September 25, 2012
Since 1978, Sweet Earth Natural Foods (375-8673) has been pumping out vegan-friendly prepared foods from its downtown Pacific Grove outpost tucked between Juice and Java and the Grove Market parking lot.
“They believed that real foods, like whole grains and beans, minimally processed, produced better tasting, good-for-you foods,” says spokeswoman Celeste White.
Its mission was ahead-of-its time: providing delicious vegan and vegetarian options to those in need of a quick, healthy meal. Sweet Earth also distributes wraps, burritos and soups, among other goodies, to markets, grocery stores and cafes in Northern California.
Only now they're changing their game—which is both good and bad.
Although their high quality products and unique attention to the vegan community have kept them afloat for over 30 years, the economic downturn, combined with increased competition from natural food conglomerates, recently inspired Sweet Earth toward change.
The company has traditionally depended on guaranteed sale products, meaning that whatever wasn’t sold in grocery stores and cafes by the expiration date had to be re-purchased by Sweet Earth at full price. While they valiantly donated the majority of the repurchased items, business was dwindling as the natural food industry expanded.
So Sweet Earth was put up for sale in 2011. Local Kelly Swette was inspired by the original mission and swept up the label, instituting a strategic revival: a frozen line.
One Sweet Earth addict, a local and environmentally-conscious eater who happens to be my Dad, was distressed to find the cooler at Grove Market, sitting just a few paces from their home base, devoid of Sweet Earth products this summer.
Grove Market management patiently explained that their neighbor was in the process of a big move. Sweet Earth recently confirmed that a new facility is in the works on Hilltop Road in Moss Landing, and will open this fall.
In March, Sweet Earth entered the Natural Food Expo West for their first time as a vendor, where their Big Sur Breakfast Burrito picked up a Best in Show award from VegNews Magazine. Like the rest of their eight new world-destination-themed burritos ($3.99), the Big Sur bursts with plant-based protein from a smoked version of their signature ingredient, seitan, a meat-like substance derived from wheat. The smoky flavor of the seitan shines through, and have a similar texture to bits of sausage. It’s then rounded out by roasted bell peppers, a hearty helping of potatoes and tofu, and presented in bright new packaging. The traditional breakfast burrito flavor and texture remain, but the heavy grease and lethargic aftershock are absent. Their “curry tiger” burrito, packed with curried seitan, lentils, red peppers and potatoes coated in a spice explosion of cinnamon, cardamom and turmeric also scored a spot in the Top 15 Vegan Picks from Delicious Living Magazine.
While their move from prepared foods to high-production frozen treats has a few fresh food fanatics like my pops a little bummed, Sweet Earth is already on the mend.
As of early July, a voice at the company said that three new people had already been hired, and they’re planning to employ many more in the near future. In addition to the burrito line, they have also introduced two new fresh and frozen veggie burgers and six kitchen-ready seitan cuts. They’ve also been nominated for the 2013 Next Forecast, an authority on what’s hot for the near future of health food.
More good news: The burritos can be found at Cherry Bean (424-1981) in Salinas, Grove Market (375-9581) and Juice & Java (373-8652) in Pacific Grove, and several northern California Whole Foods Markets.
For a list of products and where they can be found, visit www.sweetearthfoods.com or follow them on facebook at www.facebook.com.sweetearthnaturalfoods. Sweet Earth Natural Foods is located at 597 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove. 375-8673.