Getting to Know Cocomo Joe – My Interview with Owner Joe LaCroix

One day, after getting acupuncture from my friend Natha at Eastern Therapeutics down in Redondo Beach, CA, I stumbled (and yes, I was kind of in a daze from a great session) into the Whole Foods down there and saw a demo table for Cocomo Joe’s products. Having never seen them before and learning that everything was vegan, I of course gave them a shot! Brian (or, “Happy Brian” as I have named him), was as friendly and as upbeat as one can be doing a food demo. He seemed very enthusiastic and passionate about the products he was representing. I tasted the fig flavored Joe Bar and thought it was great! First off, I love anything fig and second, these bars caught my attention because of the following: they are raw, vegan, organic, paleo and non-GMO. Now let’s face it, there are about a bazillion different bars on the  market, so choosing one can sometimes be an arduous task, so I decided to find out more about the actual company, and meet the man behind Cocomo Joe himself; Joe LaCroix. I went down to the Cocomo Joe headquarters in Inglewood, CA to interview Mr. LaCroix.  You can read Joe’s full bio and story on the company website, and it is a very interesting read, but I wanted to get some information that he doesn’t speak about. I hope you find him to be as interesting a person as I did.

DORI: Joe, in what ways did starting Cocomo Joe change the way you look at food and the industry?

JOE: It made me look at everything more closely because when I decided to start doing this, I decided to do this with as much integrity as I could and it just made me just look at everything else and that sort of helps me to keep my products in the same integrity because I’m constantly looking at other stuff and it would be hypocritical to say, “oh that’s got junk in it, but I put junk in my stuff”, so it does make me really look. It’s educated me a lot more on what to look for. When I was looking for things to put into my products, I learned a lot throughout this whole process. I still feel like I don’t know anything about this business.

DORI: What was your relationship with food prior to starting Cocomo Joe? Vegan? Paleo? Junk food eater?

JOE: I’ve gone through phases where there was a time when I ate raw for a while, when I ate vegan for a while, and the whole paleo thing, I didn’t even know what that was until I started working out at Crossfit. A friend of mine told me about these Crossfit guys that he knew and that I should give my bars to them and I didn’t know who they were, I just thought it was one little gym down in Laguna Beach where he worked out, but he never followed through. I would call and ask him if he wanted to give some bars to these guys and he wouldn’t. Then one day, I was at lunch and there was guy in front of me in line and he had a Crossfit shirt on, so I asked him about it and he was a local guy who worked out at the place where I work out, which is Dogtown Crossfit and I was telling him about the bars and I had still never heard the word “paleo” until I got in there and started working out and they said, “oh, we like your bars” and then I kinda learned about the whole paleo thing.

DORI: Wow, so it was a total accident and you didn’t actually call them “paleo” until after you met the Crossfit people?

JOE: Well, I hadn’t even designed the packaging yet. I was still in the process of forming everything. It took me about 3 years. I wanted to make sure it didn’t move too fast, then once I rented this building, which was about 2 years ago, then I knew I was on the faster track to make this happen.

DORI: Did you have to compromise anything at all when beginning to make your products due to industry standards?

JOE: Yes. I used to put bee pollen in the bars, but because of the organic rules, there are certain things you can put into foods. You can put certain chemicals into food if there is not an organic alternative. Our popcorn has baking soda to make the mixture work right, but bee pollen is wild harvested, so they don’t trust the bees not to use pesticides (laughs). What it is, is that since they are wild harvested, they have no knowledge of where the bees are going to collect the pollen so they could be picking up pollen from things that have been sprayed with pesticides. If you want to get certified organic bee pollen, there has to be verification that there’s not any pesticide spray within a 3 or 5 mile radius and then it’s really expensive and it’s really hard to get, so I just thought, I don’t even know if the enzymes in the bee pollen are surviving the dehydration process, so I could be putting this in there for nothing. I think bee pollen is the greatest thing in the world, that’s why I buy this stuff (shows me his vibrant yellow bag of bee pollen) from this guy in San Diego and he charges like $40/lb for this! But look, no other product when you find it in the store leaves this much pollen in the bag and when you first get this, it’s like glowing in the bag, it’s so effervescent.

DORI: Do you put that in smoothies?

JOE: I just eat it straight.

DORI: Does it have an instant effect? Does it give you energy?

JOE: Have you ever had straight bee pollen?

DORI: No (I have had it in smoothies, but never straight up! So, Joe gave me 2 teaspoons of it raw and it had a very interesting taste. I actually liked it a lot!). Thank you!

JOE: You’re welcome. So, that was my biggest compromise because I really believe in it and I really wanted to be able to use it, but it didn’t work out that way logistically. I just couldn’t do it since I couldn’t count on the supply.

DORI: So, with omitting the bee pollen, you could also continue to call your products vegan since they may not be considered vegan if they had bee pollen in them, right?

JOE: I guess, and certain people say that, but I don’t know why they say that since all it is is the pollen from flowers.

DORI: I guess that’s a tricky question and would depend on which vegan you ask (laughs).

JOE: The bad thing about the whole bee thing is that people don’t understand that the bees are in trouble and a lot of people I know don’t understand the connection between everything and the whole ecosystem. I don’t know much about it at all, but I understand on a basic level that we can’t go around screwin’ with stuff. Like now, I just read on the internet that they are talking about going and injecting certain mosquitoes with something in Florida to see what happens and genetically modifying mosquitoes! It’s so “Island of Dr. Moreau.”

DORI: I totally agree and I know there are certain things you shouldn’t mess with, but thank g-d we have people like you creating beautiful food to at least ensure that people are getting nutrients. Hopefully, the ingredients will be around for a while and won’t be going anywhere. Speaking of ingredients, where do you source all your organic,  non-GMO ingredients from?

JOE: Different distributors. Luckily, since I had a lot of time I would get on the internet and research places to get bulk sources for the coconut and coconut oil, all the stuff that we use. So, through searching. Luckily, it’s kind of a helpful community, so if people know where to get something, they will tell you where to get it.

DORI: That’s great! So, you build relationships and pride yourself on community. Okay, so speaking of coconut, I know you use a lot of it in your products. It’s very trendy right now, so do you see it as a continuing trend?

JOE: I hope so because the thing is, I don’t look at it as a trend. I started using coconut 3+ years ago with all this stuff and there was still such a pervasive belief that coconut was bad for you and I just went with intuition and said, “You know, I’m just gonna trust this and my gut is telling me to go with this and use coconut…and I believe it’s good for you” and over the past few years, we’ve really seen a big change. And there are still people who go, “Isn’t coconut bad for you?” and I just say, ” Look, I’ve been eating it for the last 3 years between 1 and 3 of these (Cocomo Joe) bars a day, and I’m not obese. I’m not at my high school weight or anything, but with or without those I wouldn’t be (laughs). So, I hope that it stays and I hope that instead of it being a “trend”, I hope that it becomes known as “okay, it’s good for you”, and then leave it at that. It doesn’t have to be “in” or “out” or the next great thing and that’s how humans are, and it’s kinda stupid, but I think those are the kind of people that are gonna jump to every diet. They probably did the South Beach Diet and the Zone Diet and everything else, but there are the real people who really want to eat healthier that have already been eating coconut and will continue to eat it.

DORI: I guess it’s all about education.  Do you find any challenges with educating people since I know that’s what you’re doing when you are out demoing your bars?

JOE: Yeah, I guess I sort of know how a politician feels getting one person at a time, but when I demo, people look at our bars and they say, “Look at all those calories, look at all that fat”, and I say, “Well, you can’t trick your body.” I say, “Your body needs fuel. You are eating a bar that’s 330 calories or 340 calories and it’s got 22 grams of fat, good fat, it’s coconut fat, but it’s only 2 ounces, so it’s small. If you eat this thing, it’s not going to bloat your stomach out. You’re not going to feel stuffed, but your body’s going to know it’s gotten some nourishment, because these other big bars probably contain no calories, and you eat it and you’re all stuffed and you’ve got no calories, but the problem is, you trick your mind. So, what I think happens when you do that is your body still says, “I’m still hungry. You haven’t given me anything to live on”, and now you’re full and you’re still hungry or you’re full and your body hasn’t been nourished but you don’t think you’re hungry, but I would rather let my body know I’ve been fed and not be full, because I don’t want to feel full. I hate that feeling of being stuffed, so I’d rather eat a little bit and go “Wow! I’m not totally stuffed and I’m not hungry” and your body says “thank you” because you’ve given it what it really wants.

DORI: What goals have you yet to achieve with Cocomo Joe?

JOE: We have achieved that we are in Whole Foods, we’re in Mother’s Markets, also we should be getting the whole southern region of Whole Foods and then we also have a broker in Colorado that’s probably gonna get us into the Rocky Mountain region. This region is I think 45 stores and that region is 30 stores, so with them, what hopefully can happen is that the dominoes will hopefully fall faster and then we want to be everywhere; nationwide.

DORI: Well, you are certainly on your way, especially since you are already in Whole Foods.

JOE: Well, that’s the majority. Honestly, if we were just in Whole Foods and no where else, we would survive because that’s a huge amount of the market.

DORI: Okay, my last question is kind of a silly one, but since I know you like to make granola and play in the kitchen, what kitchen appliance can you not live without?

JOE: Are you talking about home or here (Cocomo Joe headquarters)?

DORI: At home since I know you make a lot of granola, but do you do a lot of other cooking as well?

JOE: Well at home, not so much.

DORI: Do you just live on your bars?

JOE: Yeah. Umm, what can I not live without? Probably the thing I use most at home is my coffeepot, but lately more for tea than for coffee. Other than that, I can’t think of anything else unless you want to count the refrigerator ’cause I keep things cold.

DORI: So, what do you keep in there? What kinds of food do you have at home? What do you live on?

JOE: Well, drinks that need to be refrigerated; coconut water, kombucha.

DORI: What’s your favorite kind of coconut water?

JOE: Taste Nirvana

DORI: And what’s your favorite kind of kombucha?

JOE: Well…I like GT’s original, Trilogy or Mango Madness.

Well, there ya have it folks. “Cocomo Joe” LaCroix is certainly not your “Average Joe”. He is passionate about sharing the best quality products with you that have integrity and fantastic taste. If you haven’t already tried Cocomo Joe’s delicious treats, make sure to look for them. He also makes this sinfully delicious caramel popcorn (pictured above, and yes, it’s vegan!!!) that has become my newest addiction. Beware, you may become addicted to it as well!!

I’d like to thank Joe LaCroix for taking the time to sit with me and for making it a fun morning to tour the Cocomo Joe headquarters as well as for sending me home with some products. It’s always fun to meet people with like minds and who are living in their joy serving others. For information on where you can find Cocomo Joe products, go to http://www.cocomojoefoods.com/.