Owning Greatness, Part 2 – Jane Ciccone
Women Leaders of the Merrimack Valley Seek to Innovate and Transform
There are many leaders throughout the Merrimack Valley, including five exceptional women we’ll highlight during the coming weeks. They are leaders in their industries, respected by colleagues and the public, and at the forefront of changing the landscape for women in their fields.
Co-Founder, Onesto Foods
Some kids hate being dragged to the grocery store, but Jane Ciccone’s children love to go food shopping.
They can’t wait to get a glimpse of their family’s creations on the shelves of Whole Foods.
Ciccone is co-founder and owner of Onesto Foods, a fast-growing company that was founded in 2014 and has since built a strong following for its tasty gluten-free crackers and cookies.
“[When] they see someone buying a package at the market, they get so excited,” Ciccone says of her kids, Zachary, 13, and Josie, 11. “They want to take pictures of the crackers at Whole Foods. They’re very, very supportive.”
Leading a cracker and cookie company wasn’t a career path Ciccone envisioned for herself, but life had other plans. When her daughter was a preschooler, she began exhibiting symptoms of celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that’s triggered by the consumption of gluten. So the West Newbury mom began searching for healthy snacks Josie could eat. Ciccone and her husband, Onesto co-founder Jesse, are Italian Americans, and both grew up in households where family time was often spent around an antipasto platter. Rather than seeing her children miss out on this family tradition, Ciccone looked for a tasty gluten-free cracker.
When she couldn’t find one, Ciccone decided to bake it herself. She gave her friends and family samples. And, since she was teaching cooking classes at the time, her students became taste testers, too.
When the recipe was perfected, she began making the rounds at local farmers markets and visiting area shops to see if they would sell her crackers. A few agreed.
“It’s just been growing from there,” Ciccone says.
Early in 2020, Onesto (which means “honest” in Italian) launched its soft-baked, gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO cookie line. The first customer to sign on was Whole Foods, which already had been selling the company’s gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO crackers. When the bakery buyer tasted the cookies, they became a quick sell.
Onesto crackers were named in Yankee Magazine’s 2015 Editors’ Choice Food Awards, and were a Martha Stewart American Made finalist the same year. In 2019, the cheese magazine Culture named Onesto Artisan Crackers a “Best Savory Accompaniment.”
When the company was founded, Ciccone says “gluten-free” was kept off the crackers’ packaging so the product wouldn’t be pigeonholed. Soon, Ciccone realized they were missing an entire market of consumers who wanted delicious gluten-free food.
Today, Ciccone loves the reactions of first-time customers.
“My favorite [response] is, ‘I’m not even gluten-free and these are my favorite crackers,’” she says.
Customers can entertain with confidence, knowing the crackers are safe for all guests to consume, Ciccone says.
It’s also important to Ciccone and her husband that Onesto Foods’ packaging is as environmentally friendly as possible.
“We’re very proud of that,” she says. “We’re very mindful of our impact.”
The bakery in Vermont that makes all of the crackers and cookies for Onesto is solar-powered, and vegetable dye is used in the printing on the crackers’ packages. According to Ciccone, the packaging is made from recycled materials and is 100% recyclable. The boxes are produced using 100% wind-powered energy.
The coronavirus pandemic has altered Ciccone’s plans to launch a new product this year, but she says the company has seen an increase in sales over the last several months.
“Our online sales have increased dramatically since COVID-19 hit. Because people aren’t feeling comfortable shopping in stores, they’re ordering our products online, and we’re beyond thankful for that,” Ciccone says.
Ciccone has temporarily halted plans to begin marketing caponata, a Sicilian appetizer consisting of eggplant, olives, celery and onions, and seasoned with herbs, capers and a sweet-and-sour sauce. It’s a dish that brings Ciccone back to her childhood in Andover and remains near and dear to her heart.
“We’ve decided to hold off until the spring of 2021 at the earliest,” she says. “Because of the pandemic and the possibility of more quarantines, stores are hesitant to bring in new product lines. Understandably, customers just want to get in and get out when shopping these days. And offering samples of new food products is always important when launching, and we definitely can’t do that during this crazy time. So we’ll be patient and try to find a time that’s right.”
Ciccone would tell younger women hoping to start their own company to avoid getting “too high with the highs and too low with the lows.” It’s easy to get caught up in accolades and negative feedback, and both can push you off track, she says.
At the end of the day, ask, “Did I have fun today?” Ciccone says. There’s no sense in working so hard to start a business, she says, if you aren’t going to feel good about it.
“Be a good person and work with good people,” she says. “It’s OK to say no. Feel good about yourself. You need to have a good sense of who you are. Stay true to yourself and your values.”
Ciccone is one of five exceptional women featured in the Sept/Oct 2020 issue of Merrimack Valley Magazine. Click here for more info. >>>
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