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Guilt-Free Goodies How one entrepreneur found sweet success with healthy cookies

By April Y. Pennington

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Joseph's Lite Cookies
Founder:
Joseph Semprevivo, 34
Location: Deming, New Mexico, and Sebastian, Florida
Projected 2005 Sales: Over $100 million
Description: Sugar-free and fat-free cookies and food products

Kid Confection: Life can be tough for a diabetic 12-year-old. But in 1983, with a little help from his father, Joseph Semprevivo created a rich, sugar-free ice cream in his parents' restaurant that he could indulge in without harming his health. He and his parents began offering the ice cream to their customers, and the enthusiastic response led them to re-brand their business as a sandwich and ice-cream shop. Within three years, Semprevivo--with Dad as a chauffeur--had stocked the freezers of 197 grocery stores and ice cream shops in New Mexico.

Fortune Cookie: Though his parents have long since retired from their business (and from helping Semprevivo with his), back when he was 15, his parents created a sugar-free oatmeal cookie that changed the course of Semprevivo's company. The logistical nightmare of keeping the ice cream frozen, combined with the success of the oatmeal cookies, led Semprevivo to leave ice cream behind in favor of sugar-free baked goods.

Proving Ground: Concocting cookie recipes was one thing, but handling sales calls and meetings as a teen and young adult proved to be more difficult. "When you're pitching a 50-year-old Harvard MBA and you're 17, he's not amused," says Semprevivo. "Extra preparation for presentations was key." His hard work paid off--the business has since expanded to 13 flavors of cookies, bite-size cakes, brownies, pancake syrup and peanut butter. Introducing almost 40 new items this year, the line is now in 37 countries, and will reach 125,000 U.S. stores by year's end.

Singular Sensation: Semprevivo's original intention was to help fellow diabetics, but his line's loyal followers also include hypoglycemics, cancer patients, and diet and health enthusiasts who shun sugar. Using all-natural ingredients, "we've set ourselves apart through quality and taste," says Semprevivo. Whether through Joseph's Lite or his fat-free food company, Santa Fe Farms, which he started in 1989, the goal, says Semprevivo, is "helping others live active, healthy lives."

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