La Bella Terre for Flavored Sugars and Essential Oils

By Sharon Salomon MS, RD / Photography By Heather Gill | December 01, 2013
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La Bella Terre, natural products, essential oils, flavored sugars

Francine Hardaway, PhD, who teaches a class on entrepreneurship at ASU, describes an entrepreneur as someone who sees a problem and is willing to take a lot of risk and overcome a lot of obstacles to solve that problem.

"Entrepreneurs, in general, are creative, risk tolerant and slightly abnormal," she says. "Most entrepreneurs are failures most of the time. Serial entrepreneurs keep trying and often get to success by learning from their mistakes."

Terri Nacke owner of La Bella Terre

It sounds like Hardaway knows Terri Nacke, owner of La Bella Terre, a company she founded to manufacture natural products including a line of flavored sugars as well as essential oils and body products. This isn't Terri's first trip down entrepreneurial lane but it is one of her most successful endeavors so far and for good reason.

I first met Terri about 25 years ago. I was working as a dietitian for Maricopa County Health Department and heading up an American Heart Association committee to develop heart-healthy information designed for kids as well as workshops for parents and teachers. Terri was a volunteer for the Heart Association at the time. Since her interests were in line with what we were doing and she was so enthusiastic about the project, we invited her to serve on the committee. Although she was the only lay person in the group, her passion and personal interest (she had a 4-year-old at the time) made her a welcome addition to the committee of more clinically oriented professionals.

Terri had a lot of ideas for us. As Hardaway described, Terri saw a problem and she was determined to find a way to solve it. In addition to helping us organize and plan programs, she set to work on some of her own ideas. After much hard work, Terri developed Kids Can Cook, which proved to be a very valuable program for the Heart Association. That was just the beginning of her involvement with the organization.

Terri also came up with the idea for the Masterpiece Chef Series as a fundraiser for the Heart Association. Local celebrity chefs were invited to demonstrate healthy recipes for the public. Our local celebrity chefs at the time were eager and willing to participate because Terri charmed them into it. She believed in the mission of the Heart Association and she was determined to get the chefs on board with offering healthier food. That program, like Kids Can Cook, was a huge success.

If you had asked Terri to describe herself at the time, she'd have said she was a mother and a housewife but that wouldn't have even scratched the surface of her skills and talent and future potential.

According to Terri, her interest in food began at age 4. She remembers going out to the garden with her grandmother to pick rhubarb and then helping to cook it. Terri was so enamored of the experience that she asked what they were going to pick and cook the next day. That was the start of her food career.

Her love of food was further enhanced by her parents' travels. Terri's mother often replicated the dishes they'd sampled on their trips, so at a young age Terri's palate was already quite developed.

Over the years Terri has been involved in marketing for food companies, working in the hospitality industry, working front of the house in restaurants, studying hotel and restaurant management, studying nutrition and earning certification as a Holistic Nutrition Educator and then becoming a Master Gardener and developing the School Gardens Conference, teaching cooking at the Desert Botanical Gardens and providing aromatherapy at local resorts.

Even though it may seem that Terri went from here to there and everywhere, her focus has always been on sharing what she knows about preparing and eating healthy, good-tasting food and on making sure that the food we eat is as pure as possible.

Her first business, Garden Territory at the Farm at South Mountain, opened in 2000. To say it was ahead of its time doesn't really give Terri the credit she deserves. She opened the store with two friends who shared her vision for offering Phoenicians something they didn't even know they needed. The women stocked the shelves with exceptional merchandise not available anyplace else in the Valley. There were tchotchkes, of course, but there were also uniquely flavored vinegars, salts and sugars and body care products developed by Terri using organic and locally sourced ingredients.

The women considered the store to be a "lifestyle education center" and offered classes in everything from weaving to gardening to cooking with ingredients from the Farm. In fact, that's where I had my very first gardening experience, thanks to Terri.

As with many businesses that are ahead of their time, Garden Territory, lamentably, closed. But Terri soldiered on. Remember Hardaway's words: Entrepreneurs are risk takers. They fail but they learn from their mistakes and they move on.

Terri had been studying the science of and uses for essential oils and aromatherapy, so for awhile after Garden Territory closed she concentrated on her line of body care products. Hence La Bella Terre was born. With the birth of her company, Terri coined the word "eco-ista" to describe herself. She says an "eco-ista is someone who cares where things come from and where they end up."

It was about this time that she started seriously experimenting with what she calls "scented" sugars. The sugars are made from organic dehydrated cane sugar and plant essences.

As a committed cook who loves to fool around with adding unexpected flavors to her food, using sugars infused with essences seemed to be a natural progression for Terri. The sugars can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. Lavender, cardamom, mint, rose, bergamot-lemon and grapefruit-hibiscus are just a few of the flavors that have become popular.

It might seem a bit odd that someone who has dedicated her life to promoting healthy eating would choose to develop flavored sugars. Terri knows that most of us aren't going to give up sweet foods and she hopes that by using her organic flavored sweeteners, we'll learn to use them in appropriate amounts and appreciate the flavor punch that results from their judicious use.

Today La Bella Terre products can be found at local spas and grocers like Bodega in Scottsdale, AJ's stores, Scottsdale Old Town Farmers' Market, Maya's farm stand at the Downtown Public Market and Whole Foods. In fact, Terri projects that La Bella Terre products will be in almost 800 stores in the next three years.

This must have been where Terri was always headed because this time she's savoring some sweet success. Of course, along the way she realized that her experiences would only carry her so far. She recognized that she needed the help of business professionals to guide her. With their help, she's building her business one step at a time.

Terri continues to investigate, learn and grow. She never lets lack of immediate success stop her. There's a lesson there for all of us.

How to Use Flavored Sugars

The simplest use of the sugars is to sweeten hot and cold beverages. Consider the possibilities: cardamom iced tea, mint smoothies, etc. Use the sugar as-is or heat it with water to create a simple syrup. Sprinkled on top of cookies or cake or bread before baking, the sugars add texture and flavor. Mixed in soups, dressings, batters, cooked cereals, etc., the sugars add a subtle undertone of flavor.

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Phoenix, AZ
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