Created with hemp seeds, Sazi’s products are satisfying, nutritionally sound, great tasting, and good for you—and they’re good for the planet! — Lisa Newmann, Co-founder, Sazi Foods, LLC

Lisa Newmann is working on “seeding” a movement she views as indispensable for our health and our future on this earth using hemp—a food source she considers “the world’s window to climate solutions.” The brand is Sazi Foods, and the vision is pioneering.

Her long-time friend and collaborator, Boaz Wachtel, invited Newmann to take on this new role. Separated by six time zones (he lives in Israel), the two are united by shared ideals and purpose—to create a brand that would make people feel good. Combining her culinary and business expertise with Wachtel’s passion, hemp knowledge, and agricultural technology, they have explored a new frontier with hemp seeds, creating non-CBD hemp-based snacks with only trace amounts of THC (not enough to intoxicate).

Many passions and a well-established sphere of influence

Newmann holds an Award of Excellence from Julia Child and The American Institute of Wine and Food. She has helped startups get established and heighten their brand presence and flailing corporations turn themselves around. She’s been a featured speaker at The Food Innovation Summit and a panelist at BardWorks. Bard College summarized her entrepreneurial achievements as a valued alum: “Starting with a manufacturing and retail business in Boston, which sold to a national French baking company in 1985, Lisa has been formulating and innovating for 40 years.”

Newmann in her test kitchen, where she formulates recipes. Photo by Kim Allardyce

Newmann began her entrepreneurial journey shortly after graduating from Bard while preparing for a dual career in law and art. During this time, she was seduced by a food apprenticeship with three top chefs from Madeleine Kamman’s Modern Gourmet School in Cambridge. She opened A La Carte Catering with Louis Osofsky (Kamman’s top student) in 1979, and credits that decision, along with learning the importance of working with ingredient chemistry, as the reason a career in food won out. That business evolved into wholesale food manufacturing, retail locations, and widespread culinary recognition.

Known for her ingredient-inspired “38 varieties of chocolate chip cookies,” a celebrated catering company, and a bistro, Newmann’s award-winning career in food took flight. It then soared when her first company was sold to an international bakery, followed by one food venture after another.

Newmann has been revolutionizing the snack food industry since the late 1990s by advocating for snacks with abundant taste and nutritional value. Pushing back on the “appallingly unrecognizable additives” in most food, she focused on baking “with five or six ingredients and an abundance of love” and founded Cookiehead in 2005 to produce cookies, brownies, and muffins using sprouted spelt.

In 2015, she learned about shade-grown coffee and its relevance to trapping carbon in the soil, providing habitats for migrating birds, and reversing the effects of climate change. That led to her next venture, the brand JavaUp at Coffee Snacks Inc., a company founded on crafting coffee-powered snacks with a marketed message of climate urgency. Filled with antioxidants, her “snack expansion” was designed to build on the coffee tradition, support environmentally conscious growers (made from coffee roasted at Six Depot in West Stockbridge), and accommodate global distribution. Her creations have been called “Insanely tasty. Crazy smart.”

An enticing invitation for an ideal role

“This came together quickly,” Newmann begins, recalling how Sazi came to be. “When I was first tapped to do this by an Israeli-Australian entity in January 2021, they wanted me to develop and run a food company—one of three companies they were interested in opening in the U.S. I said ‘No thank you to running it, but I will help you launch—meaning build a team, source product, link to contract manufacturing, and develop a brand with a marketing strategy.’” The entity provided the money, and she began her deep-dive study of hemp. “What I learned in the process was, ‘Oh my god, this is so important!’”

She quickly assembled the team, which included Joe Perello (fractional chief marketing officer and founder/CEO of Props, a storytelling-as-a-service platform), Barbara Newman (branding expert and award-winning author), Amanda Griffin (graphic artist), and Jake Abrams (of the Boston-based digital marketing firm Odyssey). Along the way, another founder—Berkshire-based and operations-focused entrepreneur Kim Allardyce, who has a professional background in health, wellness, and food brands—joined the Sazi team.

Hulled hemp seeds provide the foundation of Sazi’s products. Photo courtesy Sazi Foods, LLC

During her deep dive, she probed who was doing what in the hemp world. The discovery? Little was happening with direct-to-consumer supply other than Planet Based Foods, which was selling hemp burgers and doing a great job with the message of hemp as a vital ingredient. A more significant discovery, however, was that Manitoba Harvest, the most prominent supplier of hemp seeds in North America, had sold their 23-year-old company to Tilray (a pharmaceutical company) in 2019 for $419 million. This revelation provided “enough evidence that a company based on hemp seeds in food might work,” according to Newmann.

The next step was to source contract manufacturing. Newmann had already worked with GoGo Quinoa, a Quebec-based food manufacturer. “They were doing with quinoa what we wanted to do with hemp. They had relationships with farmers and developed their business ‘with heart,’ respect for the environment, and sound nutritional practices. It was a great match.”

“The advantage hemp has over quinoa is that hemp seeds taste good,” she notes, adding that the owner of GoGo Quinoa offered this insight while explaining the flavor enhancing they had to perform with quinoa. Together, the collaborators saw endless product possibilities—hemp seed savory snacks, chips, crackers, cookies, chocolates, and fruit products. “We determined that it had legs,” Newmann affirms. “I immediately saw the value—you can put hemp seeds in almost anything and improve people’s diets.”

The biggest challenge of working with hemp? “Too much conflating of hemp with CBD,” she states, noting, “If the FDA would make a strong statement distinguishing the materials, we would be in a very different place right now.” As Sazi’s website explains, “The impact of the 2018 Farm Bill has primarily resulted in a CBD-focused culture, offering medicinal options for pain, anxiety, and sleep, and materials for building. Clearly, there is a need for hemp in many industries. Sazi, however, is focusing on the opportunities to improve the food we eat and how we source it.”

Great taste that’s good for you and the environment

Dark chocolate, another favorite ingredient at Sazi Foods. Photo by Jennifer Pallian

“Everything should taste good,” Newmann maintains, who grew up sampling her mother’s cooking (based on recipes often found while traveling in other countries). So, that quality was a top criterion from the start, given her highly trained palate and lifelong commitment to culinary excellence. “I’ve been eating hemp seeds ever since I had a booth at a Whole Foods trade show next to Manitoba Harvest,” she notes. “The seeds taste good on their own, and you can add them to almost anything!” As its website promises, “From pink salt to dark chocolate, Sazi lavishes love and ingredient thoughtfulness on its five lines of products.”

“The second criterion was nutrition—the snacks had to be good for you,” she continues. Though plant-based foods have long been regarded as good for your health, hemp seeds offer the perfect blend of healthy fats, protein, and fiber—with over 30 percent fat in two essential fatty acids (omega-6 and omega-3), 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fiber (both soluble and insoluble). If that isn’t enough reason to try them, hemp seeds are organically farmed and rich in minerals (including phosphorus, potassium, sodium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron, zinc, and Vitamin E).

The third criterion, and perhaps the most compelling reason Newmann agreed to take this on, was her determination to find climate-related solutions to global warming through food. “I knew it was tasty and good for you, but I didn’t know anything about its carbon sequestration when I started working on this project. Hemp has so many sustainable properties,” she points out. These include being a regenerative plant that requires little water and no pesticides to grow, producing very little waste, and sequestering carbon while it returns nutrients to the soil.

“The world’s window to climate solutions.” Photo courtesy Sazi Foods, LLC

“We need to grow more hemp in the U.S.,” she recalls thinking. “I could write a blog about this, but if there’s a product in the marketplace from which people can learn, I should do that. I know how to do it.” Coming from a career in the commercial food manufacturing world, she knew it also had to be profitable. “To build a national brand from scratch takes many millions,” she explains. “But once you build it? If it’s profitable and offers compelling, delicious products, off you go. We have wonderful connections in the food industry, a great team to spearhead the effort, and a timely ingredient and message on which to leverage a business.”

The plan is to launch two product varieties within a few categories (cookies, savory snacks, chips, and chocolates) to get the brand off the ground. Initially, Newmann envisions offering online purchasing and one food truck at two different university settings (in Boston and another yet-to-be-determined location). By marketing first to early adopters (those who already know about hemp as food), they can use the digital results to continue developing the business model. “Once there’s a clear demand and appreciation for the products at a profitable momentum, we can supply the retail marketplace,” she projects.

Sazi—for satisfy!

According to Daily Italian Words, the polite way of saying that you are full after a meal is sazio if you are a man or sazia if you are a woman (plural, sazi). This Italian adjective shares the same origin as the English words sate, satiated, and satisfied—fitting associations for something delicious and nutritious that satisfies both your craving for good taste and your desire to do something good for the planet!

Art and design have always been important to Newmann. “I started studying art at the Museum of Fine Arts when I was nine,” she recalls. “After college, I apprenticed with and worked for Rolph Scarlett (Guggenheim painter in Woodstock, N.Y.) and opened my own studio in Marblehead, Mass., a few years later.” She currently serves on the advisory board of the Berkshire International Film Festival, which she considers among her life’s most inspirational pursuits. “I feel very lucky to be working with the men and women of BIFF under Kelley Vickery’s leadership, and tapping my love of film and art,” she acknowledges.

Newmann at home, with a Scarlett painting in the background. Photo by Kim Allardyce

Italy has been a continual source of creative inspiration in her adult life as well. “I love Italy—the pentagonal vitality of art, design, food, music, and love has inspired and permeated my life!” she enthuses. The font and colors featured on their packaging celebrate the beauty and vibrance of an Italian postcard, while the hemp-produced paper, film, and boxes reflect the responsibility of using sustainable packaging.

Newmann’s favorite mode of transportation when in Italy. Photo courtesy Sazi Foods, LLC

By the summer of 2021, Newman had co-founders, a brand and website, a business concept, and a budget. Of the three companies launched in the U.S. by the Israeli-Asutralian collaborators, Sazi’s progress, Newmann learned, exceeded the others.

Too good to be true? Apparently, yes. Six months in, the Australian company was required to pull its investment from the U.S. plan. So, instead of being an emerging brand on a roll, Sazi was suddenly an underfunded business. The Israeli partners were very generous and arranged for an ownership transfer to Newmann and, several months later, she launched an investment search with Netcapital, an innovative crowdfunding platform in Boston.

Netcapital is currently offering the investment opportunity for Sazi, with an estimated valuation of $1.925 million (the offering is posted until the end of April 2024). “I might be a bit of an idealist, but isn’t this a no-brainer?” Newmann asks. To begin, the company is focused on digital sales in North America. But the brand can go anywhere hemp is grown or can be affordably sourced—internationally.

Sazi’s artful packaging expression, designed by Amanda Griffin. Photo courtesy Sazi Foods, LLC

Paving the way for other women

Over 40 years ago, in “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions,” Gloria Steinem wrote: “People now ask me if I’m passing the torch. I always explain that no, I’m keeping my torch, thank you very much. And I’m using it to light the torches of others. Because the truth is that the old image of one person with a torch is part of the problem, not the solution. We each need a torch if we are to see where we’re going. And together, we create so much more light.”

“That kind of torch lighting is what I see in Lisa,” Barbara Newman says. “She’s the kind of businesswoman who looks at the whole picture and brings her deepest artistic sensibilities to even the biggest problems. She’s also an incredible listener, innovator, nurturer, and collaborator.”

A recent photo of Newmann wearing one of the jewelry pieces she designed and made in her studio in 1978. Photo by Sandy Sanderson.

As described in her bio for a recent BardWorks panel discussion, Newmann is “the quintessential ​​picture of an entrepreneurial spirit—a woman who has endured in business beyond retirement, having reinvented herself variously over the years, forever learning.” She is a uniquely inspiring leader and mentor for other women. Building and selling her first company by age 32, she has accumulated decades of experience working in primarily male-dominated kitchens, board rooms, and companies within the commercial food manufacturing industry.

In a recent article titled “A Woman’s Leadership In A Man’s World,” Newmann reflected on those experiences— and the insights and wisdom she gained from them. “Despite the classic challenges—condescension, misogyny, the dismantling of momentum—I remember rich and satisfying years, and that I simply ran companies with a layer of expected complexity,” she writes. “I learned a lot from the hoops through which I jumped (until I stopped jumping, maybe around age 45).”

After selling her first company, Sensational Cookies, Newmann was asked to stay on with the new owners (Vie de France) for two years. During that time, she realized it took incredibly long to get things done in an $80 million company. She countered enormous bureaucracy with openness and agility.

Much later, in the offices of Cookiehead, her office manager commented one day, “Do you know, this is the first company I’ve worked for where there’s been no drama, no political maneuvering, no intra-department competition?” Newman recounts.

“As a businesswoman, that was the ultimate compliment,” she admits. “It was important to me that kindness, graciousness, support, and respect were at the foundation of every department. That openness was constant, and creativity grounded with practicality was at our core.”

While many of the men she worked with were “overpowering and dismissive,” they were also smart, experienced, and (usually) older. “So I took it upon myself to mitigate the complexity of running a company with often derailing distraction.”

How did she manage? “I embraced my femininity—my strength, my intelligence, my capability,” she asserts. “I stood strong, listened to what was said, and ‘countered’ with warmth, kindness, and very clear strategic thinking. I provided more questions than answers (my grandmother’s advice).”

Newmann also credits her husband, Sandy Sanderson, as “an enormous counterweight to any career challenges. Without his kind support and gentle manner, I would not have survived any of the entrepreneurial madness.”

“The irony of this journey is that I grew up with a father who told me I could do anything in any world,” she continues (adding that she ran on the boy’s track team in eighth grade because of her speed). “But I never thought it was unusual to be T.O.W. (what I labeled “the only woman”) in the room. It’s what I was most of the time.” She opines, “I never expected that the female voice wouldn’t be welcomed or celebrated. Perhaps that naivete was in fact my strength.”

Newmann (here in Portofino) relishes—and is grateful for—the rich variety of choices at this stage of her life. Photo courtesy Sazi Foods, LLC

Her advice for other women?

Newmann passes along the following wisdom (all direct quotes):

Read Deborah Tannen’s “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation” (1991). There’s a lot that resonates—and it’s helpful to recognize and embrace the differences.
Value your brain and confidently use it.
Build on your strengths—women are innately good at juggling tasks, communicating, and creating a positive, healthy environment.
Be yourself—don’t dress to fit a role you didn’t create, whether that means wearing low-cut blouses and tight skirts or wearing blue suits. Don’t try to be a female version of a guy!
Value relationships within the workplace (and within the industry)—the more you understand each other, the faster and more productive you’ll be in getting things done.
Don’t accept the myth that competition among workers and departments strengthens the company. Collaboration and nurturing are more compelling (and often under-celebrated) features of women-run businesses, producing amazing results!
If you’re turned down for investment funds, find out what the men making the decisions wanted to see and why they’re investing in other men.
Most importantly, seek out mentors for inspiration, advice, and problem-solving.

“}]] For founder and visionary Lisa Newmann, hemp is more than a delicious superfood. It is an organically farmed, carbon-sequestering powerhouse of sustainability—and worth banking this chapter of her estimable career on.  Read More