How One Guy Plans to Revolutionize the Snack Industry

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Ellis Fried hand delivers his snack product, SMPL, in Manhattan / Sarah Jacobs/ONE37pm

At age 23, Ellis Fried wanted a healthier snack option, so he created one. He’s not a nutritionist, nor is he a chef. But he knew that he wanted to eat something in between meals that was bite-sized and also not loaded with cane sugar or brown rice syrup like a lot of the protein bars on the market.

While a junior at the University of Michigan in 2016, Fried was studying economics and getting ready for his summer internship with J.P. Morgan. With a typical busy college schedule, Fried would eat protein bars between classes, gym workouts, hockey practice and various errands. But he noticed he was never finishing the bars. “I’d have 10 to 12 half-eaten bars around my room at all times,” he says. He wanted something resealable so that he wasn’t wasting food. His curiosity and hunger led him to the kitchen and ultimately to developing SMPL, a bite-sized snack that comes in a resealable package.

Now, with just three years of experience under his belt, and $100,000 raised from the Zell Founders Fund, SMPL is slightly rejiggering its recipe and prepping for a relaunch. Here, Fried reflects with ONE37pm on the work that he’s put in so far.

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Fried sits atop product boxes stored at his apartment. / Sarah Jacobs/ONE37pm

Developing Recipes (Lots of Them)

The first thing Fried made was crumbs.

“With no culinary background or anything, I just started,” he says. He began experimenting with various ingredients, including coconut water, almond butter, almond flour and chocolate. “It was crumbs for probably the first 25 times.” He called in help from a local chef and nutritionist. “I maybe put together over 150 recipes to get the first one right,” he says.

The end result, after many attempts and various recipes, turned into three different products, the first versions of SMPL. The recipes include the main lines—Coconut Cashew, Cacao Chip and Peanut Butter—which are made with simple ingredients including cashews, dates, coconut, chia and flaxseed.

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The Cacao Chip SMPL's / Sarah Jacobs/ONE37pm

Choosing Entrepreneurship Over the Cushy Finance Job

After developing a product that would sell, Fried began working with a local co-packer to package the products. During his summer at J.P. Morgan, he was juggling both his internship and his new product line, a run that was selling across not only his campus but also throughout the Detroit metro area.

“While I was doing my job at J.P. Morgan, during any bathroom break or going from one meeting to the next, I would be scheduling, trying to figure out co-packers and managing retailers, and going to Starbucks after I was done with work [to work on SMPL],” he says. His days would start at 6:30 a.m. and usually end around 10 p.m.

And the work paid off. When he returned to campus after the summer, he began applying to grants for SMPL.

“I started winning a bunch of awards and grants from the business school. I accumulated I think around $30,000 just purely in grants and awards,” he says.

Fried ended up getting an offer for a full-time job with J.P. Morgan, but the momentum of SMPL was too enticing. He declined the offer and began to work on SMPL full time.

His gut decision led him to apply to another grant that ultimately got him $100,000 for SMPL from the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Michigan, and he began working with a branding agency in Boulder, Colorado. 

“It took about seven and a half months for repositioning, renaming, rebranding andrepackaging. I didn’t know anything about those things, but I was learning how to do it,” he says.

Being a Door-to-Door Salesman in New York City

With the help of the agency, Fried developed a brand identity for a product aimed toward a clientele with what he refers to as an “elevated lifestyle.” He had 10,000 units of inventory, zero purchase orders and an urge to move to New York City.

“SMPL is a grab-and-go type of product, and there is nowhere with more people on the go and busy than in New York City,” he says. “The density of the city and the ease of being able to be in 50 places within a couple hundred feet was really appealing.”

He knew he wanted product placement in the types of establishments his clients frequented: athleisure apparel stores, juice bars, spas and infrared saunas.

So in New York, he would walk into shops with an iPad and sometimes samples of the product. 

One of many successful pitches happened inside the flagship store of Alo Yoga, an athleisurestore in the Soho neighborhood.

“I walked in and said, ‘Is the manager here?’ They were like, ‘No, come back tomorrow.’Went back [the next day] with a box of samples, and this wasn’t even in final packaging yet. This was still in crap clear packaging or whatever, but I had images of what it would look like. I had mock-ups,” he says. 

“I pitched SMPL to them, asking ‘Why are you guys not selling snacks? This is the most on-brand snack you will find that matches up with the lifestyle of your consumer and what they are eating.’ I pitched it to the manager there and he loved it,” he says. Today, they’re one of Fried’s biggest clients and currently exclusively selling SMPL snacks.

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SMPL inside HU Kitchen / Sarah Jacobs/ONE37pm

His pitch to Equinox went a little differently. All Fried wanted was 15 minutes with the CEO, which took nine months to coordinate.

“The CEO of Equinox is a Michigan University guy, so the program director of Ross Business School reached out on my behalf and we connected, and it took probably around nine months to schedule a meeting with him,” says Fried. After a few meetings, he landed a deal to be stocked inside the minibar fridge in every room of the Equinox hotel, which is launching later this year.

SMPL is now in more than 50 retail locations, all of which are ready to launch the new products Fried has been working on. Additional retailers include MatchaBar, Hu Kitchen, Clean Market, DanceBody and Excel Spa.

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Fried completes a delivery inside HU Kitchen / Sarah Jacobs/ONE37pm

Deciding to Relaunch

At the moment, Fried’s main focus is more fund-raising. With his branding agency, he has worked on version two of the product, which will focus on function: chill, detox and beauty.

The relaunch has kept him busy, but in February he completed one of the last hand-delivered orders of his current product. As the sky dumped snow, he took the subway to Hu Kitchen on Fifth Avenue and delivered the final batch of his first run of SMPL product.

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