A Family Affair

20 May 2024

Juan Morales finds his passion with Naughty Fruit company

Summer/Fall 2024

Written By: Brigid Mander | Images: Chris Figenshau

Juan Morales is no stranger to hard work. He’s also no stranger to, perhaps most importantly, the joy of family, celebrating culture and heritage, and then sharing these delights. And as the CEO and founder of Naughty Fruit, a fast-growing, Victor, Idaho-based natural fruit snack company, the community Juan shares all that joy with is about to get a lot larger. His popular, dehydrated spiced fruit snacks are now in retailers in nine states, and poised for the national scene. The backstory, however, has been a long time in the making.

When Rosa and Horacio Morales informed their children they were leaving bustling Ventura, California, for someplace called Wyoming, then 12-year-old Juan and his siblings thought their life was over. But their parents wanted the tranquility of a small town and healthy lifestyle. “We thought it was terrible!” said Juan, now 37, of the move. “It took a year to adjust, but we did adapt.”

Winters were full of snowboarding, summers of community soccer. Rosa and Horacio also taught their children a serious work ethic. They had moved from Mexico a decade earlier, and they worked in housekeeping and construction to support their family. As soon as Juan was out of college, he beelined for Los Angeles to work in commercials, and began to do work for global brands. Just four years later, however, he found himself back in the Tetons: Horacio needed back surgery, and the family needed help. The recovery was slow, and Juan found himself back in his old lifestyle, helping his parents and playing soccer. Creativity plus the Morales work ethic began to click.

“La Liga is the all day, all weekend soccer league that is a huge part of Latino life here,” Juan says. “I noticed there was no good food at the fields. So my parents and I began to sell shaved ice, like in Mexico. Ours had chunks of mango, spices and tamarind.” The business was a hit. Importantly, Juan realized his future wasn’t in production in Los Angeles. The joy of working with his family, cultural and culinary heritage had already filled him with more passion than anything in LA.

The family next opened a tamale business at the local farmers market in 2015. On the first day, they sold out of the few hundred tamales they’d made — in the first hour. Since then, the tamale business has become a famed part of the local farmers markets, and enabled Rosa and Horacio to stop working their other jobs, and spend winters back in Mexico.

But Juan’s biggest idea was born on the soccer field sidelines. “We always had extra mangoes, so I ended up dehydrating them and adding some spices. I’d just hand them out.” These were another hit, and resulted in Naughty Fruit, which Juan and his parents formed in 2017. “I am so blessed to be able to work with my parents and have them as my busi- ness partners. Our relationship has improved as a family overall, and even though we have had our ups and downs, I find a better version of myself after every challenge,” says Juan.

Naughty Fruit is now sold in 47 locations in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, and is about to add six more states through a Bozeman-based distributor, and national online sales. Naughty Fruit has also kept a firm grasp on responsible sourcing, working with other producers, and, as it scales up, it is already beginning a transition to biodegradable packaging while working to expand its product line. For Juan, it’s a lot of hard work, but he can’t imagine things having turned out any better.

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