Hannah Raycraft was raised with an entrepreneurial spirit.
As a middle schooler, she fundraised for a mission trip by making and selling headbands using her grandmother’s seamstress tools. Raycraft’s parents taught her and her sisters to never back away from a challenge. If they couldn’t do it, then figure it out. If they want to do it, then go do it.
Raycraft, who lives in Holland, says her mother’s passion for cooking and participation in ballet was influential in her interest in healthy living. This led her to pursue a degree in exercise science at Hope College.
In 2015, Raycraft was visiting family in Germany and tasted her first tiger nut porridge. When she returned home for her senior year at Hope, she knew that bringing the tiger nut stateside was her next entrepreneurial mission.
Her parents gave her the green light. It was time to bring the tiger nut to the American food industry, and Spera Foods was born.
The company name comes from the Latin word for “hope,” which is also included in her alma mater’s motto “Spera in Deo” translated to “Hope in God.” Raycraft says the idea for using the word “spera” came from her roommate in their backyard one afternoon prior to graduating.
Tiger nut popularity grows
Tiger nut, known as chufa or earth almonds, is a root vegetable mainly grown in regions of West Africa that has valuable health properties of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It is commonly used in gluten-free, nut-free, vegan, and paleo diets.
After five years in business, Raycraft says it still can be challenging introducing the tiger nut and its benefits. However, since she began, the product has grown in popularity around the country.
“It draws people in that are already looking for (healthy food alternatives),” Raycraft says.
Complex food industry
Starting out, Raycraft utilized resources from the Lakeshore Advantage and its SURGE program but still found it difficult to navigate the complexities of the food industry.
“One of my biggest challenges at first was finding good mentors and people who could actually give me good advice,” she says.
Raycraft has learned to balance her personal and work life, especially because her husband works as a nurse. The couple must plan their schedules in order to maximize time together.
“I’ve learned that I can balance things well and I can handle the stress,” Raycraft says. “I’ve learned that I’m not a quitter.”
Early in her entrepreneurial journey, Raycraft spent time at farmers markets, pitch competitions, and conventions educating people on the tiger nut. Although she experienced rejection from meat-and-potatoes clientele, being based in West Michigan gave her the foundational support she needed to keep her dream alive.
Spera Foods partners with Total Food Package in Spring Lake, Midwest Organics to import the tiger nut from Ghana, and the Downtown Market in Grand Rapids for merchandise production.
“Even when things have gotten really hard and it makes sense to give up — I’m pretty stubborn,” Raycraft says.
Because of the active online health community, Spera Foods has grown its brand outside of the Midwest. Through Faire, an online food distribution platform, Spera Foods has its products in 40 storefronts across the United States.
New products planned
Spera Foods currently offers tiger nut flour, granola, and waffle and pancake mixes. Raycraft plans to add new products in the next 12 months, focusing on additional ready-to-use baking mixes. She is also working to scale Spera Foods distribution through nationwide retailers.
Spera Food’s mission is a “hope for better health,” and it’s that ambition that motivates Raycraft to make Spera a brand associated with quality and well-being.
“Knowing that I’ve created a product line that people genuinely get excited about is what keeps me going.”
Learn more about the tiger nut and Spera Foods product offerings at sperafoods.com