There are 26 ingredients in a Cool Ranch Dorito. Smartfood White Cheddar popcorn has 15, and there are 18 hard-to-spell ingredients in the Cheetos Flamin’ Hot seasoning alone. “Most salty snacks are highly processed,” LesserEvil CEO Charles Coristine says. “Manufacturing in this category is controlled by a few co-packers who do things in a very static way.” But with today’s consumers growing more health-conscious and educated about what they feed themselves and their children, Coristine thought there had to be a better method.
“We wanted to offer something the market didn’t have: delicious snacks that are minimally processed, made with good fats and no refined salt,” he says. “It wasn’t until we opened our factory in Danbury that we could offer something truly different.” Indeed, the Connecticut-based snack brand manufactures products that are far less complicated than their competitors. LesserEvil’s popular Himalayan Pink Salt organic popcorn, for example, has only three ingredients.
For the best Connecticut Magazine content, plus the week's most compelling news and entertainment picks, delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our weekly newsletter.
“We air pop the most tender butterfly corn, making it lighter, fluffier and lower in fat and calories,” Coristine says. “Plus, it’s a good source of fiber and we never use processed vegetable oils.” Then, popcorn is finished with sweet and savory flavors like “No Cheese” Cheesiness and Oh My Ghee!
For vegans and those following a paleo or keto diet, Grain Free Paleo Puffs are vegan and dense with nutrients, tumbled in healthy fats like coconut oil and packed with organic cassava, coconut flower and sweet potato. Similarly, Grain Free Egg White Curls are dippable snacks made from egg whites and avocado oil to deliver 6 grams of protein per serving.
LesserEvil has come a long way from its founding in 2005, when the mantra was “snack like a kid again.” It’s been a steady journey to healthier snacks ever since, with the company arriving in Danbury in 2013.
The idea is to offer enjoyable snacks with clean ingredients for a healthy lifestyle that won’t phase out with the next diet fad. And clean ingredients isn’t just referring to calories but also to the environment. “Sustainability is a big part of all of our business decisions,” Coristine adds. “It’s not just enough to offer organic; we need to focus on waste, plastics and energy efficiencies.”
To do that, LesserEvil recently launched a partnership with their Danbury neighbors, New England Compost, which composts the waste into a final blended product approved for organic use as a soil amendment in gardens and landscaping throughout the region. Plus, it’s all run on solar power.
LesserEvil recently transitioned all of the brand’s snack packaging to NEO Plastics, which adds an organic compound to its plastic to speed up breakdown. “Once packaging made with NEO is discarded into a landfill, it accelerates the natural microbial process, creating biogas, which can be collected and turned into clean, renewable energy,” Coristine explains.
Business has been booming. The company moved into a new facility in January 2018, and in spring 2019, relocated its office space in order to expand the factory and warehouse. Today, LesserEvil snacks are available nationwide. In Connecticut, they’re sold at ShopRite and Whole Foods, as well as in specialty markets such as It’s Only Natural in Middletown, Essential Health in Hartford and Nature’s Temptations in Ridgefield. Plus, a small snack shop recently opened at the Danbury headquarters.
Sustainability and transparency are the leading ideologies for the LesserEvil brand, which employs about 50 people in its Danbury factory.
The ethos is shared by employees, many of whom have been with the company from the beginning. “Most of the people we employ have been with us through a lot of the setbacks and growing pains. We don’t know if we could do it again without many of the people that have steered the ship through the years,” Coristine says.
Origins of LesserEvil ingredients
It’s hard to trace the beginnings of man-made additives like disodium inosinate (commonly found in snacks like Doritos). LesserEvil’s ingredients can be sourced back to their roots. Here’s the DNA of a LesserEvil snack.
Popcorn: farms in the U.S. Midwest
Egg white powder: sourced from American Humane Certified hens, raised in the U.S. Midwest
Cassava flour: Brazil
Coconut oil: Philippines
Himalayan pink salt: Himalayas in Pakistan
Butter: sourced from New Zealand and converted to ghee at the LesserEvil factory