Crunch time for young entrepreneur

by Carolyn Sackariason, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Snowmass Village teenager finds niche in nutritional food market

When most teenagers are spending their summers hanging with friends, sleeping in and watching TV, Aspen High School junior Jack Paley has been busy launching his new business, which in its first year already has made a profit.

Paley, 17, is the sole owner and founder of Aspen Crunch, a company that offers dehydrated fruits and vegetables in snack form. Paley has been selling 200 to 300 bags of his product each week he has been at the Aspen farmers’ market, he said.

In the summer of his sophomore year, Paley then 15, spent seven weeks at Babson College, a business school in Wellesley, Mass., specializing in entrepreneurship. It was there that he built on his idea of tapping into the nutritional food market and studied the feasibility of his business plan.

“My mom was looking to keep me busy,” he said. “It was more to keep me occupied.”

Paley spent two months living on campus in a dorm, and developing his business and marketing plans. He said he didn’t miss that summer in the Roaring Fork Valley because the learning opportunity and experience was immeasurable for someone his age.

“It’s great to stay in Aspen but it’s awesome to get out and learn,” Paley said.

It was at Babson where he also began learning how to manufacture the produce, learned about the dehydration process, read recipes and tested the product in that community.

“I revised, revised, revised,” Paley said. “It was a lot of trial and error.”

Aspen Crunch offers low-calorie snacks comprised of dried apples, strawberries, pineapple, red peppers, kale chips and asparagus. Paley also has created a recipe for a granola mix and is working on a supplemental powder.

Aspen Crunch worked with Pitkin County Environmental Health to bring its residential kitchen in Snowmass Village up to standards. Paley dehydrates the fruit and vegetables by himself, producing as much as he needs based on sales volume at the market and through orders on his website, Paley said he’s been careful not to grow the business too fast.

“I believe in steady, slow, controlled growth,” he said, adding now he will focus on how he can bring Aspen Crunch products into the local retail market.

He buys produce from Rendezvous Organic Farm in Crawford, which ships his orders to his house, where it’s then dehydrated and packaged.

“I’m trying to keep it as local as much as I can,” Paley said.

He gets up early in the morning, and before school, cuts and dehydrates the produce, creates labels for the packages and attends to whatever details are needed for the business.

Paley put his entire life savings — $8,000 generated through years of Christmas and birthday gifts  — into the business. Not only has Aspen Crunch turned a profit, he has been able to reinvest into his company.

“I’m past the point of no return,” he said, adding he factors in the expense of his labor, equipment and other costs related to the business.

His original business plan considered the cost of each bag to be $10 but he lowered it to $8, and is looking for ways to reduce the price more.

Paley’s entrepreneurial spirit comes, he said, from his grandfather and father, who both operated their own businesses.

“I love the empowerment of starting something,” he said.

And with the help of many in the community, Paley has been able to successfully find a niche in the nutritional food market. He said he took the advice of many mentors, teachers and entrepreneurs, and tweaked his product and business accordingly.

“Aspen is a really great town to get your foot in the door with business,” he said. “Through the help and support of this town, I got it done.”