New Zealander couldn’t get a job in the U.S., so she sold homemade snacks—her business could bring in $10 million this year

Written by Tom Huddleston Jr.

In 2017, Rebecca Brady took her homemade seed crackers to a farmer’s market in Buffalo, New York, just hoping to sell one box.

“We sold our first box, and then I remember saying: ‘Let’s double our target. Let’s go for two!’” says Brady, the 50-year-old founder and CEO of snack company Top Seedz. “I don’t think I was very confident.”

Seven years later, the New Zealand native and mother of three has grown Top Seedz from a cramped and “very old” $400-a-month commissary space into a U.S.-wide brand that’s sold in more than 4,000 stores across the country, including chains like Wegmans, Whole Foods, Giant and Erewhon.

Last year, Top Seedz brought in $5 million in revenue, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It. The company is profitable and on track to exceed $10 million in revenue this year, says Brady.

Brady has also positioned herself to help vulnerable members of her community: The 44-person Top Seedz workforce is 90% refugees — a majority of whom are women — from roughly 20 different countries, she says. The company provides English-language training, a mother’s room and a prayer room to help the employees better acclimate to their new environment, Brady adds.

“I’m not a refugee, but I was a new person here to Buffalo ... [and] I do appreciate how hard it is coming to a new place and not being able to find work,” she says.

‘Maybe I’ll give this a try’

The company is a result of a 10-year gap on Brady’s resume: She moved to Japan in 2005 to accommodate her husband Will’s job at aerospace company Moog, but couldn’t obtain a work visa. (Today, Will is the chief operating officer at Top Seedz.)

Instead, Brady — a former Hewlett-Packard marketer — spent her time raising her three kids, which included recreating homemade snacks she missed from her home country.

After moving to the U.S. in 2015, she got her work visa but struggled to land a job, she says. She made friends playing tennis, and noticed how much they loved it when she brought homemade seed crackers to matches. With her kids going off to school, she decided to explore her inkling that American shoppers might be interested in her homemade seed crackers.

She’d always been interested in becoming an entrepreneur, but “was never brave enough to take the first step,” she says. “I was like, ‘Maybe I’ll give this a try.’ It was really just from people’s reactions to [the crackers] and literally them getting disappointed when I’d turn up to [tennis] practice without them.”

Brady invested $5,000 from her family’s savings up front, limiting her spending to essentials like ingredients, packaging and hiring a branding consultant. She found the aging, low-frills commissary kitchen, which allowed her to make 10 to 20 boxes of crackers per hour — despite its malfunctioning oven timers causing some batches to burn.

Her lack of experience made her “very, very conservative” when it came to spending: She didn’t even think to build a Top Seedz website. “This was very conscious, the thought that I might just be wasting money,” she says. “I wasn’t very confident that it was going to work.”

Instead, Brady sold roughly 20 boxes per week at the Buffalo farmers’ market during her first year in business — more than enough to turn a profit on her investment, she says. She took sample boxes to local food markets and co-ops to convince them to stock Top Seedz, and landed the holy grail of Western New York small businesses: a spot on the shelves at grocery chain Wegmans.

Building an immigrant workforce

As Top Seedz grew, Brady couldn’t help but think about how fortunate she was, as a foreigner in a new country, to have time and resources to pursue her entrepreneurial dreams. She wanted a way to share her success with others and give back to the Buffalo community that embraced her.

One of her friends volunteered for a nonprofit called Journey’s End Refugee Services, and told her about groups of local refugees looking for work. Since then, Brady says, Top Seedz has filled dozens of jobs around the warehouse with refugees, training them on the company’s baking and packaging equipment.

Some of those employees are simultaneously learning English, which Brady says has led to “a steep learning curve for a lot of people when they first come — we play a lot of charades in our building, but our words are ‘mixer’ and ‘oven.’”

In 2022, Top Seedz got a sales bump from a very different kind of source: Actress and lifestyle influencer Gwyneth Paltrow shared her affinity for the company’s snacks in multiple social media posts. The first one caught Brady and her marketing team completely by surprise, she says.

“It just becomes more and more real that someone like Gwyneth Paltrow is buying [our products], and that she’s sharing it with her millions of followers,” says Brady. “We were kind of screaming.”

The U.S. market for seed crackers is projected to top $2 billion within the next decade, with brands like Back to Nature — owned by global food group Barilla — and Crunchmaster leading the way. Other huge conglomerates already produce vegan and gluten-free products, like Mondelez’ Good Thins brand.

Brady says she’s confident that there’s still plenty of room in that sizable market for Top Seedz to continue growing. It’s currently moving into a new, 35,000-square-foot facility in downtown Buffalo, which will turn out 16,000 boxes of crackers in roughly four hours, Brady says — an amount that more recently took the company nearly two days.

She hopes to expand her product lines and distribution, too. Nearby Canada presents an easy goal, as does Brady’s home country. “My mother’s going to kill me if I don’t get us into New Zealand,” she says. “She’s done the marketing for the whole country.”

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