By: Nina Barone
Photos: KC Kratt
Rebecca Brady is on a mission, armed with seeds and recipes she has made for her own family for decades. Since 2017, Brady’s company, Top Seedz, has made seed crackers, roasted seeds, raw seeds, and seed cracker mix (think boxed cake mix, but for crackers). These are all organic, gluten-free, and vegan.
“I connected my passion for good food and nutrition with good performance and sport,” Brady says. “I believe ‘we are what we eat.’ I thought, okay, I get high on feeding my kids good food. I’ve been making crackers for everyone with roasted seeds, so why not sell them?”
A native of New Zealand, Brady left home after university graduation and took a six-month working holiday in Yokohama, Japan, where she met her Irish husband. The pair stayed in Japan for two years before a transfer to Singapore, where Brady worked in marketing for HP. Two children and ten years later, they returned to Japan for another ten years and had a third child. The family moved to Buffalo in 2015; Brady says it reminds her of her hometown in Wellington, with all the quality-of-life perks of big cities, minus the traffic and hassles.
When Brady’s family moved around Asia, foods they sought weren’t always available, so she made peanut butter and crackers from scratch. Brady believes crackers are often seen as a carrier as opposed to having value in themselves, but she loves seeds, particularly sesame seeds. Along the way, she had shared her cracker creations with people, who liked them, but she never sold them. Years later, in Buffalo, she decided to try her hand at creating a business.
Brady started selling her products at Horsefeathers Community Indoor Market, then secured spots on the shelves of local specialty stores like the East Aurora Cooperative Market. She spent about six months working on the brand and the packaging, which she loved doing and wanted to get right. Working in the Quaker Bonnet commissary space, Brady says she was forced to be efficient and smart: “It made me move fast and I’m a fast mover already.”
Shortly thereafter, Brady got Top Seedz into Wegmans; she says the chain was generous and kind, allowing her to grow store by store versus immediately supplying to all area locations. When Whole Foods came to town, she called it a lucky break, citing it as “kind of an easy entrance.” On its first day in Whole Foods, Top Seedz sold out. From there, Brady spread her product throughout the region, and then to Florida and mid-Atlantic locations.
As Brady’s business grew, she took steps to expand her operations and maximize sales opportunities. Through a course she took at the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at UB School of Management, she applied and eventually received a $50,000 Ignite Buffalo grant in October 2018. She left the commissary space and set up her own kitchen, buying an oven that could make eighty boxes of crackers at a time.
“Every tray was perfect, and we were all standing there going, ‘oh my gosh, this is insane,’” she says. “Now we have three of those ovens. We were bursting at the seams a bit and now we’re renting another neighboring space to store the seeds.”
During this time, the company went all organic and managed to absorb the price of those added costs, upping the quality while keeping the price reasonable for consumers. Halfway through 2021, Brady saw emails about applying for 43North, an accelerator program that hosts an annual startup competition, investing millions to attract and retain high-growth companies in Buffalo. Brady wasn’t even sure she’d even be considered to enter, but Top Seedz took home the competition’s grand prize of $1 million.
“For the past four years, I’ve been running nonstop trying to make as many crackers as I can,” Brady says. “When you’re doing that, there’s no time to plan.”
But entering for 43North forced her, invaluably, to look ahead. Round after round, pitch after pitch, Brady made it through the 43North process. She says her fear of public speaking and making pitches via Zoom was nerve-wracking but a great learning experience. She kept telling herself, “‘This isn’t for you; it’s for the business.’ At this point, I had twenty people working for me, so I sucked it up and did it for them—and the mentorship was amazing.”
With the money awarded, Brady will build a new space and transfer operations to a more automated system because, as she notes, “Everything is very manual right now.” She will continue to innovate products, including more grain-free flavors, and expand the company’s roasted seed offerings.
“We haven’t had to knock on doors and look for customers, which has been quite a luxury,” Brady says. “People have come to us looking for the product, which is just incredible. If you have a great product, the sales part of what you’re doing is easy, and if you believe in it yourself, it’s easy. We’re going to be a little more aggressive with our sales and increase our production by a lot over the next five years so that we can sell nationwide.”
Brady praises43 North and the opportunities provided to her and Top Seedz through the competition experience: “Everyone is very, very helpful. I love it. The whole paying it forward—anyone I talk to who has been in business or has an idea, everyone wants to share and help.”
Now she’s paying it forward with helping other companies in an earlier spot than she is today.
“Top Seedz is truly a team effort,” Brady says. “It’s been so fun being here.”