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Native American Natural Foods

Buffalo based meat and fruit bars based on the Wasna tradition of the Lakota

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The Guardian
Tilsen and his business partner, Karlene Hunter, are at the forefront of this revolution. Launched in 2007, their business is now one of the most successful Native-owned food companies in the country. Its primary product, Tanka Bar, is a line of energy bars made from prairie-fed, antibiotic-free buffalo meat and based on a traditional Oglala recipe. The natural and organic market research firm Spins ranks it as the third best-selling jerky in US natural supermarkets.
This small social venture, a certified B Corporation with 17 employees and an outsized mission to bring economic opportunity and improved health to their impoverished reservation, has learned just how powerful the Whole Foods connection can be. Besides granting Tanka valuable shelf space, the retailer is also giving the brand a financial leg up through its Local Producer Loan Program... a $150,000 from Whole Foods, a low interest loan that is repayable in five years.

In the news

Business for good: Partnering with values-aligned investors
May 12, 2017
Native American Natural Foods is reorganizing the company to stay focused on its social mission for its brand, Tanka. In this short video, President and Cofounder Mark Tilsen discusses the importance of finding the right financial partners for this strategic pivot.
Native American Natural Foods Is Certified B Corporation
November 21, 2016
A South Dakota based Native American food company has been recognized as a Certified B Corporation. The non-profit organization B Lab judges businesses on how they benefit their workers, their community and the world. Native American Natural Foods is based in the Pine Ridge Reservation village of Kyle.
Lending to Native Americans Remains a Hard Sell to Many Banks
November 1, 2016
Doug Bystry recalls stumbling across a health food bar that specialized in buffalo-based dishes. Native American Natural Foods, based on a reservation in South Dakota, had struggled to get a loan despite approaching a number of banks.
'Unlike anything else people have eaten:' Indigenous energy bar takes off
August 23, 2016
An energy bar produced by an Indigenous company is taking the U.S. natural food market by storm, and will soon hit shelves here in Canada. Tanka bars combine buffalo meat and dried fruit - a combination which might surprise some, but has been a staple dish in First Nation diets since before colonization.
Healthy Snack Invented on Indian Reservation Now Faces Stiff Corporate Competition - Food - Utne Reader
August 15, 2016
The Pine Ridge Indian reservation is not the first place you'd look for good news about creating a new kind of economy that works for everyone. This corner of South Dakota includes several of the poorest counties in America, according to census figures.
Healthy Snack Invented on Indian Reservation Now Faces Stiff Corporate Competition
August 10, 2016
The Pine Ridge Indian reservation is not the first place you'd look for good news about creating a new kind of economy that works for everyone. This corner of South Dakota includes several of the poorest counties in America, according to census figures.
A Modern Bison Primer | Civil Eats
July 26, 2016
Not long ago, it was bison that dominated North America, reaching into the tens of millions, whereas beef cattle were relative newcomers, introduced by European settlers and miniscule in number. Today, those numbers have been flipped: there are 90 million cattle in the U.S. and roughly 185,000 bison (another 150,000 are being grazed in Canada).
Small-Business Success Story: Native American Natural Foods Inc.
June 18, 2016
The creators of Tanka products give a lift to athletes while supporting Native American business. By , Associate Editor From June 2016 Kiplinger's spoke with Karlene Hunter, 63, cofounder and CEO of Native American Natural Foods Inc., a natural food company located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Kyle, South Dakota, about how she got her company off the ground.
A Leg Up For The Little Guys: Why Whole Foods Has Loaned $20 Million To Local Producers
June 4, 2016
When Native American Natural Foods, a for-profit social enterprise based on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, sought to expand its Tanka brand of dried buffalo and cranberry snacks, they turned to Whole Foods for a $150,000 low-interest loan.
Native American Natural Foods keeps growing with Tanka Bar
May 4, 2016
When Mark Tilsen first tried to sell his Tanka Bar - a blend of buffalo meat and fruit - he was often shunned. "I'd go into a buyer or call a buyer, sometimes it would take 15 or 20 times to get a buyer on the phone and I'd tell them, 'I'm selling a buffalo and cranberry bar,' and they'd laugh at you or hang up on you," Tilsen recalls.
Native American Natural Foods Keeps On Growing
March 16, 2016
Native American Natural Foods' Tanka Bar has grown from a small local health food to the most popular snack product sold by Recreational Equipment, Incorporated... commonly known as REI. As the Pine Ridge Reservation-based Tanka Bar manufacturer prepared to attend yet another natural foods expo, we visited with company president Mark Tilsen to discuss the growth and popularity of the small-town Lakota business.
Native American tribes tackle diet and health woes with businesses built on traditional foods
June 13, 2015
For many residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, getting to a supermarket requires a two-hour drive to Rapid City. It's an expensive trip for people living in the third poorest county in the US. Many residents have no access to transportation, leaving only one option: on-reservation convenience stores that stock processed, long-shelf-life foods.
A bison boost for Native economies
July 22, 2014
"Buffalo is better for you than skinless chicken," Karlene Hunter will tell you. "It has more omega-3s than an avocado." Hunter is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and CEO of Native American Natural Foods.
Native American Natural Foods CEO Testified About Rural Growth at Senate Agriculture Committee - Indian Country Media Network
May 2, 2014
Yesterday Mark Tilsen, president and CEO of Native American Natural Foods, maker of Tanka Bars, testified before a U.S. Senate agriculture subcommittee on rural jobs about barriers to capital access and the lack of infrastructure to support business in Indian country.
Growing Pains Hurt Native American Food Company
August 15, 2011
Quick access to credit is not an easy thing for any small business to attain. But it's even harder for Native American Natural Foods. Its headquarters in South Dakota sits on tribal lands and therefore has no value that could be used as collateral for a loan.
American Indian energy bar mixes traditional flavors -
June 6, 2008
By Carson Walker, Associated Press SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - It's a 70-calorie energy bar made of two unusual ingredients and branded with a funny-sounding name. Who knew that combining buffalo and cranberries would be so sweet? But therein lies the recipe for success for Native American Natural Foods, a company based on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
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