The roots for one of the Midpeninsula's most popular granola brands and a growing local business can be traced back to when Brian Tetrud, the CEO of Ladera Foods, was a kid growing up in the community of Ladera.
He was one of three children and the son of two doctors. His health-conscious mother, Karen Butterfield, an internist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, decided to create her own granola recipe after a local brand raised its prices. After some experimentation, Butterfield arrived at a concoction that quickly became popular with family and friends, Tetrud said. "It was clear we had a winner."
After graduating from Menlo-Atherton High School, Tetrud attended Ithaca College and then worked in renewable energy. He was in Washington, D.C. in 2010, when his mom came to visit and in passing suggested starting a business with their family granola recipe.
Tetrud decided to give it a shot. He spent about a year gathering feedback and learning how to build a food business. He talked to Kevin Bianchini, owner of Bianchini's Market in Ladera, to figure out how to package the product and sought guidance from the founders of other granola companies, including southern California-based Bear Naked. He obtained the necessary permits and approvals and with the help of a lawyer incorporated the business.
Tetrud had about $100,000 to invest in the company, his mother provided a loan and he took out other loans. He also raised money from friends and family.
Finally, in July 2011, he launched the granola at Bianchini's Market. Manufacturing started in Redwood City, later moved to San Mateo and is now back in Redwood City, off of Seaport Boulevard.
"It started out as a one-man show," said Tetrud, now 30. He started doing just about everything himself -- demonstrations, food production, deliveries, sales and accounting. "It helped me understand every aspect of the business."
However, to expand the business, he had to enlist the help of people in the community, he said. He's kept things local, hiring fellow M-A grads Dylan Torres as director of sales and John Eberli as marketing manager and social media guru. Now, about a dozen people are involved in the operation, the equivalent of about seven full-time employees. A number of the employees are also from Ladera.
The business has evolved and now generates revenue from three sources: retail, catering and co-packing (packaging other companies' products). On the retail front, Ladera Foods' granola is sold in 1,500 stores and through Amazon. The company also supplies local corporate catering entities that feed employees at Stanford University, Twitter and Paypal, among others.
Setting up shop in Silicon Valley brings with it pros and cons -- on the positive side, Tetrud said, there have been a number of investors and supporters who have provided helpful business advice. However, retaining talent has been a challenge due to competition in the job market.
Over the years, the company has expanded to sell three types of granola: the original nine-ingredient recipe, which contains cinnamon and cardamom; cocoa almond, which Tetrud describes as a healthful version of "Cocoa Puffs"; and a nut-free vanilla-quinoa granola, which contains seeds instead of nuts for protein.
Despite the variations, Tetrud said "it's the same product we grew up with."
The recipes, he said, are simple, and the granola contains less sugar than other brands.
"It's just made of stuff you'd find in your pantry," he said. "That is something we've stuck to our guns about."
Eberli, 28, says that granola is surprisingly versatile. Tasked with marketing a crunchy snack most people associate with breakfast or camping, he said he tries to attract customers who don't already eat it. "Don't think about it as a cereal," he said. Instead, he suggests, think about it as a topping -- add it to yogurt, salads, fruit or oatmeal, or as a supplement for a baking project.
"It is a premium granola, but we like it that way," Tetrud said. "We want it to be the best."
For recipes and serving suggestions, see Ladera Foods' Instagram at @laderafoods.