If you’re on a gluten-free diet, you know finding great-tasting gluten-free products is a struggle. Enter Sadie Olsen, a Clinton mom who found it really hard to maintain the grain-free diet her doctor advised her to be on when she was pregnant with her son, Otto. She couldn’t find an easy to bake with flour, that didn’t taste grain-free, so she set out to create one using a grain-free ingredient. She discovered Cassava (otherwise known as Yuca which is a tuberous root vegetable) is naturally grain and gluten-free and it became the inspiration behind her line, Otto’s Naturals, named after her son. We asked her how she got her idea off the ground, how she juggles the business with parenting, what she loves about living in Clinton, what advice she has for aspiring entrepreneurs and more.
New Jersey Family: Otto’s Naturals was born from a need in your family. What was that need and how did it push you to launch Otto’s Cassava flour?
Sadie Olsen: I had been told over the years, from various health practitioners, that I should be on a grain-free diet, but never committed 100 percent until I became pregnant with “The Real Otto” as we call him. I felt like I was responsible for more than just myself for the first time but I couldn’t find substitutions on the market that were both easy-to-use and performed consistently. I realized that if I was looking for a solution, likely others were too.
NJF: What is cassava and how did you learn about it?
SO: Cassava is a tuberous root vegetable, kind of like a very hard potato. I originally learned about it when living in Honduras for a short time. They would boil it for soups or dry it to make a cracker that we ate a lot.
NJF: Cassava has been called an “it” ingredient by the Today show, Goop and others. What’s so special about it?
SO: It’s special because of how well it mimics the taste and performance of all-purpose flour while being completely gluten-free, grain-free, and nut-free and because of how easy it is to use. For pretty much anything (besides yeast-based recipes) you can just substitute it for all-purpose flour. 1 to 1 by weight or if you’re using cups, just reduce the volume by about 25 percent. That kind of ease-of-use is unheard of for grain-free alternatives. It also gets our friends in the gluten-free community excited because it’s a single ingredient (not a blend of flours and starches) and doesn’t require xanthan gum to hold together, which so many have sensitivities to.
NJF: Once Otto’s Naturals was developed, how did you go about getting it into stores?
SO: Honestly, I did nothing. I had no idea what I was doing! Customers would request us at their local stores and the stores would contact us directly. We didn’t even have a dedicated salesperson for the first few years. It’s amazing we survived lol.
NJF: Where can you buy Otto’s?
SO: Locally we’re in Whole Foods Market, Wegmans, Basil Bandwagon, most Deans Natural Food Markets and some Shoprite locations. You can also purchase at ottosnaturals.com.
NJF: What has been the most exciting moment for your business so far?
SO: Probably when Whole Foods Market called to tell us they were putting us in all stores nationwide. It was also the scariest moment.
NJF: You’ve built a huge community on Instagram (@ottosnaturals) around sharing recipes that are gluten and grain-free and allergy-friendly. What have you learned during this process?
SO: Food allergies and intolerances are a whole lot more prevalent than I thought. That’s kind of the beautiful side of social media—discovering that you’re not alone in your challenges, whatever they are.
NJF: You just developed a new cookie mix designed to make a variety of flavors. How does that work?
SO: It’s called Grain-Free Ultimate Cookie Mix because you can make almost any cookie from it by customizing your add-ins. So obviously chocolate chip or white chocolate macadamia are easy to imagine, but it also makes a great snickerdoodle, chocolate mint, peanut butter or oatmeal cookie. The possibilities are nearly endless. It’s very versatile too in that it can be easily made dairy-free or vegan if desired. It’s truly a mix for nearly everyone. Plus it tastes exactly like a traditional cookie so no one even has to know they’re grain-free!
NJF: How do you juggle mom life with entrepreneur life?
SO: In all honesty, it’s a constant work in progress. Sometimes it feels like I’m juggling chainsaws and flaming torches. Working from home this year has been great for it though. Apart from Otto wanting to sit on my lap or on my head for every zoom call lol.
NJF: What advice do you have for other moms who want to launch a product?
SO: Just do it. A good friend says all the time, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” So don’t wait till everything is perfect to launch. Get your idea out there and iterate in real time as you get feedback from consumers. And find an industry mentor. Someone that can unofficially be your big brother or sister and answer random industry questions as they come up. Having someone like that is invaluable.
NJF: You live in Clinton with your husband and son. What do you love most about your town?
SO: I love the small-town feel it has while still managing to be completely current. Specialty stores like Fourchette in downtown Clinton and patio seating at The Clean Plate in summer are just pure joy.
NJF: What did you cook or bake the most during the 2020 stay-at-home period?
SO: Cookies. So. Many. Cookies. Mostly because we were perfecting our Grain-Free Ultimate Cookie Mix. Now 2021 is all about brownies.
NJF: What’s next for Otto’s in 2021?
SO: We’re working on several new Grain-Free mixes. Grain-Free Classic Brownie Mix, plus a Paleo version of it for those that want less refined sugars, will be the first out the door. Lots more on the horizon though that we’re excited to see come alive.