–by Jonathan Eisenthal

_RHP0201With the slogan “Build Muscle Not Fat,” Kay’s Naturals mini-meal snack bags have won their way into medical weight loss programs and the aisles of major drug store chains like Walgreens. They have become a leader in offering innovative, problem-solving foods to the public.

Each mini-meal—including a selection of cereals, snacks and pretzels—contains as much protein as three eggs, is low in calories and fat and contains no gluten. Kay’s Naturals also offers a complete daily diet plan that meets all daily nutrition needs while satisfying hunger and tastebuds, within a weight-losing 1,200-1,400 calorie regimen.

“We didn’t start the business with making money as our first goal,” says Massoud Kazemzadeh, PhD., founder, principal and CEO of Kay’s Naturals. “In our religion, we believe that work that is done in the spirit of service to humanity is equal to prayer. We are trying to make products that are socially conscious and assist in improving the health of the population.

“We saw a need in the society for foods to help diabetic people control their weight and their blood sugar. Unfortunately, the demand for our products is from all over the world including India and the Middle East, where the high rates of obesity and diabetes are increasing faster than in the U.S.”

In the early 2000s, AURI pitched in with Massoud and Ann Kazemzadeh’s startup. Today, the Clara City, Minn., facility houses two enterprises—Kay’s Naturals, which is owned by two dozen investors, and Kay’s Processing, which is owned by the Kazemzadehs. Kay’s Naturals turns out the products under their brand. Kay’s Processing handles private label work, producing both Kay’s Natural recipe products and products to the order of third parties, all of which are marketed under the third’s party’s major national brands. Kay’s Processing has annual sales in the seven- figure range.

“You could see that they were going places with this concept as well as their talent and drive; they were coming into the market with the right product at the right time,” says Charan Wadhawan, AURI’s senior scientist for food and nutrition. Wadhawan helped analyze nutrition levels of various products during development of formulations that the Kazemzadehs were considering when they began. She tested at least 30 products, and when Kay’s Naturals made its final decisions on the formula for each, conducted final analyses to generate the food labels.

_RHP0154-2“Charan from AURI was a great help in the early days of our company,” explains Massoud. “She calculated the nutrition profile of our products and assisted in bringing attention to our capabilities.”

The Kazemzadehs made heavy investments of cash and sweat equity. Ann, an attorney, developed the business plan; Massoud, a processed food expert who holds 18 patents, designed and equipped the facility. The Kazemzadehs even sponsored housing for workers in order to help assure a stable pool of talent to operate the food processing facility. With 25 employees, they are a vital employer in west central Minnesota.

Attracting made-to-order business requires adherence to stringent guidelines and needs the backing of international standards organizations. The state-of-the-art facility operates under the certification of the Global Food Safety Initiative and the British Retail Consortium; it is one of the few companies in Minnesota with certifications for kosher, organic, and gluten free that can produce both baked and extruded products such as gluten-free cereals and pretzels.

“Kay’s Naturals have a real presence in the weight loss and sports nutrition areas, but we are still trying to grow these markets and make a mark in diabetic foods, which is the reason I came up with these foods in the first place,” says Massoud, who was inspired to create Kay’s Naturals when his first wife, diagnosed with diabetes as a juvenile, needed foods designed for her critical nutrition health needs. She did not survive to see the products become reality, but Massoud sees them, in part, as a tribute to her.

The Kazemzadehs are also interested in reaching impoverished people dealing with the health impacts of obesity. More than 100 million Americans are overweight, and 40 million struggle with morbid obesity, according to the NIH. Americans spend $33 million on food products aimed at weight loss, but the NIH figures, coupled with the fact that Americans consume 6.5 billion pounds of snack products a year, indicate considerable potential and need in the healthy snack food market. The Kazemzadehs believe the health food segment still lags when it comes to producing healthy food that has the taste and aesthetic experience to satisfy people who’ve grown accustomed to salty, sugary, fat-filled snack foods.

One thing is certain: there is a need for these healthy snack foods. The Kazemzadehs have already seen significant success in this area, and are poised to take further advantage of a growing market—not only creating jobs in Minnesota, but creating a healthier world.

Acclaims and Awards for Kay’s Naturals _RHP0222

  • Dietitians at Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic have recommended Kay’s Naturals to patients who are diabetic and/or in weight management programs.
  • Kay’s Naturals pretzels were given SELF Magazine’s 2012 Healthy Food Awards
  • Other Kay’s Naturals products have earned awards including:
    • Taste of Expo East
    • Drug Store News’ “Best New
      Diabetes Product”
    • Retail Grocery’s “Trail Blazer Award”
  • Kay’s Naturals are used by the University of Miami Hurricanes and the Chicago White Sox for their diabetic and gluten-free athletes.
  • Kay’s Naturals have been accepted into vending machines for the Chicago Public Schools and accepted statewide into the Connecticut schools based on the nutritional value.

AURI and Kay’s Naturals _RHP0226

Idea to reality:
Create healthy snack foods that meet the nutrition needs of diabetics, those trying to lose weight, and a general population that needs healthier snack foods.

AURI’s role:
AURI scientist Charan Wadhawan helped the Kazemzadehs with product formulations when they were beginning their business. Wadhawan also provided nutritional analysis necessary for food labels for the products.

Outcome:
Today, Kay’s Naturals and Kay’s Processing do annual sales in the seven-figure range and employ 25 people in the Clara City, Minn., area.