When Tree Huggin’ Treats founder Joel Schantz and Sales and Marketing Director Eric Usher traveled from Asheville to Anaheim, Calif. for Expo West, the natural-food industry’s largest trade show, they weren’t expecting so much attention.
First came the questions. Having doled out more than 4,000 free Crispy Cat candy bars to a crowd of some 43,000 attendees, they encountered lots of curiosity about this vegan snack, which they tout as “the world’s first organic candy bar.” What about all those other bars, people wanted to know. Is it really the only organic candy bar out there?
Usher says it is. “There are a million organic bars out there, but this is the only candy bar,” he explains. “You’ve got your solid chocolate bars, and your energy bars,” he notes, but the Crispy Cat follows a traditional candy-bar formula, combining ingredients like organic nuts and cocoa butter with dark chocolate. “We didn’t find anybody else out there making this,” he says. “Once people taste it, they get the idea.”
The real surprise came when the Tree Huggin’ Treats Crispy Cat bar garnered a Best In Show award for new vegetarian products by VegNews magazine, a national publication covering the natural-foods industry. “That was a big deal,” Usher says. “It’s a really prestigious award, and there were more than 2,500 exhibitors there to choose from.”
Now that the Crispy Cat is shelf-stable, rather than requiring refrigeration, its marketing potential has expanded dramatically. This month, Asheville-based Tree Huggin’ Treats announced that they’re going national. Thanks to the trade show, they’ve now got distributors from coast to coast, plus a few in Canada. Don’t get too excited about having a Willy Wonka-esque factory in town, though: The manufacturing operation has moved to Montreal. But the Tree Huggin’ Treats business will remain rooted here, and Usher and Schantz say they plan to expand their company and start hiring locally.
Tree Huggin’ Treats had humble beginnings. About four years ago, Schantz got permission from The Hop, an ice cream shop on Merrimon Avenue, to use their kitchen for making candy bars with his Cuisinart.
If you look on the back of a Crispy Cat bar, you’ll see a cartoon image of Schantz, and he’s smiling. “I could never have imagined putting out such a high-quality product while keeping it this fun,” he says. “It’s a dream come true.”
There are several upcoming chances to get free Crispy Cat bar samples: Saturday, March 24 from noon to 4 p.m. at the Asheville Greenlife; Friday, March 30, from 3 to 7 p.m. at the South Asheville Earth Fare; and Saturday, March 31, from noon to 4 p.m. at Earth Fare in the Westgate shopping center.
— Rebecca Bowe