To say that advertising executive Tom Bannister likes granola is a massive understatement. What began as a casual appreciation for the breakfast cereal became a “true love” (his words!) over the years. Whenever he traveled with his wife Eva Chen, they’d always make a point to sample the local granola. “I’ve had granola from Tokyo to Detroit and everywhere in between,” Bannister said. Chen, the director of fashion partnerships at Instagram and a fashion influencer in her own right, would film ironic TED Talk-style Instagram stories of him critiquing granola.
Unable to find the perfect granola (and with extra time on his hands because of a global pandemic), Bannister began to make his own with the “help” of his three kids and Tom’s Perfect 10 was born. When he first launched the subscription-based Flavor of the Month granola club, it had a waitlist of more than 17,000 people and became known as the “Birkin of Granolas.” Beyond launching a new flavor every month, the brand is unique in that it includes a scorecard for customers to rate the granola out of 10 across six categories which include taste and creativity. Once monthly flavors are sold out, they’re gone forever, but exceptional flavors that earn a perfect 10 rating become permanent and will always be available for purchase. “I’ve been overwhelmed by the responses, advice and general encouragement I’ve gotten from followers on IG on this granola-making journey,” Bannister said. Since the brand first launched in October 2020, more than 50,000 orders have been fulfilled—which is about 15 tons of granola.
To date there have been 20 flavors of Tom’s Perfect 10 granola, the newest of which is Island Acai. Only three flavors have achieved a perfect 10 rating: Ginger Zing, Classic and Golden Apple Cider, though Bannister notes that Black and White Matcha came very close. Other past flavors include Blueberry Lemon, Chocolate Peppermint (his wife’s favorite), Horchata Fig, Blackberry Chai, Flaming Chocolate, Piña Colada, Mangonada, Last Tango (a tangy mix of strawberry, kiwi and balsamic vinegar), Salted Caramel, Black Forest, Smoky Chocolate, Tea My Dear (bergamot, dried lemon and yogurt) and Chai Colada.
“I find inspiration everywhere,” Bannister said. “Tea My Dear was inspired by Sting’s song Englishman in New York, walking around New York and perusing local tea shops. I try to make my flavors seasonal; this July’s flavor was Chai Colada and last July we did Mangonada. I like to use unique ingredients and spices and try to surprise my audience with unusual pairings and flavor combinations. Sometimes it works, and other times it’s a little too experimental for people’s taste.”
I had the opportunity to connect with Bannister and chat about all things granola and Tom’s Perfect 10. I’ll let him take it away from here.
Abigail Abesamis Demarest: Talk to me about the brand name, and your obsession with “perfect” granola flavors.
Tom Bannister: We felt the name Tom’s Perfect 10 captured the story behind the brand. It’s a nod to the granola TOMtalks I used to do, which would always end with a score. My wife and I are both storytellers. Eva is a children’s book writer and former fashion editor and I am a producer. We have spent most of our careers in the creative arts so we very much see brands, products and the world through the prism of stories. I believe there is a perfect granola out there for everybody!
The heart of the brand is the story of my journey to discovering that perfect granola and inviting people along for the ride. But I also think the brand is about being imperfect. I am not a great cook. I learned to do this in public out of my comfort zone, so in many ways Tom’s Perfect 10 is about being okay with being imperfect. It has taken me a long time to learn to be comfortable with being imperfect and unmanicured on the very public forum of Instagram.
Demarest: What is the R&D process like? How far ahead do flavors need to be finalized?
Bannister: Sometimes it’s easy and I nail the recipe the first time around (Piña Colada was an example of one). Other times I might find myself making the recipe 20 times until I get it right (like Baby Blue, a flavor I made in honor of my son River’s birth). There are also other factors at play, such as availability of ingredients in bulk and preparation time. My wife and I once personally zested 300 lemons—never again! My wife Eva always tells me not to overthink things. Sometimes you can get attached to an idea. For example, I’ve always wanted to make a granola inspired by a Dark ‘n’ Stormy but I just can’t quite get the flavors of that cocktail to work as a granola. I’ll also be totally honest—I’ve also had one or two flops. I did a Smoky Chocolate flavor that was polarizing (some people love a savory chocolate, others don’t love a smoky vibe) and a recipe I did last summer called Last Tango with strawberries and balsamic vinegar wasn’t as popular. The nature of the feedback loop and scorecard process has allowed me to improve my granola-making skills way faster.
At any given point I’m refining two or three different flavors. It’s the end of July now and we’re mapped through September. As we continue the process I imagine I’ll work further out!
Demarest: To you, what makes a perfect granola?
Bannister: My “perfect” granola is less about a flavor profile and more about the texture and joy of each bite. Every bite should feel and taste unique. No one bite should be the same—almost like a little mini adventure for the tastebuds. I’ve tried to capture that feeling in the marketing and storytelling around our ‘Classic’ flavor. I view Classic as almost an all-American road trip of taste and close to what most would consider “perfect.” It’s wholesome but still slightly adventurous with chocolate, cherries and golden raisins. There’s also a touch of cinnamon, which lends a dash of mystique.
Demarest: What’s your favorite way to enjoy granola?
Bannister: I’m a granola purist and tend to eat it on its own, by the handful. I can’t lie, our apartment has a fine dusting of granola crumbs on the floor at any given point but I chalk that up to testing the product frequently.
Demarest: What’s next for Tom’s Perfect 10?
Bannister: I’m not a world domination kind of guy—I just love creating things that people enjoy. We’re beginning to think about retail partnerships but in a similarly organic fashion to how we launched. We want to start small and make decisions based on what feels right for the heart of the brand. We have some fun collaborations with similarly minded brands coming in the fall as well. And we have our first holiday launch coming up! This journey has been so unexpected for us and truly so fun and rewarding. I never thought I’d be flexing my granola obsession into an actual product that thousands of people are enjoying.