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This brand of granola is causing a stir on social networks

To say that advertising executive Tom Bannister loves granola is a huge understatement. What started as a simple appreciation of breakfast cereals has become “true love” (his words!) over the years. Whenever he traveled with his wife Eva Chen, they always made it a point to sample the local granola. “I’ve had granola from Tokyo to Detroit and everywhere in between,” Bannister said. Chen, the director of fashion partnerships at Instagram and a fashion influencer in her own right, was filming tongue-in-cheek TED Talk-style Instagram stories of him criticizing granola.

Unable to find the perfect granola (and with more free time due to a global pandemic), Bannister began making his own with the “help” of his three children and Tom’s Perfect 10 was born. When he first launched the subscription-based Flavor of the Month Granola Club, he had a waiting list of over 17,000 people and became known as the “Birkin of Granolas”. Beyond launching a new flavor each month, the brand is unique in that it includes a scorecard that allows customers to rate the granola out of 10 in six categories that include taste and creativity. Once monthly flavors run out, they are gone forever, but exceptional flavors that score a perfect 10 become permanent and will still be available for purchase. “I was overwhelmed with the responses, advice and general encouragement I received from followers on IG on this granola-making journey,” Bannister said. Since the brand’s launch in October 2020, more than 50,000 orders have been fulfilled, representing approximately 15 tons of granola.

To date, there are 20 flavors of Tom’s Perfect 10 granola, the newest of which is Island Acai. Only three flavors earned a perfect 10: Ginger Zing, Classic, and Golden Apple Cider, though Bannister notes that Black and White Matcha came very close. Other past flavors include Blueberry Lemon, Chocolate Peppermint (his wife’s favourite), Horchata Fig, Blackberry Chai, Flaming Chocolate, Piña Colada, Mangonada, Last Tango (a tangy blend of strawberry, kiwi and balsamic vinegar) , Salted Caramel, Black Forest, Smoky Chocolate, Tea My Dear (bergamot, dried lemon and yogurt) and Chai Colada.

“I find inspiration everywhere,” Bannister said. “Tea My Dear was inspired by Sting’s song an Englishman in New York, stroll around New York and browse the local tea shops. I try to make my flavors seasonal; the flavor this July was Chai Colada and last July we did Mangonada. I like to use unique ingredients and spices and try to surprise my audience with unusual pairings and flavor combinations. Sometimes it works, and other times it’s a little too experimental for people’s tastes.

I had the opportunity to connect with Bannister and chat about all things granola and Tom’s Perfect 10. I’ll let him take it from here.

Abigail Abesamis Demarest: Tell me about the brand name and your obsession with “perfect” granola flavors.

Tom Banister: We felt the name Tom’s Perfect 10 reflected the story behind the brand. It’s a nod to the granola TOMtalks I used to do, which always ended in a score. My wife and I are both storytellers. Eva is a children’s book writer and former fashion editor and I’m a producer. We’ve spent most of our career in the creative arts, so we see brands, products and the world through the lens of stories. I believe there is a perfect granola for everyone!

The heart of the brand is the story of my journey to discover that perfect granola and invite people to take the tour. But I also think the brand is flawed. I am not a great cook. I learned to do it in public outside of my comfort zone, so in many ways, Tom’s Perfect 10 is about accepting being imperfect. It took me a long time to learn to be comfortable with being imperfect and unmanicured on Instagram’s very public forum.

Demarest: What does the R&D process look like? How far in advance should flavors be finalized?

Ramp: Sometimes it’s easy and I nail the recipe on the first try (Piña Colada was an example). Other times, I might find myself making the recipe 20 times until I get it right (like Baby Blue, a flavor I made in honor of the birth of my son River). Other factors also come into play, such as the availability of bulk ingredients and preparation time. My wife and I once personally zested 300 lemons – never again! My wife Eva always tells me not to think too much. Sometimes you can get attached to an idea. For example, I’ve always wanted to make a granola inspired by a Dark ‘n’ Stormy, but I just can’t get the flavors in this cocktail to work like a granola. I’ll also be totally honest – I had a flop or two too. I made a smoky chocolate flavor that was polarizing (some people like a salty chocolate some don’t like a smoky vibe) and a recipe I made last summer called Last Tango with Strawberries and balsamic vinegar was not as popular. The nature of the feedback loop and dashboard process allowed me to improve my granola making skills much faster.

At some point, I refine two or three different flavors. It’s late July now and we’re charting through September. As we continue the process, I imagine that I will work further!

Demarest: For you, what makes a perfect granola?

Ramp: My “perfect” granola is less about a flavor profile and more about the texture and joy of each bite. Each bite should be unique and have a unique taste. No bite should be the same, almost like a little mini adventure for the taste buds. I tried to capture that feeling in the marketing and storytelling around our “Classic” flavor. I consider Classic an almost all-American taste road trip and close to what most would consider “perfect”. It’s wholesome but still slightly adventurous with chocolate, cherries and golden raisins. There is also a touch of cinnamon, which gives a mystical touch.

Demarest: What’s your favorite way to enjoy granola?

Ramp: I’m a granola purist and tend to eat it alone, in handfuls. I can’t lie, our apartment has a thin layer of granola crumbs on the floor at all times, but I think that comes down to testing the product frequently.

Demarest: What’s next for Tom’s Perfect 10?

Ramp: I’m not one to dominate the world, I love creating things that people enjoy. We’re starting to think about retail partnerships, but in a similar way to how we got started. We want to start small and make decisions based on what suits the core of the brand. We also have fun collaborations with like-minded brands in the fall. And we have our first holiday launch coming up! This trip has been so unexpected for us and truly so fun and rewarding. I never thought I would turn my granola obsession into an actual product that thousands of people enjoy.

Hazel J. Edmonds

The author Hazel J. Edmonds