It can be hard to concentrate on an empty stomach but, for Amanda Gilman, that hangry feeling yielded a business idea: AMG Snacks.
She started the company in 2019 and her all-natural Energy Bites are now sold online and in more than 300 stores, including local juice bars and coffee shops, along with Whole Foods and Roche Brothers. In December, South Shore Young Professionals awarded her its 2022 $7,500 Foundation Grant.
“Trying to grow a company in such uncertain times isn’t always easy. In fact it almost never is,” she said when she was presented the award. “The funds will provide AMG Snacks the runway to get ahead on production and fulfillment and focus on continuing to grow a retail presence in our own backyard.”
The idea for the business came when she was putting in long hours at a job in finance.
“I think a lot of people can relate that you grab whatever you can when you’re stressed, and it’s not always the best decision,” she said.
Gilman chatted with a nutritionist friend and started making her own energy snacks, playing around with ingredients and recipes.
“Everyone that I worked with would come by my desk and grab one,” she said. “I started making them for everyone in the office and sharing them with friends, and people said, you should sell these.”
She found herself daydreaming about that. “What do I even do to start a company?” she asked herself. “You think of all these massive companies and how do they even get to that point? It was a lot to digest. So I started researching one thing a day or a couple things a week.
“I would reach out to people in my network. I found that when you have something specific that you want to ask someone about, it’s much easier to connect with people. I would say, ‘Hey, I want to chat with you about your experience in the food world and launching a product,’ and I would get specific advice. Once I had the branding figured out and the idea and the legal side created, I left my job in New York and moved back to Massachusetts with the intention of getting my own kitchen certified and making these in my kitchen.”
It wasn’t long before she needed to upscale her production and connected with Boxford Bakehouse in Plymouth.
Gilman, 35, got her start in the food world early. As soon as she could get her working papers, she pitched in at her parent’s Dairy Queen in Weymouth.
“It’s a great way to learn about what it takes to run a business,” she said. “Even though you think you’re just selling ice cream, you’re learning about how to handle money and interact with customers. All those small experiences over time definitely helped prepare me for something like this.”
Along with her parents, her resources include a longtime friend, Aimee Tsakirellis, vice president of marketing at Cedar’s Foods, a Haverhill-based company started by her family.
“She has really been there for me just to bounce ideas off of and talk through things as I’m growing, and for specific problems or general advice,” Gilman said. “Finance was a great background, but I definitely had to learn and evolve on the sales and marketing side.”
The main ingredients in Energy Bites are dates, oats and nuts.
“They’re made with simple ingredients that you can understand on the label,” Gilman said. “They are balanced in terms of nutrients, healthy fats, protein and fiber to help sustain your energy. They help you feel full longer and provide your body with the proper nutrients to get you through your day, avoiding any blood sugar spikes or crashes.”
Ongoing flavors include Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, Lemon Coconut, Strawberry Vanilla, Almond Chai, Chocolate Coconut, and Espresso, along with seasonal flavors like Pumpkin Spice.
Building a new business doesn’t allow for a lot of free time, but Gilman said she’s “obsessed” with her Peloton spinning bike. In February she participated in the Pan-Mass Challenge Winter Cycle, an indoor spinning event at Fenway Park that raised funds for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (her mother is a breast cancer survivor). She also donated a bag of AMG snacks to every rider.
“It was a perfect audience for that,” she said.
Even though her snack line is on her mind most of her waking hours, she enjoys cooking dinner for her husband.
“I keep trying different recipes,” she said. “It’s the only time that I actually can unwind and not be stressed or thinking about anything else. It’s how I relax.”