be a creative and do all these things,” she said of charting a path outside of a corporate job. “And, the restaurant job was a means to an end that could enable me to follow that dream.”
In the United States, sorghum is a cereal crop used in animal feed, ethanol production and for human consumption according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. It can be steamed, popped or used as a flour replacement for the specific market of people who eat gluten-free food.
There are companies that use sorghum in crackers, chips and even offer popped sorghum snacks. But Chasin said the differentiator for her snack is that it is air-popped without oil and she offers sweet flavors with a super-thin, crunchy coating.
The brightly colored packaging of each Chasin’ Dreams snack boasts a mouthful of health-food phrases such as gluten-free, plant based, non-GMO, whole grain, corn-free and no corn syrup.
This vision to create a “better-for-you” snack company is what relocated her to San Diego a couple of years ago. Chasin said San Diego is a great place to launch a brand, be in a community of natural products entrepreneurs and connect with Southern Californians who have a reputation for caring about health and wellness.
While there aren’t acres of sorghum crops growing in the backyard of her Pacific Beach apartment — she sources it from Kansas — there is a real place called Chasin Dreams Farms.
It’s where Chasin grew up in Barnesville, Md., a small town of approximately 150 people. That’s where she was raised by her mom, an artist who bred Shetland ponies, and her father, who was a race car driver and a software engineer.
“It was a really magical place that inspired innovation and creativity from simplicity, and it just wasn’t your average farm,” she said. “In naming the company we really wanted to find a name that captured who I am.”
Chasin has two employees helping her run the business, and she’s continued to raise money from friends, family and crowdfunding.
While the company is still in a startup phase and has yet to generate profits, in September it raised about $62,000 through investment crowdfunding platform Republic.
The company has also received backing from snack food industry veteran and angel investor, Kathleen King, the founder of Maine-based Tate’s Bake Shop, according to Pitchbook.
Chasin’ Dreams Farms is currently sold in five regions through a deal with Compass Group — one of the largest vending companies in the U.S. It’s not available on store shelves in San Diego, but people can order it directly from the company’s website or on Amazon.
Chasin said that the next steps in growing the company will be expanding their distribution channels so more people can get ahold of “Tiny Pops” snacks.