For Rob Fuglie, inventor of Nots! Snacks, the recipe for success starts with four simple ingredients and a severe food allergy.

Fuglie’s young son suffers from anaphylaxis, a serious allergic to reaction that is most commonly brought on by foods, insect stings, medications and latex. If he comes in contact with peanuts or tree nuts and does not have immediate access to epinephrine he can break out in hives, his lungs can close, and he can have trouble breathing.

“That changed how my whole family bought, purchased and ate our groceries,” Fuglie said.

After learning about his son’s allergy, Fuglie swapped peanuts, his favorite snack, for sunflower seeds. But the little seeds did not satisfy his cravings, and Fuglie found himself asking one question: How could he make sunflower seeds crunch more like a nut?

Fuglie began experimenting with ingredients he found in his cupboards and testing recipes in his own kitchen. In the spring of 2011, he paired with the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, a private nonprofit in Minnesota focused on developing ag-related products. With the perfect blend of seeds, olive oil, sugar cane syrup, and seasonings, Nots! were born.

The snacks are a little bit sweet, a little bit salty, and have all of the crunch of an actual nut. They are also free of the “Top 8” allergens– peanuts and tree nuts, gluten, dairy, egg, soy, fish and shellfish– as well as celery, mustard, sesame seeds, sulphur dioxide and sulphites, lupin and molluscs. They are low in sodium, cholesterol, and fat. They are, in all respects, a healthy food– but Fuglie wants consumers to know that they are not just a “health” food.

“We don’t want to be a special food for special people, ” he said. “Our goal is to be an everybody food that happens to meet specialty food requirements.”

Once he had concocted a recipe that fulfilled all of his requirements, Fuglie needed to find somewhere large enough to produce it in mass qualities. He was eventually able to work out a deal with a nursing home in Fergus Falls, MN to temporarily use their commercial kitchen, and in November of 2011, the first bag of Nots! was sold at a food allergy show in the Twin Cities.

Before long, the crunchy snacks could be found on the shelves of local Fergus Falls retail locations, as well as a few in the Twin Cities. As the original Nots! grew in popularity, Fuglie expanded the product line to include three new flavors: Nots! Cajun, Nots! Peppa, and Nots! Hot.

With more product came the need for more space. In 2014, Nots! opened its own 800 square foot test kitchen in Fergus Falls. Now, just two years later, Nots! has already grown out of the space. By the end of this year, Fuglie expects to process six tons of sunflower seeds–  up from just one ton in 2015.

“We went from working in the nursing home, to 800 square feet, to now we’re going into 8,000 square feet,” Fuglie said.

The success of Nots! comes not just from their delicious (and nutritious) crunch, according to Fuglie, but from their unique business model.

“The mindset that we took to food creation goes against the conventional thought,” he said. “Generally, it’s the idea that you create something, you go find somebody to make it, you get a bunch made, and then you go sell it…You give up a lot of control, and then you’re bound to the limits that the contract manufacturer puts you into. You’re bound to ingredients, you’re bound to processing methods, you’re bound to their paradigm about how to make food. By owning our processing, we take control of those paradigm shifts.”

This unique perspective has earned Nots! local, state, and national acclaim. In 2012, Fuglie himself was selected as Minnesota Public Radio’s Entrepreneur to Watch; Nots! has been a semifinalist in the University of Minnesota’s MN Cup competition, a semifinalist in the Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge, and is currently a semifinalist in the Chobani Food Incubator.

And Fuglie’s most important critic, his son, loves them too.

Learn more about Fuglie and Nots! at 1 Million Cups, Wednesday September 21st at The Stage at Island Park.

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Katie Beedy