Ravi Jolly, founded I Heart Keenwah, a brand that makes delicious, nutritious, plant-based food products using top quality quinoa. In doing so, he has made a mark on the world by making organic and Fair Trade quinoa accessible, introducing many to a health-supporting protein source and sourcing quinoa in a way that is equitable to farmers. We caught up with Ravi so that you can learn more about his love for quinoa, how he built a successful food business, and how you can do more to demand the best food for all from start to finish.
We understand that you and some friends became really interested in quinoa and how to source high-quality quinoa, which led to the creation of your company. Can you tell us a bit about what drove you to start this journey?
I was first exposed to quinoa in the early 2000s, and it was always an ingredient that I tinkered with in the kitchen. After returning from a trip in 2009 to Bolivia – where quinoa is traditionally grown – my love for quinoa grew deeper. I was inspired by some of the quinoa-based products I saw in Bolivia (cereals, breads, granola, etc.) to start making quinoa snacks out of my kitchen. On a whim, I started selling my quinoa-based granola at a pop-up market in Brooklyn, and soon thereafter, our company I Heart Keenwah was born.
Why do you think more people should incorporate quinoa into their diet?
Quinoa is a perfectly balanced food. It is a nutrient dense seed, full of complete protein, fiber, carbohydrates, minerals, and fat. It is a one-stop shop for sustaining life. I love quinoa on a practical level, because it can be incorporated in so many dishes: rice substitute, grain salad, snack food, and desserts. I think this level of adaptability and flexibility explains quinoa’s cult following. Our mission as a quinoa company is to turn more people on to quinoa.
Your flavors are vegan and nutrient-rich. Can you tell us a bit about what drove you to put healthy, plant-rich snacks out in the market?
When we started I Heart Keenwah, we focused solely on snacks. We did this on purpose, because everyone relates to snacks. With each new product launch, we have always tried to incorporate quinoa into well-known formats. Our quinoa clusters were nothing more than a quinoa-based granola bite. Our quinoa puffs are similar to a traditional cheese puff (only ours are healthier and made of quinoa). With every item, we always try to use a format that people can relate to.
Do you have any challenges around educating consumers about the value of plant-based eating?
Most people are unaware of the idea of “complete protein.” Proteins are made up of amino acids, and complete proteins are required for muscle repair. Many plant-based protein sources are not complete on their own. One can construct complete proteins by mixing different plant-based proteins at mealtime (e.g., pairing rice and beans). What makes quinoa so unique is that it is a source of complete protein in and of itself! The quality of protein contained in quinoa is on par with that of meat and dairy.
We try to avoid pesticides and other chemicals in food. How did you determine what standards were necessary for the safest and best-tasting quinoa?
We source USDA Organic Certified quinoa, and our farmers have to go through rigorous reviews to maintain their USDA Organic seal.
Beyond diet, your company, like the plant-based movement, works to make better some social, economic, and environmental issues caused by food production. You work with a co-op in Bolivia. Can you tell us a bit about the benefits that your company has brought to Bolivia?
I Heart Keenwah has an official sourcing commitment to Bolivian quinoa, and we work with Fair Trade cooperatives. By supporting Fair Trade, we can work to ensure our Bolivian farmers make a living wage. Fair Trade funds are also allocated towards improving communal living. In prior years, for example, the cooperatives with whom we now work used Fair Trade funds to invest in irrigation and solar projects. Fair Trade is very important to helping Bolivian small-holder farmers maintain a dignified quality of life and preserve their traditional production of heirloom quinoa.
You started your own food business that has become really successful. Was that process what you expected it to be?
We continue to move forward! We are still very much a small business with big aspirations. When we started I Heart Keenwah, we never thought we would have gotten this far. Our initial goal was to get our product into a handful of local stores, and now we have several product lines in national retailers. It’s a testament to the power of our star ingredient – quinoa – and the lucky breaks we have gotten along the way.
What’s next for you? How would you like to see I Heart Keenwah grow?
We just launched our quinoa hot cereals, so we are still focusing on spreading the word. They are made of toasted quinoa flakes (which taste super nutty), and one flavor uses lucuma which is a Peruvian fruit that tastes similar to maple syrup. We love discovering new ingredients such as lucuma, and it’s always a bonus when the ingredients are native to the Andean region. We’d love to use other lesser-known South American in our products to highlight the continent’s food heritage.
We love seeing more snacks on the market that make plant-based eating more accessible, and brands that demonstrate the demand for plant-based food. What’s the best way for all of us to support your work?
Use your voice as well as vote with your dollars. The food industry is very democratic in a lot of ways, and it’s the consumers who ultimately decide which items stay on supermarket shelves and which don’t. If organic food and Fair Trade issues interest your readers, they should demand their local markets carry those types of foods. It’s remarkable how much stores actually listen to their customers.
Find I Heart Keenwah products in stores or online. Check out our jumbo chocolate chip cookie recipe using their new organic hot oatmeal!