A product cannot get more local or artisanal than FoodFitness Granola Clusters, which Renée McCormack single-handedly makes and packages in the certified kitchen of her East Hampton house and delivers to some 20 fitness studios and specialty shops from East Hampton to Southampton.
The granola clusters are the recent culmination of almost two decades of health-oriented cooking for spas, ashrams, and private clients. After college, where she earned a degree in finance, Ms. McCormack attended the National Gourmet Institute in New York City, which is devoted to “food that is seasonal, local, whole, traditional, balanced, fresh, and delicious,” according to its website.
Lest you suspect Ms. McCormack is rigid, she believes that guilt has no place in the enjoyment of food. This outlook was always important to her, but it was fortified by a massive brain hemorrhage she suffered in 2013. “I think the message from that, which was a random event, was that life is precious and you just have to try to live each day to the fullest,” she said during a recent telephone conversation from her temporary residence in Florida.
Born and raised in East Hampton, Ms. McCormack started her first food venture, Bee Organic Juices and Smoothies, in 2000, the summer her son was born. She sold the product at the Red Horse Market and other retail stores. “Although it was a success, that summer involved a lot of juggling between my baby and my other baby of a small business. The timing was a little off, so I let it go. Now, if you look at all the fresh juice places that have sprung up, it’s clear I was onto something, but my priority was to put the time toward my family.”
The idea for the granola clusters arose from a desire to offer her two children healthy snacks at any time of day. The enthusiasm of her friends and family encouraged her to develop the endeavor into a business.
“I wanted to have an artisanal product. I decided on granola because I could really experiment with different ingredients and flavors. That’s when I came up with the three flavors of the line: maple vanilla peanut butter, coconut cranberry cocoa nib, and sunflower superseed bee pollen.”
While on an exercise bike at Railroad Fitness, she was thinking that the last thing she needed to move forward was a name for the product. LifeFitness manufactured the bike. “That was the ‘aha’ moment. And that’s what I wanted to project to my customers. Yes, you have to exercise but you also have to eat right, and if you can get a balance between the two, that’s your fitness.” She launched the business in 2015.
The granola clusters are organic, vegan, and gluten free. “Having those three components together is rare and sets me apart from other granola lines. That, and being small-batch made.” She is happy with where the company is, but occasionally imagines that someday the product will have to be made at a manufacturing plant. “I really wouldn’t have any hands-on part in the making of it then. Right now I enjoy being a part of every step.”
In addition to being a source for the granola clusters, the FoodFitness website offers information on two other enterprises: FoodFitness Fun for Kids and Food Chat. The aim of the former is to teach healthy food facts and cooking basics to children so they can make food a part of their daily fitness. It is offered free after school at the John M. Marshall Elementary School to kids ages 7 to 11. She has also worked with girls in the East Hampton I-Tri program.
Food Chat invites queries via email about food and health-related questions. “I get random responses ranging from a mother who has issues with a baby to a 65-year-old woman in Manhattan who wants to revamp her entire kitchen and diet.”
The McCormack family is spending the current school year in Boca Raton, Fla., where she is now distributing the Granola Clusters. Her husband, Owen, who has taught in East Hampton and Springs for 15 years, decided to take a sabbatical in order to teach at St. Andrew’s School there, where their children, Xavier and Stella, are enrolled for the year. They will return to East Hampton High School next year. “Our roots are definitely in East Hampton,” Ms. McCormack said.