LOS ANGELES — Palm oil provides a smooth texture and longer shelf life in many packaged spreads; however, its production is associated with harmful environmental and social impacts, according to a new food brand founded by television star Noah Schnapp.
Mr. Schnapp, an actor on Netflix’s “Stranger Things” series, partnered with Umana Venture Studio, a firm dedicated to building purpose-driven brands, to create his vision for a healthier, more sustainable alternative to his childhood snacking staple Nutella. Consumer products veteran Elena Guberman was tapped to lead the business as chief executive officer. The brand, TBH (“to be honest”), debuted online last fall, offering a hazelnut cocoa spread with no palm oil and less sugar than the leading product.
“The fact that we had to engineer this product without palm oil, it’s actually not an easy feat,” Ms. Guberman said. “To recreate the texture without that magical ingredient is quite hard. We used the whole hazelnut, the oils of it, and sunflower oil.”
Additional ingredients are pea protein, cocoa and a blend of organic sugar, soluble corn fiber and monk fruit. A serving has 6 grams of protein and 10 grams of sugar, which compares to 2 grams of protein and 21 grams of sugar in a serving of Nutella, a brand owned by the Ferrero Group. Additionally, the product is plant-based, while the traditional toast topper contains skim milk powder.
The spreads are packaged in jars made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic, Ms. Guberman said. The company may eventually launch single-serve packets, too.
“We are more premium than the market leader, but I think in general what I see is a shift, especially for Gen Z and millennials, to purchase products that are aligned with their beliefs for the planet and the future of our climate,” she said. “I think the price tag justifies the fact that our ingredients are higher quality and that we take care in how we make this product. We’re finding that our customers are huge fans of what we’re doing and are willing to vote with their dollars for a better future.”
Recent partnerships with other emerging brands showcase the spread as an ingredient. The team developed a double chocolate hazelnut cookie with Toto Foods and a chocolate coated coconut macaroon with Michelle’s Maccs.
“We have a collaboration happening every single quarter this year,” Ms. Guberman said. “All of them are going to be different, and all of them will lift up TBH as an ingredient. We are continuing to connect with chefs and brands that are longing to bring in something sweet, something tasty, something rich with good ingredients as a part of something they’re already doing. Maybe it’s creperies, maybe it’s ice cream, maybe it’s cakes… Every partnership we have is a step forward to a better planet.”
Prior to joining the company, Ms. Guberman held operations roles at food startups Little Duck Organics and Peeled Snacks, and she has consulted a number of brands on supply chain and operations. She also co-founded Rubbish Inc., a technology platform for mapping and tracking litter.
The brand benefits from Mr. Schnapp’s “massive social following,” Ms. Guberman said. (He has more than 20 million followers on Instagram and 20 million followers on TikTok). Mr. Schnapp, who is 17 years old, contributes to discussions around business strategy and product development, but, Ms. Guberman noted, “right now his focus is high school.”
“A couple months ago, he was doing the college application process, and ‘Stranger Things’ was filming, so he has other priorities, but TBH is a part of him, and it’s his baby,” she added. “As he goes to college and starts immersing himself more in entrepreneurship, he’ll become more involved in the business, but right now we take him when we can get him and love his insights and opinions on the business and the food.”
The company is raising a seed round to expand its team and support marketing, promotional spend, production and research and development, Ms. Guberman said. The brand will debut on retail shelves beginning this month at Pop Up Grocer in Washington’s Union Market neighborhood.
“We really need to be on shelf in order to compete in the market and with Nutella,” Ms. Guberman said. “I’m very excited to have TBH available in more places so people can try it.”