RayZyn draws on otherwise wasted wine grapes for a superfood snack

By Kristine Sherred contact

- Last updated on GMT

RayZyn lets grapes hang on the vine past the time they would typically be harvested for winemaking, and dries them to create a new 'superfood snack.' Pic: Getty Images/bmdesign
RayZyn lets grapes hang on the vine past the time they would typically be harvested for winemaking, and dries them to create a new 'superfood snack.' Pic: Getty Images/bmdesign

Related tags: Wine, Wine industry, Grape, Grape seed, Snacks, healthy snacking, Healthy snacks, Innovation, Sustainability, New product development

The growing snack company – a phoenix rising from the devastating California wildfires in 2017 – dries wine grapes (and sometimes coats them in chocolate) to create a fruit snack with more antioxidants than their traditional counterpart.

The fruit snack, which looks like a raisin, keeps the seed intact, adding a textural crunch.

RayZyn says one 1.6oz serving of this ‘wine grape superfood’ contains 20% of the recommended daily amount of fiber and 58mg of calcium. Red wine carries antioxidants (mostly from tannins, developed through skin contact during the winemaking process) and so do these grapes – but in a more concentrated form.

According to the company, the wine grape packs nearly 10 times more antioxidants per 100mg than raw black grapes, and nearly 50% more than a cup of green tea.

Thompson seedless grapes – the most common form cultivated for raisin production, predominantly in California – carry between 115mg and 360mg of phenolic antioxidants per kilogram. This phenolic content also contributes to the fruit’s characteristic color, smell, taste and texture; it has been shown to decrease oxidative stress, though a 2007 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found these effects were minimal given normal consumption of grapes or raisins​.

Andrew Cates, who co-founded RayZyn with his father Chris Cates in Napa Valley, California, told BakeryandSnacks that wine grapes naturally contain less sugar than grapes typically used for raisins.

“Wine raisins are the true form of what nature wanted a raisin to be,”​ he said.

The origins of RayZyn

RayZyn

RayZyn believes it has developed a ‘superfood snack,’ finding success in outlets like QVC (the digital shopping network), Total Wine & More, Hudson News (the travel/airport retailer) and in  first-class baskets on United Airlines.

Cates and his father, a cardiologist, started RayZyn in 2014 as a creative means of using otherwise wasted grapes. Left on the vine too long, wine grapes begin to shrivel.

“We started eating them as is, drinking wine and chowing down on these things,”​ Cates told us.

“You can’t really eat them in a commercial way in their current form,”​ he added, referencing the casualness of picking the naturally dehydrated fruit straight from the vine.

"What can we do? How can I super-concentrate the antioxidant from the stem, from the skin and the seed, and prevent that fruit from oxidizing – while super-concentrating those health benefits?”

The duo took the idea to a food scientist, who helped developed “a special dehydration process that keeps the fruit in its original food matrices, while caramelizing and toasting the seeds in its own sugars,” ​explained Cates.

In other words, the drying process retains the grape in its original form, seed and all.

Cates would not divulge details on the proprietary production process, but said it “starts with the growing process”​ of the grapes in a working vineyard. The fruit is dried in part on the vine, which helps retain more ‘bioavailable nutrients.’

“When you start thinking about this – less sugar, more fiber, no sugar added, it’s got a three-year shelf life, no sulphur, no oil – it’s just as nature intended.”

RayZyns also naturally adhere to sustainability and upcycling, he added, given that about 5% of wine grapes are wasted annually.

RayZyn as is, or in chocolate

The company landed valuable business through QVC, which sells a dark chocolate-enrobed RayZyn and the Cabernazyn truffles – the indulgent side of the brand.

For the chocolate treats, RayZyn wanted to step outside the existing box of chocolate-covered raisins, where ingredient lists tend to be long, said Cates.

“We wanted to kind of turn that on its head.”

The company makes a vegan dark chocolate and a milk chocolate version of its Cabernazyns.

Its flagship products include Cabernazyn, plus ChardonayZyn and MerlayZyn, all named after their relative wine grapes. A trio of those varieties in 1.6oz packs runs for about $17 on Amazon.

Eager for the future of RayZyn

What’s next for the brand? Cates told us he hopes to target corporate foodservice, airlines and travel convenience channels, as well as niche outlets – especially wine and liquor stores. He is also eyeing becoming a branded ingredient, as well as securing a patent and global trade dress.

“We’re really poised for some very exciting things. Each and every day, new people are finding out about what a wine raisin is and why it makes sense and why it’s good for you. We hope we can continue to make guilt free indulgences – [such as a] yogurt probiotic or salted caramel Chardanayzyn.”

Rescue RayZyns

RayZyn

RayZyn was also somewhat born from tragedy, Cates added when he spoke to BakeryandSnacks. He lost his vineyard and his house during the devastating Tubbs fire that ravaged Napa and Sonoma counties in 2017. Any remaining crop suffers from smoke taint, which destroyed any chance of making wine.

“This was devastating. I was in shock, we were in shock,”​ he said. But instead of falling back, he charged ahead, connecting with the Food Recovery Network that collaborates with 240 college campuses around the US. He met the nonprofit at a food show, and after the Tubbs fire, reached out to launch what eventually became Rescue RayZyns​.

Both Cates and a vineyard management team in Napa helped gather grapes around the region that had survived the fires but could not be harvested for wine. (The smoke taste lingers even four to five years down the road, according to Cates.)

“We repurposed it. We put workers who had their seasons cut short back to work, and we processed it and enrobed it in dark chocolate,”​ he said.

RayZyn sells two 4.5oz bags of dark chocolate-covered Cabernayzns on its site and in select shops for $14.99. A dollar from each bag sold goes to California Fire Victims.

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