This article is part of our series on small companies with a big mission in five areas: women, kids, community, planet, and hope. Click here for more articles in the series.
A few years ago, Maria Garcia Brennan’s kids asked a question that troubled her and her husband Pete — “Is Mommy going to get sent back to Mexico?” The two girls, aged 7 and 9 at the time, were picking up on the anti-immigrant rhetoric that swirled all around them.
Maria grew up in a large traditional family. Her father traveled frequently for work between the US and Mexico, and eventually moved the family over to pursue a new opportunity in California. It’s a story of hard work and prosperity that gives the Brennans a great deal of pride, which is why their children’s fear was so galvanizing.
That was the inspiration for Soñar! Foods, a line of authentic Mexican tortilla chips with a slogan that matches its mission: to “Nourish a Nation of Dreamers.”
The Stuff of Healthier Dreams
Soñar means “to dream,” Pete notes. Given their background in the food industry — they met while working at E & J Gallo in the early 2000s — the couple began to dream of a consumer food brand that would “uplift the community and showcase positive stories during a time that seemed increasingly negative.”
From the name to the ingredients to the messaging, they wanted to develop a product based on “a set of positives to counter all the negatives.”
So why tortilla chips? “Everyone loves them!” Maria chimes in. “They’re a ubiquitous communal food.” Besides that, she notes, the product category was ripe for disruption.
Soñar is committed to delivering an excellent product on every front. Their ‘free from’ chips are thoughtfully formulated with indigenous ingredients mainly sourced from the Americas. They also deliver plant-powered protein, fiber in line with daily intake recommendations, and authentic Mexican flavors. “We’re vegan, gluten free, grain free, and while other popular snacks carry these labels, many contain fillers and stabilizers like sugar,” says Pete.
“This brings us back to issues that affect our community,” says Maria. “More of our kids are suffering from obesity and chronic health conditions like diabetes. We are offering an option that is both nutritious and delicious.”
Mission Beyond the Donation
In a short time, Soñar Foods has developed a reputation and voice in the new food movement. “The natural organic segment of the food industry is a tight-knit community. We’re all developing products against the odds, pushing our suppliers out of their comfort zones, and asking people throughout our supply chain to do things differently,” says Pete.
This commitment to creativity recently landed Soñar Foods a coveted spot with both the Chobani Incubator program and Amazon Launchpad. Such food incubator programs are growing rapidly and looking for innovative products to invest in, and Maria believes the brand’s mission helps to set it apart. “Soñar makes great chips, but we are also getting noticed because we’re using our product to showcase personal stories, and messages of hope and positivity in the Latinx community.”
Forging a partnership with the Latino Community Foundation (LCF) was a key strategy for advancing that mission and a core component the Soñar business model from the start. “The whole reason we started this company was to uplift Latinx youth,” says Maria. “This is the most important part of what we do.”
Headquartered in neighboring San Francisco, the LCF is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to unleash the civic and economic power of Latinos in California through regional giving, political activism, influencer engagement, youth empowerment, and more. Soñar Foods contributes at least 1 percent of annual sales to these and other LCF initiatives that help create more vibrant Latino communities in underserved regions across the state.
The most visible sign of Soñar’s collaboration with LCF is right on the bag — an image and story of a young Latino role model. On any given bag, snackers can meet someone like Jon Jacobo, a legislative aide and civic leader in San Francisco’s Calle 24 historical Latino cultural district; April Alvarez, an ambitious young woman from the Central Valley blazing a trail for people of color in tech; or Anthony Chavez, a farm community advocate working to close the opportunity gap for low-income students.
“We didn’t just want to donate money to an organization,” says Maria. “We want to change the narrative for the younger generation.”
In Pete’s words, the goal is to “amplify and celebrate positive stories” from the community. What better place to tell those stories than on the bag of your favorite snack?
Growing Footprint & Impact
Soñar has a small team. “It’s just us,” says Pete. In addition to completing each other’s sentences, the husband-and-wife team develop new products and flavor profiles in their own kitchen. “If it seems like we’re bigger than we are or that we’ve been around longer than we have, it’s because we have huge swaths of community behind us.”
As small business owners, Maria and Pete consider their suppliers and manufacturers as part of their core operating team. Even the relationships and expertise they developed working at Gallo decades ago has helped them build and promote their enterprise. “We have all of these people supporting us and our brand because they believe in what we stand for — your values and principles are what build your ecosystem.”
Retail distribution is notoriously difficult in the food business, but Soñar has earned shelf space in over a hundred stores in the West, Southwest, and Rocky Mountain regions, including publicly traded chains such as Whole Foods and Sprouts.
Even more promising, those national business accelerator programs have helped Soñar expand its direct-to-consumer sales channel. The company has always had the option for customers to buy online, but now it’s a priority. “We’ve been busy with that and the kids,” Maria laughs.
And what do the kids think of this dream they helped to spark? According to Pete, they’re more than silent partners. “They came to our first production run and we always take them to meetings. I’ve been surprised by their questions.” That seems to be a motivating force at Soñar Foods — nurturing the curiosity of the next generation of dreamers.
Spend for good: Soñar offers free ground shipping on all products in their online shop, including six-packs of popular flavors like Salsa Verde, Nacho, and Sea Salt – plus a 12-count variety pack.
Subscribe for good: Every week we offer original reporting to help you make a better world with the money you’re spending, anyway. Click here to subscribe to our weekly newsletter and be sure you never miss a story.