They say summer bodies are made in the winter, but they had never tried chocolate covered quinoa! Well, there is always next month.
Undercover Quinoa has five flavors and we were lucky enough to get our paws on the Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt. We’ll let the empty bags do the talking! As it turns out, it’s not such a guilty pleasure after all, as it’s healthy, gluten-free quinoa underneath that delicious, organic chocolate.
Founder Diana Levy started the company in 2013 as a part-time business, but knew she had something worth sharing outside of her home kitchen in New Jersey. Fast forward to September 2016, Diana started selling Undercover Quinoa in a few local stores, and landed in Whole Foods by March 2017. Now, you can buy these treats on the Undercover Quinoa website, on Amazon (HELLO, PRIME?!), Bed, Bath & Beyond and other local retailers.
We sat down with Diana to talk about the company, her family and what is next for this yummy company.
What was the initial “batch” that you created?
DL: I was trying to come up with a “better-for you” snack by lightly covering healthy, minimally processed ingredients with the same high quality, fair trade chocolate that I had been using for my confections. I literally went up and down grocery aisles and onto various websites and ordered every ingredient I could possibly think of that fell into that category. Then I started tasting them together, in different combinations, with different types of chocolate – and when I discovered combinations that tasted good, I would sit down with spread sheets and go back into recipes that got the calories, protein, fiber, nutrients and ingredient costs to where I wanted them to be.
I tested about 20 recipes a day for several months, and when I hit upon something good I would make my husband, kids and their friends taste them and give me feedback. Right as I was zeroing in on what ultimately became Undercover Quinoa, two of my daughters were diagnosed with Celiac Disease and it became extremely important to me that whatever snack I created was not only delicious but also gluten-free and made in a gluten-free facility.
I see your daughter’s celiac disease was part of the initial “start” of Undercover Quinoa – how do your daughters inspire the company today?
DL: All three of my daughters are involved in the company as Brand Ambassadors and by helping with social media. While their celiac disease inspired our initial product, it will also guide us as we create future better-for-you gluten free snacks. Even though there are lots of gluten-free options on the market, they are not usually as satisfying and delicious as Undercover Quinoa. It’s important to note that very rarely are gluten-free products manufactured in a gluten-free facility. I want to continue to create products that my daughters and others can enjoy without feeling like they are being deprived simply because they cannot eat gluten.
If you had one piece of advice for working moms who wanted to start their own company – what would it be?
DL: Get going! Starting my own company was the most challenging, exhausting, frustrating, difficult thing that I have ever done (outside of raising my kids, of course) – but it is also the most satisfying, interesting and often fun way I could ever imaging spending my time. There is nothing better than starting something from scratch, throwing yourself into it and watching it grow…. Again, a lot like raising kids…☺
What is a typical day for you and your husband, Michael, at work?
DL: Although Michael and I sit about 10 feet apart in barely separated offices, we are still so crazed doing different things all day that we have to catch up with each other over dinner (which really confounds my children). Michael is still running his merchant banking firm, Octagon Capital Group, although he can often be found cleaning chocolate equipment in a hair net while on his conference calls. He is also the official IT guy, and does a lot in the way of sales, marketing and setting up and managing our accounting and tracking systems.
I am literally doing everything all the time. At times I am actually making and packaging the product, running our new production line or figuring out what equipment we need, putting out fires, managing logistics and personnel issues, preparing for and running trade shows, product development and building sales.
Your new factory looks amazing, what was the motivation behind opening a big space?
DL: I initially thought I could find a co-manufacturer, but after flying around the country to different plants, I determined that no one had the right equipment to make Undercover Quinoa on a big scale the way that I wanted it made – and I did not want to compromise.
I also realized that I wanted the flexibility to both scale up gradually and to react quickly to new opportunities that might suddenly arise. In addition, I did not want my products running on the same line as certain allergens and products containing gluten. So last summer we committed to purchasing a new manufacturing line and then realized we needed a much bigger space. Fortunately, we were able to make a change within the same building.
Jessica Seinfeld added dark chocolate Undercover Quinoa to her yogurt and shared it on her Instagram, are there any other fun ways to add the snacks into daily meals/desserts?
DL: As Jessica Seinfeld pointed out when she mixed Undercover Quinoa into her Ice Cream – it adds a delicious chocolate (gluten-free) crunch to any type of frozen dessert or yogurt. I also know people that eat it for breakfast crumbled into a bowl of milk, use it between layers in a cake, or slightly melt it to form a crunchy ice cream pie crust.
There is also always the Undercover S’mores which is amazing. Last but not least, my kids have discovered that one of the most delicious ways to eat Undercover is to melt a little bit with some peanut butter in the microwave, stir and eat it with a spoon!
What are some chocolate trends that you keep seeing?
DL: The typical trends include mixing high quality or single-origin chocolates with interesting inclusions including spices, or unexpected ingredients like matcha tea. I think there are parallel trends with some companies making things more and more decadent and sophisticated, while others are trying to take existing chocolate treats and make them healthier.
What are your favorite flavors?
DL: Although I normally prefer dark chocolate, my personal Undercover favorite is Milk Chocolate. While I have a sweet tooth and am crazy about chocolate, I really do not like things that are too sweet. We use a milk chocolate that has a pretty high cocoa content and is much less sweet than the milk chocolates most people are used to eating. Combine that with the fact that our products are nearly 50% quinoa – the milk chocolate flavor really hits the spot for me. It completely satisfies my sweet tooth and need for chocolate, while the protein in the quinoa keeps my blood sugar level from spiking.
Any upcoming flavors for 2019 that you can share?
DL: We have not completely nailed down new flavors for 2019, however we are really excited to be introducing a new single serve “cookie” version of Undercover that should be debuting by the beginning of 2019.