An interview with Vanessa Hentz, CEO of Peace A’ Cake.
1) Tell me about the origins of the company.
Peace A’ Cake was founded by Veronica Menin, a holistic health-coach who is very passionate about plant-based lifestyle but also loves sweets. Veronica started baking healthy vegan cakes in her own kitchen and selling them to small restaurants and coffee shops around Miami with the intention of offering people a better quality dessert that could be healthy but also indulgent. Her ultimate dream was to one day become a Whole Foods Market local vendor. After taking samples to one of their stores, the dream became a reality and Peace A’ Cake was born as a company. It was also per their request that her cakes were turned into mini muffins in order to be more marketable, and gluten-free became a common point for all products due to customer’s requests.
As the company started growing and needed support in different ways, Vanessa Hentz, Sports Nutritionist and also lover of baking, joined the team. Combining the passion for the kitchen with the expertise in Nutrition, she reformulated recipes and included new ingredients perfecting what was already great! She expanded Peace A’ Cake’s line of products engaging in other markets, such as paleo and high protein. The high protein concept then evolved with the development of a complete new line named PRO+, which was recently launched with single units of plant-based high protein cookies made with functional ingredients and supplemented with BCAAs (verified vegan). Those not only taste delicious, but are a more well-rounded nutritional option for the fitness-oriented community.
2) How did you discover that cassava flour was the best flour to use, when so many products use “classic” flours like rice flour?
When I had the idea of reformulating the existing four muffins recipes to be less “niche” and also to get a better retail pricing, I started researching about all new gluten-free flours coming to the market. I found cassava based on some blogs and people that had tested it with good results, but I needed to make sure about the good nutritional value, the non-GMO aspect, and also test it combined with our other ingredients. My main concept was to create recipes that had the least amount of ingredients, a clean label, and with taste and texture similar to a regular baked goods. I did not want aftertaste of any gluten-free mix, nor the complicated (for some) digestive issues that bean based flours could also cause, so I knew cassava would have to be the one.
3) Why is it important to you to provide products that are gluten-free, vegan, nut-free, etc.?
As a company whose team is formed by a nutritionist who is passionate about baking and loves desserts (myself) and a holistic health coach who also enjoys sweets and baking, (Veronica Menin) we had to find better versions of everything we like eating! When Veronica founded the company her goal was to use wholesome, all-natural ingredients, and as the market created new demand such as gluten-free, paleo, vegan, nut-free, we thought that it could be an opportunity to create something delicious for those with allergies or specific food choices. We definitely try to create products to please the most diverse needs and want consumers to know that they do not need to sacrifice the joy whenever they are eating something sweet.
4) What do you think is the relationship between a healthy body and a healthy mind?
I do believe that this is relative and very individual since people have different aspirations regarding where they want to be with their nutrition, performance, bodies, mental health, and balance. I do believe in listening to your body and in pursuing something that is achievable for you and not based on what others establish as “being in shape” or “fit”; a nutritional program that works for you and respects your feelings, your routine, your mood, your social experiences… And in taking time to process experiences, feelings, goals, success, and failure in a way that mind, body, and soul are aligned.
5) What kinds of requirements do you have when searching for acceptable ingredients?
We are very conscious about our ingredients. We source the best quality. Always non-GMO, and most of the time we really want to go 100% organic but we understand that our products need to be affordable and also available throughout the year. In regards to nutrition, we use cassava flour because it is paleo and allergen-free, but also has more fiber, and a better vitamin and mineral content when compared to tapioca starch or white rice flour, for example. We add gluten-free oat flour in certain products to increase the soluble fiber content and boost a little more the micronutrients. Our high protein products have the best whey protein (organic, grass-fed whey) and our plant-based high protein items are made of organic sprouted brown rice protein to increase the amino acid availability, and also facilitate the digestion/absorption process. We do not use coconut products that come from farms using inadequate employment relationships and we try to keep most of our ingredients from the US.
6) Your products are desserts, but what makes them healthy?
Well, they are healthIER! Most of us like eating desserts, so our intention is to use natural, wholesome, and unprocessed ingredients to make allergen-free desserts that can be enjoyed with peace of mind knowing that we are junk-free, non-GMO, produced in small batches, and that whenever enjoyed in balance, it is a better-for-you option.
7) What are the next steps that should be taken in nutrition education to help people make healthier choices for themselves?
I really believe that nutritional education and information found throughout media should be regulated by research centers and the government in an attempt to avoid so much false information and people trying to come up with magic ways of making everybody perfect when there is no such a thing! Nutrition is based on evidence and should be treated seriously. Once correct information is accessible to the population, it should be easier to develop educational strategies to teach self-awareness, and then people would be able to make their own better nutritional choices. With all the mixed messages out there, people get confused and at the end most have no idea what to do!
8) Why did you decide to begin manufacturing products in your own gluten-free facility? What was this process like?
We are still a small company and have been facing all the difficulties that any business owner would relate to. Finding a place to manufacture for us was always a challenge and we had for a while a facility that helped us and understood our growth process. The problem was that they were not gluten-free, and also we wanted to adopt better manufacturing practices, which led us to investing in purchasing our own. It has been a challenging process—like mostly everything! We had all the licensing and inspections executed, hired a small team, and were able to start working with a non-profit organization called Miami Is Kind, from where we employ autistic bakers to work in our production facility. Our products now follow better quality control procedures, are manufactured in a gluten-free facility, and we are very happy so far!