When life gives you bananas, dip them in chocolate

Trio turned a dinner party snack into a business and now helps other food entrepreneurs

Adam Dodds and his wife, Seungmi Jin, plan to expand their snack business, Lifebites, in Canada and the U.S. | Rob Kruyt

Adam Dodds and his wife, Seungmi Jin, are ardent food lovers who are used to having roommates and dinner parties – a combination that helped give their business, Lifebites, its start, and helped it expand when the time came.

Lifebites produces healthy snacks made from dehydrated bananas. The company started at a dinner party when business partner Rob Christy’s wife, Reba Christy, came up with a new snack – dehydrated banana rolled in cocoa power. They expanded on that idea by dipping bananas in chocolate and rolling them in coconut and hemp seeds.

“When we first started it, it was, ‘OK, well this snack is really good; we’ve let a couple of friends try it and they really liked it – so much so they wanted to purchase it off of us,’” Dodds said.

Realizing they were onto a potential new business, Dodds, his wife and Rob Christy started selling the snacks at farmers markets.

“We kept selling out at farmers markets and soon we were doing eight farmers markets a week,” Dodds said.

With investments from friends and family, they raised $10,000 to buy a chocolate-coating machine so they could start mass-producing the snacks.

The machine was too big for anyone’s kitchen, so they rented a building used by a seasonal fruit seller, who operated only during the summer months. They started getting a number of supermarkets to carry the snacks, and now sell in 100 stores in B.C.

Originally, they dehydrated the bananas themselves, but later made the decision to outsource and now get the dehydrated bananas from a U.S. supplier.

When, in 2012, the business partners decided that they needed to expand and found a North Vancouver warehouse that was bigger than what they needed, they decided to get roommates – other similar businesses – to share the building.

“We put the word out saying we’re looking for people that are interested in some kitchen space,” Dodds said. “Sure enough, there were lineups of people wanting to rent space from us.”

Lifebites now shares space and equipment with four other small specialty food entrepreneurs in their North Vancouver plant, which they call “The Shop.”

All five businesses have one thing in common: they produce specialty foods and beverages that target the health-conscious demographic.

One of the businesses is Zen Organics Inc., which makes a matcha tea that is high in antioxidants and fibre. Another is Lost Cairn Ventures Ltd., which makes gluten-free chia cereals and chickpea crackers under the Kapow Now brand.

The Shop has become something of an incubator for other specialty food makers.

“They weren’t just purchasing the actual space,” Dodds said. “They were purchasing the networks that we had; they were purchasing the equipment services that we had.”

With commercial rents so high in the Lower Mainland, Tiffany Shen of Lost Cairn Ventures Ltd. said it makes sense for small businesses like hers to share space and rent. But there are other benefits as well.

“We talk about suppliers – there’s a bit of group buying, there’s a bit of a shared economy as well, sharing contracts,” Shen said. “He [Dodds] has been really open to sharing, helping me find connections I need and sharing network connections that other companies might not be so keen to share.”