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Austin teen launches nut butter, granola company amid pandemic

Addie Broyles

At 15, Jennifer Fang already knows her way around the kitchen.

The founder of Nutssosweet, a new nut butter and granola company, is entering her junior year at St. Michael’s Catholic Academy and at the onset of the coronavirus decided she wanted to do something to provide economic relief to nonprofits that were working overtime to serve families impacted by the pandemic.

Food has always been a family affair in her house, and Fang took interest in cooking about two years ago, just after the family moved to Austin from China. “A huge part of Chinese culture is when we eat food, we have to enjoy the meal together,” she says. “It brings the family together.”

Fang says her family loves to cook traditional Chinese food, as well as Western dishes, usually with some kind of twist. “Every day we experiment with different types of food,” she says. They often have at least one international student living with them, which she says makes the camaraderie in the kitchen even more fun.

About a year ago, Fang took a particular interest in making health-conscious foods, so she started making granola for her family, which they really enjoyed.

That prompted her to start thinking about other grocery staples that she might be able to make at home. She remembers going to Costco with her parents and seeing the giant containers of nut butter that seemed ”plain and simple.“ ”I thought, ’What if I could combine different kinds of nuts and make a twist on it?’” she says.

That’s how her obsession with nut butters began, so when the coronavirus pandemic came to Texas earlier this year, that was the first thing she thought she might be able to make and sell.

She came up with a name — Nutssosweet — put together a website, a business plan and a marketing strategy and sold her first jars in April, with 80% of proceeds going to the Austin Disaster Relief Network.

A few months later, she’s refined the process and is now making two kinds of organic nut butter (starting at $9.89 for 8 ounces), a classic version made with pecans, almonds, cashews, flax meal and sweetened with blue agave, and an almond-based chocolate nut butter spread.

She also has three flavors of gluten-free vegan granola, starting at $10.89 for 16 ounces: classic, chocolate and matcha. (All of the products are available for pickup or with free shipping, and you can find out more information at nutssosweet.com.)

This summer, Fang has been taking an online summer course from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, which has been helping her learn about entrepreneurialism while she’s taking her first steps as a business owner.

Fang says that even though Nutssosweet takes up much of her free time on the weekends, she plans to keep the business going during her last two years of high school at least.

She says she wasn’t sure how a nonessential product would sell during such challenging times, but “you never know until you do it,” she says. “At first, I had so many doubts, but now I have no regrets. Every single customer says that it's the best thing they've ever had, and that makes me so happy.”

Texas Cottage Food Law and COVID-19

The Texas Cottage Food Law, the legislation that allows many at-home food businesses to operate, has been around for less than a decade, and it’s helped launch hundreds of small food businesses, including many during the coronavirus pandemic.

The original legislation went into effect in 2011, and it allowed for the sale of many baked and canned goods but greatly restricted how cottage law businesses could market and sell their products. In 2013 and again in 2019, the law expanded to include more items and allow people to market and sell their products directly to consumers online.

That small change to allow online sales has made a huge difference. Companies like Nutssosweet, Sweet Bean or Dough Re Mi, another teen-run cottage law business, have been able to open relatively quickly and sell directly to customers, as long as they meet the requirements.

Because so many other new cottage law food companies are launching right now, here’s a refresher:

• Anyone preparing or packaging the food must have a food handlers permit.

• The law only allows the sale of foods that do not require refrigeration, so typically this means foods you could store in your pantry or leave on your counter for a few days.

• No hot, frozen, refrigerated or prepared foods can be sold from a home kitchen.

• You can’t sell any products with meat, so no beef jerky.

• Many fermented foods and pickles are OK, but you can’t sell kombucha or kefir.

• High-acid canned products and condiments are covered under the cottage law, but they have to have a pH of 4.6 or less.

• Under the cottage law, you can’t sell your product wholesale to stores or restaurants. It must be sold directly to the end consumer.

• You can ship cottage law food products, but not across state lines.

You can find more details at texascottagefoodlaw.com or at farmandranchfreedom.org.