Vancouver entrepreneur uses childhood snacks as inspiration for brand


Anamika (Mika) Gioia has fond memories of the snacks that her mom used to make her when she was a child growing up in Pune, India.

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Anamika (Mika) Gioia has fond memories of the snacks that her mom used to make her when she was growing up in Pune, India.

“I loved them very much because they tasted really good. I wanted to eat them every day,” Gioia recalls. “And my mom didn’t mind because they were super-healthy.”

Made from popped lotus seeds, with just a few additional ingredients such as olive oil and salt, Gioia loved how the seeds tasted — and also how they seemed to “melt” in her mouth.

“It has a really interesting texture,” Gioia says. “The lightness of popcorn but the crunch of a chip. So when you bite into it, it’s crunchy, but then it’s like the softness of snow.”

But when her family moved to Canada when she was 13 years old, those beloved snacks were left behind. Gioia couldn’t find her favourite snack anywhere. And when she tried to find something similar, she recalls continually coming up short.

“I was always looking for snacks that were healthy but still tasted good. I found that it was quite hard to find, especially in the early days,” she says. “When I did find snacks that were both healthy and still tasted good, I noticed that they were usually highly processed, in the form of extruded puffs or vacuum-fried chips.”


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Her search for the perfect snack kept bringing her back to the memory of those crunchy, flavourful treats that her mom used to make in their home kitchen. So, the 26-year-old Vancouver entrepreneur decided to start her own company — built on her love of popped lotus seeds.

The lotus is the sacred flower in Hindu culture, Gioia explains, representing purity and awakening. This cultural tie, coupled with her familiarity with the seeds as snacks, further inspired the business direction for her startup, called Sacred Foods.

“I really took that as an essential part of my brand,” she explains of the plant’s significance. “The purity thing was something I really wanted to hone in on because I wanted to make snacks that were pure and simple and clean and minimally processed — and not junk.”

Gioia used her skills from her career-turned-side-hustle as a freelance digital branding and marketing consultant to further build Sacred Foods, developing the branding and product over a two-year period.

“I had to figure out the supply chain, go to India and find manufacturing partners,” Gioia says. “It was a whole thing.”

The lotus seeds are hand-picked by partner farmers in India, according to Gioia, where they’re also popped and prepared.

“It was easiest in the process to have it roasted and seasoned right away after being picked at our facility over there,” she says. “And then have it shipped here.”

Finally ready to take her product to market, Gioia launched Sacred Foods in May 2020. Right in the middle of the pandemic.


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Despite thinking the timing was, “like, the worst time to launch a business,” Gioia decided to forge ahead, launching her lineup of popped lotus-seed snacks with four flavours: Himalayan Pink Salt, Wasabi, White Cheddar and Sweet Thai Chili. Three of the Sacred Foods flavours are vegan — Himalayan Pink Salt, Sweet Thai Chili and Spicy Wasabi — and the popped lotus-seed snacks are also billed as gluten-free, non-GMO and suitable for Paleo and Whole 30 diets.

Because of the pandemic, demo and sampling programs — essential steps for new foods to be introduced at a customer level — where pretty much off the table at the time, she recalls.

“Being a new brand trying to build brand awareness, but also being a brand new product that no one has ever heard of and trying to build product awareness as well, demoing and product sampling are key,” Gioia says. “You get people to try it and they say, either they like this or I don’t.”

Rather than be deterred by the limitations, Gioia got creative, finding other ways to get her snacks into the hands — and mouths — of local shoppers.

“I came up with the idea that, while we’re not allowed to have open samples, what if I create mini-packages of vacuum-sealed packages with little cards?” Gioia says. “I emailed all the stores and asked if I could do demo and sampling programs with the unopened packages — and quite a few stores said yes.”

Gioia started with Nester’s Market, Vegan Supply and Fresh Street Market. The demo stations, she says, payed off.


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“Because there was nobody else doing this at the time, it gave me a wide-open schedule, so I was able to do them right away,” Gioia says. “And I think nobody was getting samples at the time, so it stood out to people and helped me to get more noticed.”

It turns out, the pandemic has proven pretty profitable for the young snack-food startup.

Sacred Foods Himalayan Pink Salt Popped Lotus Seeds.
Sacred Foods Himalayan Pink Salt Popped Lotus Seeds. Handout

“People turn to snacking for comfort in times where they’re stressed. And a lot of people are working from home and just want a good snacking option,” Gioia says. “Chips and popcorn just kind of get boring after a while. So, I think people were more adventurous and open to trying new products.”

Less than a year after launching, Sacred Foods is now available in more than 150 grocery stores across Canada including Choices, Fresh Street Market, and recently, Whole Foods.

The ability to grow her business amid a global pandemic has Gioia dreaming of the possibilities for Sacred Foods in the future.

“I feel really excited because I think, if this is what could have happened with my brand during the pandemic, I feel like over the next few years, as the situation subsides, I think about what more I can do and how many more stores I can get into and how many people can try the product,” Gioia says. “I would like to be everywhere.”

As for how her mom feels about providing the inspiration for Gioia’s first business venture, suffice to say, she’s pretty pleased.

“My mom is so happy,” she says through a smile. “She really thinks it’s special that I was able to take something that she made for me when I was a kid, and turn it into something much bigger than that.”


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Three more B.C.-based snack food brands

Looking to stock your pantry with a few more local finds? Here are three more B.C.-based snack foods to take a bite out of:

Mumgry: This Vancouver-based snack food brand created by entrepreneur Lilian Umurungi-Jung specializes in creating plant-based butters with minimal ingredients (think: almonds, pistachios, chocolate and that’s it).

Betterwith Ice Cream: Introducing the world to better ice cream is the main mission of Betterwith Foods Inc. founder Lori Joyce (a co-founder of Cupcakes bakery). Based on Vancouver Island, the company makes ice cream the “old-world way” with simple ingredients and an “expert process.”

Blume: Offering super-food powders featuring turmeric, beet root Reishi and more, this Vancouver-based company founded by entrepreneurs Karen Danudjaja and Ella Dalling goes big on whole ingredients that promise a healthy payoff.


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