Cotton candy and pop-rocks, Twizzlers and gum drops. It is all fun and games at the candy store until your kid gets a stomach ache and your blood sugar is sky-high. Alcohol is not the only thing that leaves your body begging for water and vegetables to counteract the overwhelming amount of preservatives that leaked into your system. But, the alternative option almost seems just as tormenting as the first. Not allowing yourself to have that one slice of cake can make a person go insane. Trust me, I have been there.
With all the indulgent, mouthwatering satisfaction junk food offers, one might resent its attractive exterior. Its artificial colors are brighter than your new box of crayons, and its sticky sweet scent confuses your brain on whether or not to release endorphins.
Here’s one company that makes it easier to decide. Honest Junk, a new generation of snacks, was created in 2016 by co-founders Celine Gabriel Lim and Tina Lagdameo. The two women were in search of healthier options on supermarket shelves. Celine was particularly frustrated that healthier snacks were always more expensive—not a very good situation to be in when you are trying to transition into a healthier lifestyle. In her case, she was in the thick of her IVF (in vitro fertilization) treatment and was instructed by her doctor to change her diet drastically.
“Honest Junk started when I had to prepare my body for IVF back in 2016. My doctor in San Francisco asked me to go gluten- and dairy-free. Such a big change for me back then, because I was used to eating everything,” Celine tells TheDiarist.ph. “Then I shopped for snacks to eat and my bill was so high—I was appalled. I couldn’t believe that people who wanted to eat healthy had no choice but to spend so much.”
So, with the need to be healthy on one hand and frustration on the other, the two began their journey. The inspiration for their product comes from both their children and their own childhood—playful, fun-loving and not at all serious. Packed in colorful bags printed with graffiti-inspired patterns, their snacks come in an array of options: gummy bears, cookies, chocolate bars, cheese barks. Whatever snack your childhood self was never allowed to eat, they make. The best part is, your parents could never yell at you for eating these because they are all made with healthy alternatives and superfoods.
“We both are kids of the ‘80s. We wanted that childhood experience to be translated into the packaging. The youthfulness and innocence we had as kids bring back lots of good memories that we wanted to translate into our branding,” Tina says.
Making their first few products entailed trial and error. They explained to me how the snacks we see on their online shop now, specifically their super gummies, are a much more evolved version of what they used to be. The business began in their kitchens, with them cooking and experimenting with different ingredients, alternative elements, and flavors to create what we see today. Luckily, the two had their kids helping them out, taste-testing and recommending new things to try. Not a bad job, if you ask me!
“My kids are my guinea pigs!” Tina exclaims. “They would try the products and would not know what we were trying to do. I would just let them try it and if their eyes lit up, we had a winner.”
The packaging, coupled with the delicious products found inside, is a sure-fire way of getting kids to eat healthy. The two entrepreneur moms understand how hard it is to get toddlers and teens to munch on a carrot stick. Celine says that since their snacks are associated with a child’s palate, they wanted the product to make it easier for moms to introduce kids to healthy eating.
‘We didn’t want to be like other healthy brands that are packaged in green and brown’
“We’re moms, and we want to inspire children to eat healthy at a young age, and we want to make it easier for moms,” Celine says. “If moms show kids something fun and cute, they will probably be more interested in trying it and then realize that it tastes good, as opposed to seeing something that’s so serious, and deciding they do not want to eat it.”
With society pressuring one to eat unseasoned veggies every day, it is quite a relief to find a brand that values the fun of it all. “We didn’t want to be like other healthy brands that are packaged in green and brown,” Celine says.
Although the main goal is to offer better snack alternatives to both kids and adults, its brand represents so much more. Munching on their gummies or chocolate bars is not only satisfying your sweet tooth, it is an act of patriotism in itself. As much as possible, Honest Junk sources all its ingredients from the Philippines, showcasing what our country really has to offer.
“We really try and source raw materials from the Philippines, especially the superfoods,” Tina says, “We have so many superfoods in the Philippines, like kale and chia, but in our backyard, we have moringa. Coconut sugar is also so healthy, so as much as possible we try to use local ingredients and source them locally.”
‘There is no other Calamansi or Dalandan or Guava gummy bear anywhere in the world’
The flavors of their snacks resonate with the uniqueness of Filipino food. Tropical fruits found here are integrated in the products. Gummy bears and chocolate suddenly become a token of our culture. “There is literally no other Calamansi or Dalandan or Guava gummy bear anywhere else in the world. I love that I am able to give people who have never been to the Philippines a taste of what calamansi is, or even guava. It’s a nice way of introducing my country to other people,” Celine says.
Empowered and intelligent, with personalities as sweet as their candy, Celine and Tina have proven themselves to be the definitions of a girl boss. They have led their all-woman team through the pains of a newly-born business, as well as the challenges of COVID-19. From it all came lessons in humility and morality—two things they value in running their business.
“You have to remember that you can’t do this alone. No matter how smart or good you are, you need to be humble enough to learn from other people. It is so important to choose people who share the same values and ethics as you,” Celine says.
It was not an easy journey. I could hear the exasperation in their voices when talking about the hardships they faced. Celine says, “Choosing to have your own business is not for the faint of heart. You have to have courage, and you have to be okay with failing because for sure you will. You have to be okay with making mistakes because for sure you will. That being said, it is so much fun, it is so rewarding when things do go right. If you put in the hard work, you will get it right.”
In the future, aside from exploring more ways to create delicious and healthy snacks, Tina and Celine hope to open a store for the public to see and experience the brand fully. At the heart of it all, though, they hope to continue inspiring people to take care of themselves, while having fun in the process—one gummy bear at a time.