Wood hates to see good food go to waste. In 2005, he began his search for a solution with the apples in his very own backyard. "I was sick of seeing those apples rotting on the ground so I bought a dehydrator and started drying them," he recalls. "They usually ended up soft and chewy until one time I forgot about them for a day and a half. Those turned out crunchy, and I gave them away thinking they were terrible," he laughs. His "mistake" was a hit and all-natural, gluten-free, non-GMO Appleooz were born.
"I started selling them at arts and craft fairs," Wood says. "By April of 2013, I had my first wholesale account at Lucky's Market in Boulder." His reach has expanded dramatically over the years as he moved production of the popular crunchy apple chips from his home to the 2,500-square foot commercial kitchen in the Boulder Elks Lodge and began sourcing apples from local yards, damaged produce from area markets, and Colorado Western Slope growers. "For the last couple years, we've been doing about 1,000 pounds of apples a week," he says. But all of that is about to change—and in a big way.
In May 2016, Boulder-based natural foods investment firm 1908 Brands bought Appleooz from Wood, keeping the founder and "apple master" on as the brand manager and face of the company. "All of 1908 Brands' product brands will be moving to a new space in Longmont in August," Wood explains. "We're getting an 8,500-square-foot facility and will be increasing staff significantly. Our production capacity will be quadrupling by September."
In addition to the exciting new digs, Mark and 1908 Brands are exploring the expansion of the Appleooz product line. "We're in the experimentation phase right now," he says. "We're working on new flavors -- such as ginger, spicy and savory -- as well as looking to add other fruits and vegetables to the mix including peaches, mangos and pineapples."
Consumers can currently find original and tart Appleooz in about 200 grocery outlets around the nation. "That includes all of the Vitamin Cottage stores in Colorado, 13 Whole Foods in Colorado, a couple small chains, and a bunch of independent grocers," Wood says. "We'll be going into Sprouts Farmers Markets in July and into King Soopers later this summer. We're also expanding nationally with Natural Grocers and are currently discussing our product with Albertson's and Safeway."
"These are all deals I've been working on for several years," Wood continues, "but they seemed to come together as soon as I sold the company. I'm very appreciative to bring new business like this to 1908 Brands. They've made a huge investment in me and this company, and it gives me great joy to be able to generate sales to help make that investment worthwhile for all of us."
Challenges: Fluctuation in the nation's apple supply is often a challenge. "I try to buy as many Colorado apples as possible," Wood says. "But the state only produces 5 percent of the historic apples we used to produce and almost all of them are spoken for before they are harvested. That's why I started the DonateColoradoApples.com program to harvest apples from area backyards. However, last year was an off apple year so there weren't any backyard apples." In response, Wood has cultivated relationships with multiple growers in different parts of the country so he can adjust his orders as needed.
Opportunities: "Market expansion is a huge opportunity," says Wood. "1908 Brands has existing relationships with Costco, Walmart and Sam's Club. We're hoping to ride their coattails and get into those stores as well as more independent grocers. We love independents and will direct-ship Appleooz to independent grocers anywhere in the country."
Needs: "We need to expand our production capacity as soon as possible," Wood concludes. "We're selling more product than we can currently produce week in and week out. Fortunately, we're buying an additional commercial dehydrator as well as an Atlas apple slicing machine. The Atlas will do 100 apples a minute. That's our entire production run for the day in 30 minutes with only one person required to run it."