California Granola

By Brian Hudgins, May 29, 2019
Alumnus used his mom’s recipe and economics degree from IC to launch a health-food business.

When Brian Tetrud ’11 explored the boundaries of his hobby, he had two main tools: a homemade recipe and a huge spreadsheet.

A family granola recipe gave Tetrud the main ingredient for Ladera Foods. As an Ithaca College student, he used to make it for himself and his friends, but he didn’t sell it. Once he decided to put it out for public consumption, he embarked on a year’s worth of homework. “When we started, it was a pretty nascent space,” Tetrud said. “Overall, premium granola was not very common. There were some local premium granola brands, but no national premium granola brands.”

Walking the aisles at local markets in the San Francisco Bay Area gave Tetrud an avenue to compare his infant company to products already established on shelves. His ever-growing spreadsheet contained brand names, corresponding shelf prices, sugar content, protein content and product amounts per container. “Every granola had so much sugar,” Tetrud said. “For people trying to stay away from sugar, that is a key differentiation for us. My mom is a Stanford-trained medical doctor. That (low sugar) became our niche. Taking a broad sweep of the industry and finding our position — we had the lowest sugar content at three grams per serving.”

Verbal guidance from a local bakery owner gave Tetrud some pointers regarding packaging, vendor contact information, flavor varieties and an efficient use of rack ovens fit for hundreds of pounds of granola. “We got some good help from people who were not necessarily competitors with our business,” Tetrud said. “Once you are solidified as a brand, it’s much easier to talk with competitors. They know you aren’t going to try to steal their customers or a recipe.”

A man wearing sunglasses

Brian Tetrud ’11. (Photo provided)

An education in economics at IC gave Tetrud the insight to analyze the food industry overall — to see how big it is and differentiate the various players — from the people who dominate versus the various up-and-coming brands. “Overall, it helps with the analytics side,” Tetrud said. “I wanted to go into a career in renewable energy and those were the first jobs I had at Tesla and other solar startups. I started the granola company as a hobby.”

What started as strictly a one-man hobby in 2011 gained a foothold in local stores before Tetrud took a big leap forward in 2015 when Ladera was able to get a spot on Whole Foods shelves. “That was an aha moment,” Tetrud said. “Many food startups who are premium producers go to Whole Foods. Then I hired a team and we got into Safeway.”

The local granola made in Redwood City, California, has found a home customer base primarily in the western half of the country. H-E-B has provided a Texas outlet and Ladera Foods also sells roughly 600 bags of granola per month nationally via Amazon. Tech companies in the Bay area have provided another sales outlet by enabling Ladera to sell granola in their respective company cafeterias.

Rapid growth presented a challenge. “Expansion happened quickly, which costs money,” Tetrud said. “I had to repay that debt, which was a big challenge financially to get through that time period. We didn’t grow to be a huge national brand. We grew quickly and then had to stabilize at a lower level of growth.”

That measured growth includes recent hiring of additional staff members to service accounts — with an eye on expanding to the East Coast. In addition to the flavor varieties featured on the Ladera website (almond pecan, cocoa almond and vanilla quinoa among the options), the company is planning to introduce Ladera Bites: high-protein, bite-size puffs — later this year.

A major part of both the beginning and evolution of Ladera has been Tetrud’s mom, Dr. Karen Butterfield. “She crafted that recipe and shared it with me,” Tetrud said. “She has always been inquisitive and it has been nice to have her asking questions, being a sounding board and having that support.”