How two college friends cooked up GoNanas, a banana bread company that’s garnering fans nationwide — especially during the pandemic
By Eden Lichterman
This past spring, Annie Slabotsky, 23, and Morgan Lerner, 24, were working full-time jobs and spending their free time on their side hustle: selling mini banana bread loaves under the name GoNanas, a company they founded as students at the University of Michigan.
Then the pandemic hit, making banana bread the home-baked good of choice worldwide. (At one point this year, it was the most searched recipe across the globe, according to Google Trends.) The banana bread market “struck gold,” says Lerner — and she and Slabotsky decided to leave their jobs (as an analyst at a management advisory firm and a marketing manager for a lemonade company, respectively) and dive into it full time.
Today, the duo, who live in Chicago, are wholly dedicated to GoNanas, which produces mini loaves of vegan, gluten-free and top-allergen-free banana bread as well as dry mixes. The company’s products are sold everywhere from independent grocery stores across the country to mega retailers like Nordstrom Rack (as well as on GoNanas’ website).
Slabotsky, who hails from Bloomfield Hills, and Lerner, who’s from Houston, met as college freshmen when they both joined Spoon University, a student-run food magazine found on college campuses nationwide. They “bonded over [their] passion for health and food and, of course, baking,” says Lerner, who grew up making banana bread with her grandmothers.
Slabotsky, too, always had homemade banana bread in her kitchen. Once her mom taught her how to make the family recipe, Slabotsky would give out “goodie bags of baked goods” in her college dorm, she says. One day, Slabotsky invited Lerner to her childhood home to bake together. On the drive there, the pair had an idea to create a banana bread recipe that both tasted good and was good for you, and in 2016, GoNanas was launched, debuting in Ann Arbor markets and coffeeshops. “We were definitely [spending more time] making banana bread than we were studying,” says Slabotsky.
Fast forward to 2020, when millions of Americans were stuck at home with nothing to do — but bake, of course. Slabotsky and Lerner decided it was the perfect time to introduce a line of dry mixes. They’d spent years testing recipes, so there was no trial and error when it came to nailing down the formulas; they just packaged the dry ingredients and instructed people to add bananas, honey, oil and milk. Since launching the mixes in July, GoNanas sales have grown 30% month over month, with mixes now outselling loaves.
The launch caught the attention of Nordstrom Rack buyers, who were impressed with GoNanas’ social media accounts; now the shelf-stable mixes are available at over 300 Nordstrom Rack locations nationwide. “It brings the same product that we were delivering three years ago to the customer, just in a new way,” says Lerner.
And customers are literally eating it up. For many people, “cooking and baking provides a connection [which] people are “looking for [during this time],” says Julie Ohana, a social worker and founder of Culinary Art Therapy in West Bloomfield, which helps people deal with stress through cooking. Baking your family’s favorite banana bread recipe can provide comfort, she explains. “When you combine a [familiar] flavor and an activity that fills a void for so many, you have the perfect pandemic activity and dish.”
When it comes to flavors, Slabotsky and Lerner are always innovating. To come up with new flavors, the women take a cue from their college days and hit the kitchen together. The pair recently collaborated with Kween, a California-based company that makes spreadable granola, to offer a granola-butter banana bread mix. They’re also launching a seasonal gingerbread banana bread mix this month.
As they look to the future, Slabotsky and Lerner — who are the only full-time GoNanas employees, though they work with a manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania as well as 150 brand ambassadors who create content for their social-media channels — hope to become a household name that’s “synonymous with banana bread,” says Lerner. Slabotsky adds that they’d love to land “dream accounts” like Bed Bath & Beyond and grow their e-commerce business, with the goal of reaching 1,000 brand ambassadors and $1 million in sales.
With winter around the corner and Americans likely to continue hanging out in their kitchens (whether by choice or not) those goals don’t seem too farfetched. “When people think of banana bread, they think of home, of family, of comfort,” says Lerner. “As a baked good that has this familial, nostalgic feel to it…it’s pretty powerful.”