I first met Peaceful Fruits founder by Evan Delahanty at the end of 2015, when he was participating in the SEAChange social enterprise accelerator and pitching his business at local events like SunDown RunDown. At that time, he was hand-making his signature organic fruit strips in the back of a restaurant kitchen.
Back then, one batch produced 90 fruit strips. Later, he graduated from the Culinary Launch Kitchen and moved to a shared kitchen space in Akron that allowed him to increase production. Fast forward to today, and Delahanty is producing 1,000 strips a day — more if he runs a third shift.
His small food startup is suddenly experiencing fast and furious growth, fueled largely by his recent appearance on ABC’s “Shark Tank” show. He didn’t walk away with a deal from the sharks, but the increased visibility has him on the hook to deliver $80,000 worth of product — roughly quadruple the amount of orders he anticipated at this point.
I recently caught up with Delahanty, and a few of his partners, to retrace his whirlwind journey, get his thoughts on his big television appearance and ask him to offer a few pieces of advice for other budding entrepreneurs in Northeast Ohio.
According to Delahanty, the idea behind Peaceful Fruits began after he returned from a two-year stint in the Peace Corps in Suriname, South America. His experience left him wanting to work in a business that both respected the environment and empowered the surrounding communities.
The acai berries that make up his fruit strips are sustainably grown and harvested in the Amazon region of Brazil through a fair-trade program that supports a co-op of local farmers. And as business picked up, Delahanty sought to establish relationships with local production partners that would allow him to expand without compromising his core mission.
That’s where two local nonprofits, Hattie Larlham and The Blick Center, enter the story. Both organizations assist people with developmental disabilities, and Hattie Larlham was clearly an ideal partner for Delahanty because of its food production capability. However, in the case of the Blick Center — which now helps handle packaging and order fulfillment — it was pure serendipity.
“Evan met one of our board members at a farmers market,” explained Bonny King, an occupational therapist who was instrumental in setting up Blick as the labeling and packaging room for Peaceful Fruits. “We are excited to support the company in their growth because of the positive impact they have on our clients, who have pride in earning a full-wage paycheck.”
Today, Peaceful Fruits utilizes two shippers and about 15 Blick clients every day.
As the business continued to grow and Delahanty realized he would need to ramp up even faster, MAGNET, the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, got involved, offering crucial assistance with process improvement, beginning with molds.
“The new mold design speeds up the production process,” said Tim Nevin, growth and commercialization advisor at MAGNET. “It also creates tangible savings on the back end by eliminating measurements and hand-cutting of the strips.”
That brings us to the “Shark Tank” appearance — an experience Delahanty views very positively, even if he didn’t receive a deal.
“It was definitely a win for us,” he said. “Having Mark Cuban recognize that social enterprise is the future for business and being able to pitch in front of such recognizable business leaders and millions of people was huge.”
When asked about advice for budding entrepreneurs, Delahanty recommends having a big goal but thinking about immediate concrete steps that are necessary to accomplish that goal.
“It’s also critical to get feedback from people you respect as you’re making big business decisions,” he said. “And you really can’t underestimate the value of making the right connections at the right time; strong community relationships really are everything.”
Curious what Peaceful Fruits natural fruit strips taste like? You can purchase them at on Amazon, and locally at the Mustard Seed Markets and other local health food stores.
This post originally appeared in Crain’s Cleveland Business on March 7, 2017