For State College entrepreneur Gracienne Myers, starting a natural foods product wasn’t just good business — it was personal.
The Brazilian native suffered from an unknown sickness for more than a year, experiencing heavy fatigue, allergies, headaches, dizziness and more. After seeing her children’s lives passing by without her, she knew she had to make a change.
“When I was little, my grandmother said, ‘We die like fish.’ Today I realize exactly what she meant. We die through our mouth, through what we eat and through what we say,” Myers said.
She started to look into seeing a nutritionist or a health coach.
“I came across someone from New York after some research and after speaking with this woman for just a few minutes, she said, ‘I know exactly what you have.’ She said, ‘your gut is out of balance ... you have to get ahold of it, because your health starts in your gut,’ ” Myers said.
After undergoing a diet transformation, Myers recalls feeling “reborn” and now she says she’s “very picky when it comes to food. If I don’t have at least eight or nine types of fruit in my kitchen, my house just feels like a house, not a home.”
When a friend challenged her to find something similar to Banana Vital on the market, Myers was inspired to create the brand. Pulling together a unique combination of ripe and green bananas, after several tries, she came across the perfect combination.
“I made it probably five times in order to get the right consistency, flavor and texture,” she said. “But one thing I always wanted to (put first) is quality. I did not want to make that bar with anything else other than fruit — no colorants, no added sugar. In my opinion, if I wouldn’t eat it, why would I give it to someone?”
Once the recipe was right, Myers headed to Brazil to find a manufacturer that fit her high standards, finally settling on an allergen-free plant that upheld her same values and focus on quality. While there, she also began to see how not just her prior illness, but her entire life, led her to the creation of Banana Vital.
“In December, when I went to Brazil to meet with the manufacturers ... I looked around, banana trees all over the place, to the left, to the right, in front of me and I told my friend, ‘You know the funny thing (is), the city where I was born, the nickname of it means “banana tree,” ’ she said. “At that moment, it came to my mind — I was born in a little town and the nickname of it was ‘banana tree’ and my favorite toy (as a child) was (made from) the banana trunk and I used to make little watches out of the banana leaves. That’s how I grew up, connected to nature.”
Banana Vital, which consumers have described as having a date-like flavor, is available locally at Wegmans, McClanahan’s Market, Appalachian Outdoors, Nature’s Panty and Victory Nation, as well as retailers throughout the state and into New York and New Jersey. However, Myers has big plans for the brand, with goals of being in 10,000 stores by the end of next year. She sees Banana Vital as the perfect solution for coffee shops and cafes with limited shelf space, and even big box stores like Walmart, where she notes bananas are the top-selling item.
In response to the market, Myers is developing additional Banana Vital varieties, such as Banana + Guava and Banana + Coconut, but promises she’ll never forgo quality to meet consumer demand.
“In diversifying, I still want to keep the foundation of what the brand is, which is the combination of the green and white bananas, and I’m not going to change that under any circumstances, even if I have investors coming in. That’s what Banana Vital is,” she said. “I’m OK to add another fruit ... a maximum of two fruits, (but) we’re not going to sacrifice quality for quantity, ever.”
Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.