Carina Ayden, Founder of EFFi Foods® on Building Healthy Snacks for A Greater Living

By Lingling Chen

Carina Ayden is the Founder & Executive Director of Eco Friendly Foods Initiative® — EFFI Foods®, a startup that markets healthy snacks with Probiotic CareBar® and Probiotic Grainless Granola (Nut Bars) in the product portfolio. Carina is a fearless entrepreneur who turns life obstacles into inspirations. She suffered an injury in her childhood that precipitated a debilitating spine condition resulting in chronic pain, numerous spine surgeries and long periods of recovery. She found out that nutrition, particularly probiotics, helped her recover much faster and avoid post-op complications regarding digestion and became passionate about the nutrition’s important in medical recovery. She decided to totally disrupt the unhealthiest food category — snacks — by creating a better option with many health benefits. EFFI Foods® also partnered with Cleveland Clinic to help marry homespun recipes with nutraceuticals, while ensuring an exceptional taste.

I spoke with Carina about her journey, her passion, and how she overcame challenges along the way.

Carina Ayden

How did you decide all-in to embark on this entrepreneurship journey?

Carina: Particularly with EFFI Foods it was simple: I saw the missing link, the niche that needed to be filled in the snacking space. I wanted to disrupt it and I had knowledge to do so.

The entrepreneurship journey started when I was 12–13 years old. My mom was approached by some of her acquaintances who asked her if I could tutor their kids on subjects like literature and English language. I had a few teenagers I tutored and I created a weekly schedule of who when and how I will see, what homework I will give them. I was very structured. I liked making money that way having the power of sharing the knowledge and creating the structure for other people. It was very pleasing in the end to find out that they passed their exams.

As I grew up the journey continued with a language school in Turkey, Istanbul and followed by a textbook that was published 2 years later.

From idea to market, what was the biggest challenge you and your team faced? How did you overcome it?

Carina: The number one 1 challenge was to instill sustainable aspects in the business and the product and still make it profitable. The second challenge was the “team” itself. Finding people with passion and expertise is very challenging. Both problems were overcome by “stripping down” in order to make it work.

You partnered with Cleveland Clinic to develop your product. What were some of the lessons you learned about how to work with big companies?

Carina: Working with larger companies or institutions require to have 3 main things: time, money and when you run out of first two, patience.

We had the product ready to go and the team in place, all the certifications of approval like USDA etc. But I was determined to get a third party validation and comply with EVEN STRICTER nutritional guidelines working with top dietitians, all that in order to fulfill the company’s mission: Change unhealthy snacking category to not just palatable “better-for-you” type of snacks but truly to raise the bar in both taste and nutrition profiles. The process took much longer than was anticipated due to so many aspects when working with large teams.

In the end I learned that, what previously was falsely believed, that I am a very patient person because I like to see things through. Although the majority of people around me at the time called me “insane” and “too ambitious.”

How did you find the balance between producing the products you envisioned while still making the profit?

Carina: That’s a hard one. People (consumers) are on a constant look out for a healthy tasty products but they obviously don’t want to pay a premium. Even if they might be ready to spend some extra cash, in order to find out you have to get it on the shelves first by working with a distributor and a broker who’ll tell you that you have to drop a price in order to get their margin so the retail price will be competitive.

I don’t believe in making food products expensive. Food is not a luxury item. It should be available to all. In order to make it happen without sacrificing the taste the sustainable aspects of our food we work with smaller profit margins. The buzz generated by people that fall in love with EFFi Foods products keeps open doors for us. And for that I’m very grateful.

How do you find help when you encounter roadblocks? What’s your support system look like?

Carina: For the most part of my life I looked outside of myself for support and understanding to only find it in myself.

To find people who could step into your shoes and feel everything you go through or to see your ideas as vividly as you see them is almost impossible. Although I’m lucky to have a few of those special people in my life, my support system still lies within my own inner self.

I also have an established routine where when something hits me hard like a roadblock or a serious problem and the solutions at hand are not enough, I tend to turn to some philosophical works, quantum physics theories that reintroduce the world to me and shift my perspective. Once the perspective change — you see the problem from a bird’s eye view and the feet of its might crumbled by fear.

What’s your advice for food entrepreneurs?

Carina: Futurism & sustainability. These two words and what lies in them will get you far and will get you excited about your venture.

Besides the access to healthy food, what other food issues that you deeply care about?

Carina: The juxtaposition of the world’s biggest problems that connected to food are ranging from obesity to starvation, from food waste to famine. The system of distribution is flawed. Exploitation and severe abuse of living beings by meat and dairy industry is also a big one for me.

If you can envision a food ecosystem in 10 years, what would that be?

Carina: The ideal ecosystem is a closed loop ecosystem based on the model of circular economy. It will happen but unfortunately probably not in 10 years.