Saturday, March 5, 2016

Boulder Organic Foods

Daily Camera:
Six different flavors of the organic soups will be on shelves at 850 Targets nationwide, in a roll-out that both helps and highlights the soup company's continued growth.

"Target is going to be a great customer for us," said Greg Powers, CEO of Boulder Organic. "They have an ongoing and growing focus on natural and organic products, and we're happy to be a company they identified as central to that goal."

Powers said the deal cements Target as one of Boulder Organic's biggest customers. The retail giant also will be the launching pad for two new flavors: chicken, quinoa and kale; and chicken vegetable chili with beans.

Those profiles are the company's first with meat. They will be available at all locations that carry Boulder Organic product, including Whole Foods, King Soopers and Alfalfa's.

All of the soups — produced at the rate of 26,400 pounds per day at an 86,000-square-foot facility in Niwot — are organic and gluten-free, and the vegetarian options are non-GMO.

"Anything Boulder Organic does will be done with care (and) consideration for the environment, with healthy ingredients as a primary concern," said Bill Capsalis, president of industry trade group Naturally Boulder. "This is a company with a very focused true north on the compass of doing things right."

That commitment to fresh, ready-to-eat food has paid off for Boulder Organic as the segment has grown.

"(Millenials) tend to want convenience and are willing to pay more for healthier products that are from companies that align with their set of values," Capsalis said. "With canned soup sales dying, fresh prepared soups will scoop up that whole market."

Sales have doubled every year since they were founded in 2006, Powers said, and they are on track to be up 150 percent in 2015.

"That (growth is) definitely going to continue in the foreseeable future," he said. "Next year, they should easily double again. We're simply following in the footsteps of other companies that have gone before us," he said. "It's easier when the path has been blazed for you."

Nine years ago, Kate Brown went to the supermarket on a simple errand: to buy soup for her 10-year-old daughter, Madeleine, who'd just had her tonsils out. She was shocked by what she saw on the labels. Even with organic brands,"I found ingredients I couldn't pronounce," she says.

Brown grew up in the '70s—"the age of Tang"—but her mom had always cooked healthy food and she'd especially loved to make soup. "It's nostalgic," Brown says. "Soup makes people feel cared for." As she served Madeleine mushy cream of potato, she thought, "Good soup isn't that hard! I could do this right." A stay-at-home mom for ten years, Brown knew "those skills would translate—patience, time management, even saying 'the buck stops here.'"

She hosted tastings, ladling out split pea along with questionnaires; she talked to retailers, buyers and "anyone who's ever eaten soup." The feedback wasn't always encouraging. "A mentor looked at my spreadsheets and told me, 'All I can do is pray for you,'" she says. "But I knew in my heart I had a great idea."

In 2008, Brown got a call from the manager of her local Whole Foods, who'd heard rave reviews of her creations and told her he'd like to sell them. Then Boulder Organic Foods "took off like a rocket ship," Brown says. She borrowed money, rented a commercial kitchen, and spent 14 hours a day chopping, cooking, and delivering.

She made mistakes—signing legal documents without a lawyer, ordering the wrong lids—but "I'd give myself five minutes to whine, then move on," she says. "Every disaster is a learning opportunity."

Today Boulder Organic Foods has 45 employees, and the soups are sold around the country. Every ingredient is fresh, and each batch is hand stirred. When people ask whether Madeleine, now in college, will take over, Brown laughs. "I want her to follow her own path," she says. "It's not hard when you trust your instincts."

More information:
» Food Navigator USA: "The fresh soup market is on fire, says Boulder Organic"
» Daily Camera Obituary: Mary Fruehauf (1959-2015)

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