BRITTNEY LOHMILLER/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Shannon Jex, left and her husband Zach Jex package their grain-free granola for their business Atlas Snacks. Shannon and Zach wanted to start eating healthier and began a paleo lifestyle, which led them to develop their own recipe of nuts, seeds and dried fruit snacks. Below, Shannon weighs the granola in the packages to be sold at The Markets and online.
BRITTNEY LOHMILLER/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Shannon Jex, left and her husband Zach Jex package their grain-free granola for their business Atlas Snacks. Shannon and Zach wanted to start eating healthier and began a paleo lifestyle, which led them to develop their own recipe of nuts, seeds and dried fruit snacks. Below, Shannon weighs the granola in the packages to be sold at The Markets and online.

Archived Story

Natchez couple creates paleo snack business

Published 12:05am Sunday, April 27, 2014

NATCHEZ — It’s not exactly what a caveman would eat, but a Natchez family’s effort to eat more healthful food as part of their paleo diet plan has morphed into a growing energy food business.

Zach and Shannon Jex made a decision last year to try to eat more health-friendly foods, cutting out sodas, cookies, candy, processed foods, grains and dairy.

The plan they adopted was the paleo diet — “paleo” in this case refers to Paleolithic — which is based on what some believe was eaten by Paleolithic, or stone-age, humans.

“We took that diet and modified it to fit what we could get in this area — it’s difficult to find grass-fed beef here — but we found that for those times between meals, we needed something to snack on,” Zach said.

The couple started experimenting with making mixes of nuts and seeds that could serve as a sort of granola alternative.

“We both worked full-time, and we didn’t have quick, on-the-go healthy options, and it was really difficult to find things that weren’t processed,” Shannon said. “We needed something to fuel up in the mornings and during the 3 p.m. hour.”

At the time, they were simply looking to make something based on the foods they knew they could have and what ingredients they have available.

“We knew what nuts and seeds we enjoyed, but we never had some of the things we tried, like pumpkin seeds,” Shannon said.

“I think paleo as a whole has made us branch out on foods that we would never have gone out and bought.”

From the initial snack mix experiment, it was a matter of tweaking the recipe for their own consumption.

“We knew we had to have natural sweeteners like honey, and we knew we couldn’t use oils other than those like coconut oils,” Shannon said. “Once we got the foundation we liked, we kind of tweaked it to how dry we might have liked it or how much crunch it had to it.”

The foundation they started with was intentionally protein dense so it would give energy for a couple of hours, Shannon said.

It included honey, coconut oil, sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, dried non-sweetened coconut, vanilla, sea salt and dried cranberries.

They would gently bake it to get the ingredients to adhere together but not get too crunchy.

It was a good snack, Zach said.

“We were making it for four or five months and were never going to sell it,” he said.

“We weren’t developing it to sell it, so we just sort of made it. The first version was sweetened with honey, and it was too sweet and sticky, so we dropped the honey back and added or subtracted different ingredients to get the consistency right.”

But as time passed, they found the right balance for the perfect snack.

“We took the time and got to where we were eating it every day, and we started sharing it with our friends,” Zach said.

That’s when the idea to sell the bars began to form.

“When we share it with people, they started saying it was amazing,” Zach said. “We took the next step and started bagging it, and it started flying out of the house.”

So they took the next step and decided to license a kitchen to cook the bars for commercial sales. The couple rented out a Bed and Breakfast in town to use the cooking facilities and started baking.

“You have to get creative in a small town,” Shannon said.

With the expansion into commercial offerings, the Jexes named their product Atlas Snacks and expanded their line to include a granola alternative with cinnamon and a tropical paleo power mix.

“Adding cinnamon to the original recipe gives it a totally different flavor,” Shannon said.

“Cinnamon and honey are so good for you — it is so powerful — and so we wanted to have that combination.”

The tropical power mix includes cashews, walnuts, unsweetened banana chips, diced mango, diced pineapple and organic dark chocolate.

“It’s a healthy, wholesome snack with natural ingredients but paleo friendly,” Zach said. “It is really for anyone who is trying to eat a more healthful diet.”

Right now the operation is still small, with Shannon, Zach and one employee, whose first day was last week. They’re still cooking the bars themselves.

“It is not rocket science, but it is something that we are very particular about,” she said. “If we ever have a batch that tastes a little sweeter or has a little too much crunch, we keep it for ourselves. We want everybody’s first bag to be unbelievable.”

Atlas Snacks can be purchased locally at Natchez Market No. 1, and Zach said he would meet this week with Whole Foods in Jackson in an effort to get into the store there.

Atlas Snacks can also be purchased online at atlassnacks.com.