Sales of Bear Food’s peanuts, pecans and snack mixes support young adults with disabilities.
by Michelle Boudin
Mac Brydon went to Mercer University on a basketball scholarship, but after two years he realized he didn’t want to play anymore. The only problem? He’d have to find a way to pay for tuition at the private school in Macon, Ga., without the scholarship. “I grew up helping my mom when she used to sell Virginia peanuts, and I thought this was something I could do,” Brydon says.
Brydon came up with the name Bear Food, a nod to his beloved school’s mascot. He designed a label, drafted a business plan and set out to sell gourmet peanuts to corporate customers looking for client gifts.
“All of a sudden I had a brand, and after the first year, I was like, this could help pay for school,” he says. Bear Food sales reached $40,000 in the first year. “That’s how I stayed in school, and then my senior year I won a scholarship for being an entrepreneur, and that was $20,000 towards school,” says Brydon, who attended Carmel Christian School in Matthews.
Four years in, he’s hoping to hit a million dollars in sales this year.
“We have 15 different products now. It’s kind of crazy to see where we were after that first winter, when I would get excited with a shipment that had 20 boxes. Now, we have pallets coming in all the time.” Bear Food sources peanuts from eastern Virginia and pecans from Georgia. Varieties include jalapeño, Cajun spice and honey-roasted. Bear Mix — a sweet and spicy mix of cheddar sticks, sesame sticks and assorted nuts — and Dill Pickle peanuts are bestsellers.
Now 24 and a college graduate, Brydon runs the business full time with the help of his dad and his older brother Miller, who has Down syndrome.
“When I started the business, Miller had just graduated high school and I always thought, ‘What is he gonna do?’ I wanted to build a company that helped adults with special needs [develop] some skills and experience what it’s like to be working for a company.”
Beyond just working with the brother he adores, Bear Food also partners with Rainbow Express Ministries to support people with special needs. “Miller has been with them for seven years. We’ll bring 20 cases of peanuts every Tuesday for “Bear Food day,” and we try to create the experience of working in the community for them.” Bear Food also donates a portion of proceeds to the ministry.
“It’s amazing. It’s a great feeling to be able to make sure my brother has a job. I don’t want to take too much credit. I’ve grown up in the special-needs community. I worked at camps — it’s always been a part of my life. Somehow, I knew I was going to be with him, and I wanted to create that experience with him. That’s the neatest thing about the business.”
The nuts and snack mixes are now sold in 200 stores in 35 states. Bear Food recently expanded its Matthews office, but Brydon says he wants to grow the business even more.
“I’d love to be in 300 or 350 stores, and I want to grow online sales to be our biggest revenue stream,” Brydon says. “I’m not satisfied — I never am! I’m always looking to the future and different ways to grow. We’ve doubled or tripled sales every year since we started the company, and I want it to keep going.” SP
Bear Food is sold online at bearfood.biz, with pickup available at its Matthews office. Bear Food products are also sold at Charlotte’s, Pour Olive, Reid’s Fine Foods, The GoodNews Shop, The Social Shop, Eliza B’s, Abode, Moxie Mercantile, CLT Find, Swoozie’s, Bird House on the Greenway, and Woo Skincare and Cosmetics.
Photographs courtesy Bear Food