CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCAU) — A woman who was originally from South Sioux City was awarded a $25,000 business grant for her healthy alternatives to traditional dips and condiments.  

Photo courtesy of Sara Larson

Hy-Vee’s OpportUNITY Inclusive Business Summit held a pitch competition in which 10 minority and women-owned businesses showed their product and services to a panel of judges, and Sarah Larson won with her blend of mayo and Greek yogurt.  

According to Larson, she started her business, Gnarly Pepper, in the basement of her parents’ house. When she came up with the idea, she had stored it on her phone for a few years, but she was scared that if she didn’t create Greek Yogurt Mayonnaise, then someone else would. At that point, she quit her full-time job in Graphic Design to focus on developing the first-ever Greek Yogurt mayonnaise.  

Larson said she started by ordering multiple ingredients online and started experimenting with different mixtures and once she had a dry formulation blend that mimicked mayonnaise when mixed with Greek yogurt, she went on to add the veggie and onion dip blends for a product line.  

“We are extremely focused on the Gnarly Pepper Like-Mayo for many reasons,” said Larson, “When you mix our Like-Mayo blend with plain Greek Yogurt, it saves you over 1,200 calories (about 96 minutes of running) per cup as compared to real mayonnaise.” 

Photo courtesy of Sara Larson

Hy-Vee’s OpportUNITY Inclusive Business Summit was held at the Kirkwood Community College Linn County Regional Center and eligible businesses pitched retail-ready solutions in one of the six categories: food and beverage, product innovation and technology, health and beauty, sustainability, and service and entertainment. Third place was awarded $10,000, second place was awarded $15,000, and first place, Gnarly Pepper, was awarded $25,000.  

“I was so overjoyed,” said Larson, “My heart runs deep within Gnarly Pepper, and I know it has the potential to go national, not just regional.” 

The next step for Gnarly Pepper is to tap into the commissary market, according to Larson. She said that being a part of the Agropur’s accelerator program in Canada in 2019 and after taking a year to reevaluate her future for Gnarly Pepper, she learned that she had to do something to make increase the awareness of the new, healthy alternative.  

“I knew I had to disrupt mayonnaise where I could – pre-made salads,” said Larson. “It’s extremely hard to compete with mayonnaise when it’s sitting in the middle aisle, and you’re positioned in the dairy aisle. […] When you’re looking at a sandwich shop board or a pre-made chicken salad at the local grocery store, would you grab the delicious tasting Gnarly Pepper salad for 210 calories (about 17 minutes of running), or the mayo-packed salad for 1,300 calories (about 104 minutes of running)? We want to leave you the option to have the bread if desired.”  

Photo courtesy of Sara Larson

Larson said that her original LLC (Limited Liability Company) was started in North Sioux City, S.D., and she was active in the community of Sioux City for some time. She set up at the farmers market from time to time as well as other events, and she mentioned that her win in the innovation market through Sioux City Growth Organization helped her to gain attraction and community support for where she wanted the company to go.  

“After my fiancé, now husband, and I traveled around the U.S. with his Traveling Sonographer job, we decided to settle in Cedar Rapids, Iowa,” said Larson, “It offered up a community market for me to expand my Gnarly Pepper Business into pre-made salads.”  

Larson added that in 2019 she had a shop found in the NewBo City Market, where her business served chicken salad, egg salad, and tuna salad daily. She featured a variety of specials and salads that were available to “grab-and-go,” and she credited feedback from customers for helping her to highlight the potential commissary kitchen and bulk salads route.  

“Per the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), obesity rates are amongst the highest in the Midwest,” said Larson, “If we can provide a healthier option without sacrificing flavor, you better believe we’re going to try!” 

For additional information about Gnarly Pepper, click here. For additional information on the OpportUNITY Summit, click here.