The Snacks-by-Mail Company Graze Turns Snacking into a Science

When they’re delivered, the boxes look almost like a regular package: Plain brown cardboard, small enough to fit in the mailbox. But these aren’t regular packages, because inside, there are snacks—delicious snacks, healthy snacks, curated just for you, and in perfect portions to boot. They are Graze boxes, and they’re popping up in offices everywhere.

Graze is the brainchild of a group of UK-based men who, a decade ago, were looking for a smarter way to snack. They were tired of the chips and candy they found around their offices, and wanted a healthier option. Some of them had founded the Netflix-like DVD rental service LoveFilm, and that led to an idea: What if they married technology with snacking?

So the seven men quit their jobs and got to work on what would become Graze. The company, which launched in the UK in 2008, sent its 20 millionth box there in 2012; two years ago, it expanded to the United States. “Word of mouth got around. There were waiting lists,” says Shelly Huang, Graze’s head of U.S. Consumer Marketing. Initially, the company shipped boxes from the UK, but it wasn’t long before demand became too great. Graze built a factory here. “Two years later, here we are,” Huang says. “We have two offices in Jersey City and in Manhattan. We have hundreds of thousands of subscribers that love our snacks. We’re having a lot of fun.”

Graze has more than 100 snacks, and the site uses a proprietary algorithm called DARWIN (Decision Algorithm Rating What Ingredient's Next) to tailor each snack box to each individual subscriber based on their personal preferences. “When you sign up, you can go through the whole entire range of snacks and rate them,” Huang says. There are four options: Love, like, try, and trash. Users can also use the “My Preferences” section to alert the company to allergies, intolerances, or dietary restrictions. 

The algorithm remembers those preferences for future boxes, and tries to pack in a good balance of what you’ve liked before, new snacks, and an even spread of sweet and savory treats. And the more you use the rating system, the more awesome your box will be. “The more a subscriber interacts, the better his or her options become,” says Eva Scofield, whose title at Graze is, awesomely, Snack Huntress. “Because it is a similarity-based algorithm system, it opens up those options.” Graze offers four-snack variety boxes and eight-snack variety boxes, but if variety isn’t your thing, you can select a box of all one product, or get sharing bags for bigger groups.

The company has a big board that tracks snack ratings. Scofield is always looking at the ratings, seeing how snacks rate before a person receives them versus how they clock in afterward, and, if a rating has gone down, analyzing why that might have happened. And as you might imagine, DARWIN reveals a lot about how people snack, and what they like. “We’ve found a lot of the tastes are regionally-based, which is really interesting,” Scofield says. “For example, the New York Everything Bagel snack does the best in the northeastern region. It’s almost like it creates this sense of pride, and we have that with a lot of our other products. We have things like southwestern corn crunch, or Louisiana wild rice and beans. So, it’s a cute little endearing metric that we find, that people embrace these snacks that we name after the regions by which they were inspired, and then in fact, you end up loving them.”

Among the most popular snacks are the company’s flapjacks—based on a UK snack—and its deconstructed desserts (mental_floss got deconstructed carrot cake, and it was yummy). “One of our most popular snacks is the whole-grain banana caramel dippers, and it’s been likened to Dunkaroos of our childhood,” Scofield says. “So, there’s a playful aspect to it all. You’re healthy and you’re nourishing yourself, and it’s for sustenance, but you’re also having fun with it.”

As Graze’s Snack Huntress, Scofield’s job is part analyzing trends, part traveling the world looking for the best and tastiest ingredients. “I’m constantly going to food shows all over the country and trying to stay on top of what’s popular, what people are into, but still kind of maintaining what’s healthy,” she says.

Creating a snack, of course, starts with finding the right ingredients. “If there’s one particular ingredient that I find really interesting, I’ll get in direct touch with the vendor and negotiate pricing and shipping logistics, and work out whether or not it’s a standalone product,” Scofield says. “Then I can dig into our entire library of existing products and decide, OK, these two flavor trends are really hot right now. Will they go together well?” If she thinks they will, she figures out exactly, down to the gram, how much of each ingredient will go into the snack pack and then continues to negotiate costs with the vendor. I’m also in constant touch with the UK team, she says, because we often bounce ideas off each other to see, is this U.S.-specific, or do we want this in both geographies? Iit’s an ongoing, exciting little adventure.”

All the while, Scofield is also testing the snacks on her coworkers, gathering their feedback and tweaking the snacks based on that. She also enjoys walking around the office with weird ingredients and making her coworkers try them. One such ingredient was the mung bean sprout. Scofield had met a man from Colorado who soaked the beans in water until they sprouted, then roasted them with different spices and flavorings. “He just puts them in a bag, and if you did a blind taste test, it would be like eating a bag of potato chips, but it is exponentially more healthy for you,” she says. “It’s incredible. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve found, being here.” Huang says the Graze team “couldn’t stop eating it.” The biggest challenge now is figuring it out how to package the beans.

The time from concept to deployment varies greatly. “It can be a matter of three months, if we’re using the same ingredients, we already have pricing, we have supply chain down,” Scofield says. “I’ve been here for a little over a year, and there are still products that I started my first month in that I’m working on. We really want to be sure that we’re as proud as we can be about our product before we put it out. If that means having to wait a little while, we’d rather do that than force it out.”

Even after deployment, there’s fine-tuning: For example, Scofield says, “We’ve got really good ratings on the combination of kale and edamame, but we’re finding that the kale itself doesn’t actually ship well, and due to its fragile nature, we actually had to reformulate the entire product.” Because they love kale, they’re attempting to create a Kale Caesar salad snack.

Scofield says that she sometimes has to be reeled in “because I have, like, big wacky ideas about weird stuff that we could do.” Right now, she’s looking into making snacks out of seaweed. “It’s becoming a really popular ingredient, just due to its sustainability—sustainability in food sources is a really hot topic right now,” she says. She’d also love to incorporate insect flour into Graze’s snacks. “Eighty percent of the world eats insects on a day-to-day basis,” she says. “The United States is one of the few countries left in the world that’s not familiar with eating insects, and so, if it was up to me, I’d love to start introducing insect protein as an option in the range. But I think that we’re pretty far off from making that a reality.”

You can sign up for Graze here; use the code MENTALFLOSS to get one box free!

Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures
10 Monster Facts About Pacific Rim
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

Legendary Pictures took a gamble on Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 monster/robot slugfest. Since it wasn’t based on a preexisting franchise, it lacked a built-in fanbase. That can be a serious drawback in our current age of blockbuster remakes and reboots. The movie underperformed domestically; in America, it grossed just over $100 million against its $180 million budget. Yet Pacific Rim was a huge hit overseas and acquired enough fans to earn itself a sequel, Pacific Rim Uprising, which arrives in theaters this week. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the movie that started it all.


Idris Elba in 'Pacific Rim' (2013)
Warner Bros.

One foggy day in 2007, Beacham—who’d recently moved to California—was walking along Santa Monica Beach. As he looked out at the Ferris wheel on the city’s eponymous pier, he pictured a looming sea monster. Then he imagined an equally large robot gearing up to fight the beast. “They just sort of materialized out of the fog, these vast godlike things,” Beacham said. He decided to pursue the concept further after coming up with the idea of human co-pilots who’d need to operate their robot as a team, which added a new thematic dimension.

“I didn’t know I had something I wanted to write until I realized these robots are driven by two pilots, and what happens when one of those people dies? What happens to the leftovers? Then it became a story about loss, moving on after loss, and dealing with survivor’s guilt," Beacham said. "That made the monsters scarier because now you care about the people who are in these robots.”


Pacific Rim was picked up by Legendary Pictures and handed over to director Guillermo del Toro. A huge fan of monster cinema, del Toro enthusiastically co-wrote the final screenplay with Beacham. Sixteen concept artists were hired to sketch original robot and creature designs for the film. “We would get together every day like kids and draw all day,” del Toro told the New York Daily News. “We designed about a hundred Kaijus and about a hundred Jaegers and every week we would do an American Idol and we would vote [some of] them out.”


In “Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats,” the tenth episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's sixth season, Charlie Day’s character gives us a darkly comedic monologue about rodent extermination. Little did the actor know that the performance would open a big opportunity for him. Impressed by the rat speech, del Toro offered Day the part of Dr. Newton Geizler, Pacific Rim’s socially-inept kaiju expert. “He said to himself, ‘That’s my guy. That guy should be in my next movie because if he killed rats, he can kill the monster,’” Day recalled during an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. On the movie set, del Toro often joked about how much he enjoys It’s Always Sunny. As a way of repaying his director, Day helped get del Toro a minor role in the series.


Most of the film’s special effects were computer-generated, but not everything was digital. For the robot cockpit scenes, del Toro had his team build the interior of a full-scale Jaeger head. The finished product stood four stories tall and weighed 20 tons. And like a Tilt-A-Whirl from hell, it was designed to rock around violently on its platform via a network of hydraulics. Once inside, the actors were forced to don 40-pound suits of armor. Then the crew strapped their feet into an apparatus that Charlie Hunnam has compared to a high-resistance elliptical machine.

Certain shots also required del Toro to dump gallons of water all over his exhausted, physically-strained stars. So yeah, the experience wasn’t much fun. “We saw every one of the actors break down on that set except for the female lead actress Rinko Kikuchi," del Toro said. "She’s the only actor that didn’t snap."


Del Toro wanted Gipsy Danger, his ‘bot, to have the self-confident air of a wild west gunslinger. To that end, he and concept artist Oscar Chichoni developed a swaggering gait that was based on John Wayne’s signature hip movements. The Jaeger’s Art Deco-like design was influenced by the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings.


Hailed as the “fortieth greatest guitarist of all time” by Rolling Stone, Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello rocked the MTV generation with hits like “Bulls on Parade” and “Killing in the Name.” Pacific Rim bears his mark as well. The film’s lead composer was Ramin Djawadi, whose other works include the Game of Thrones theme. Wanting to add a “rock element” to the Pacific Rim soundtrack, he and del Toro reached out to Morello. The guitarist didn’t need much persuading.

“When they asked me to put some giant robot riffs and screaming underwater monster licks on the film score, I was all in,” Morello said. Djwadi was pleased with the rocker's contributions to the project. As he told the press: “Tom’s unique style and sounds really defined our robots.”


A definite highlight of this movie is Gipsy Danger’s duel with the winged kaiju Otachi in downtown Hong Kong. Both characters were computer-generated, as were the majority of the streets, cars, and towers in this epic sequence. However, there is one moment which was at least partly realized with practical effects. Gipsy punches through the wall of an office building early in the fight. We see her fist rip through a series of cubicles and gradually decelerate until it lightly taps a chair with just enough force to set off a Newton’s Cradle desktop toy. For that shot, effects artists at 32Ten Studios constructed a miniature office building interior featuring 1/4-scale desks, cubicles, and padded chairs. The level of detail here was amazing: 32Ten’s staff adorned each individual workspace with lamps, computers, wastebaskets, and teeny, tiny Post-it notes.


Rinko Kikuchi in 'Pacific Rim' (2013)
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

Audiences reacted strongly to Kikuchi’s character Mako Mori, who inspired an alternative to the famous Bechdel test. Some critics praised the culmination of her relationship with Raleigh Beckett (Hunnam). Although it’s common practice for the male and female leads in an action flick to end their movie with a smooch, Mori and Beckett share a platonic hug as Pacific Rim draws to a close. Del Toro revealed that he shot three different versions of that final scene. “We did one version where they kiss and it almost felt weird. They’re good friends, they’re pals, good colleagues,” del Toro said.


At the end of the credits, there’s a tribute that reads: “This film is dedicated to the memories of monster masters Ray Harryhausen and Ishiro Honda.” Harryhausen passed away on May 7, 2013—two months before Pacific Rim’s release. A great stop-motion animator, he breathed life into such creatures as the towering Rhedosaurus in 1953’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

Ishiro Honda was another giant of the kaiju genre, having directed Rodan, War of the Gargantuas, and numerous Godzilla films. Del Toro has great respect for both men. When Harryhausen died, the director said, “I lost a member of my family today, a man who was as present in my childhood as any of my relatives.” He also adores the Japanese monster classics and says he’d love to see a Pacific Rim-Godzilla crossover someday. Maybe it’ll happen.


If you’re not familiar with the practice of “Sweding,” let us fill you in: The 2008 comedy Be Kind, Rewind is about two co-workers at a VHS rental store who accidentally erase every tape in stock. Hoping to save their skins, they create ultra low-budget remakes of all the films they’ve destroyed using cardboard sets and cheap costumes. It’s a process these guys call “Sweding” as a ploy to convince everyone that their (unintentionally hilarious) knockoffs were produced in Sweden. Since Be Kind, Rewind was released, Sweding has become a legitimate art form.

When Pacific Rim’s first trailer debuted in 2013, YouTubers Brian Harley and Brodie Mash created a shot-for-shot, Sweded duplicate of the preview. Instead of state-of-the-art CG effects, their version used toy helicopters, duct-tape monster masks, and an ocean of packing peanuts—and del Toro loved it. At WonderCon 2013, he praised the video, saying that it inspired the editing used in Pacific Rim’s third trailer. Harley and Mash happened to be at the same gathering. When del Toro met the comedic duo, he exclaimed “I loved it! My daughters loved it, we watched it a bunch of times!” Then he invited the Sweding duo to attend Pacific Rim’s premiere in Hollywood.

Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.
The DEA Crackdown on Thomas Jefferson's Poppy Plants
Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.
Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.

The bloom has come off Papaver somniferum in recent years, as the innocuous-looking plant has come under new scrutiny for its role as a building block in many pain-blunting opiates—and, by association, the opioid epidemic. That this 3-foot-tall plant harbors a pod that can be crushed and mixed with water to produce a euphoric high has resulted in a stigma regarding its growth. Not even gardens honoring our nation's Founding Fathers are exempt, which is how the estate of Thomas Jefferson once found itself in a bizarre dialogue with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) over its poppy plants and whether the gift shop clerks were becoming inadvertent drug dealers.

Jefferson, the nation's third president, was an avowed horticulturist. He spent years tending to vegetable and flower gardens, recording the fates of more than 300 varieties of 90 different plants in meticulous detail. At Monticello, his Charlottesville, Virginia plantation, Jefferson devoted much of his free time to his sprawling soil. Among the vast selection of plants were several poppies, including the much-maligned Papaver somniferum.

The front view of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate
Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate.

"He was growing them for ornamental purposes,” Peggy Cornett, Monticello’s historic gardener and curator of plants, tells Mental Floss. “It was very common in early American gardens, early Colonial gardens. Poppies are annuals and come up easily.”

Following Jefferson’s death in 1826, the flower garden at Monticello was largely abandoned, and his estate was sold off to help repay the debts he had left behind. Around 115 years later, the Garden Club of Virginia began to restore the plot with the help of Jefferson’s own sketches of his flower borders and some highly resilient bulbs.

In 1987, Monticello’s caretakers opened the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, complete with a greenhouse, garden, and retail store. The aim was to educate period-accurate gardeners and sell rare seeds to help populate their efforts. Papaver somniferum was among the offerings.

This didn’t appear to be of concern to anyone until 1991, when local reporters began to obsess over narcotics tips following a drug bust at the University of Virginia. Suddenly, the Center for Historic Plants was fielding queries about the “opium poppies” in residence at Monticello.

The Center had never tried to hide it. “We had labels on all the plants,” says Cornett, who has worked at Monticello since 1983 and remembers the ensuing political scuffle. “We didn’t grow them at the Center. We just collected and sold the seeds that came from Monticello.”

At the time, the legality of growing the poppy was frustratingly vague for the Center’s governing board, who tried repeatedly to get clarification on whether they were breaking the law. A representative for the U.S. Department of Agriculture saw no issue with it, but couldn’t cite a specific law exempting the Center. The Office of the Attorney General in Virginia had no answer. It seemed as though no authority wanted to commit to a decision.

Eventually, the board called the DEA and insisted on instructions. Despite the ubiquity of the seeds—they can spring up anywhere, anytime—the DEA felt the Jefferson estate was playing with fire. Though they were not a clandestine opium den, they elected to take action in June of 1991.

“We pulled up the plants," Cornett says. “And we stopped selling the seeds, too.”

Today, Papaver somniferum is no longer in residence at Monticello, and its legal status is still murky at best. (While seeds can be sold and planting them should not typically land gardeners in trouble, opium poppy is a Schedule II drug and growing it is actually illegal—whether or not it's for the express purpose of making heroin or other drugs.) The Center does grow other plants in the Papaver genus, all of which have varying and usually low levels of opium.

As for Jefferson himself: While he may not have crushed his poppies personally, he did benefit from the plant’s medicinal effects. His personal physician, Robley Dunglison, prescribed laudanum, a tincture of opium, for recurring gastric issues. Jefferson took it until the day prior to his death, when he rejected another dose and told Dunglison, “No, doctor, nothing more.”


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