As a hub for natural, craft, and artisan foods, Colorado is leading the way towards smashing a manufacturing monoculture. An emphasis on quality ingredients, customer service, and manufacturing acumen has elevated the three finalists for the Food Manufacturer/Co-Packer of the Year at the 2021 Colorado Manufacturing Awards.
Keen One was born from founder Christoper Algea's class project at CU Boulder's Leeds School of Business. "Instead of buying a car with my graduation money of $20,000, I bought two tons of quinoa and started slowly figuring out the business," says Algea.
Algea launched the company in 2008 and eclipsed $1 million in annual sales in 2018 after finding equal footing in the packaged foods and wholesale bulk organic quinoa.
"We realized our supply chain is our strongest asset," says Algea. "It's pretty much the same cost and effort to do one or two tons as it is to do 20."
Keen One now imports about "six or seven containers, and the par-cooked is about a quarter of that, four to five tons right now, for the retail line," says Algea.
The company's microwavable cups are now available at about 500 retailers, including Whole Foods, King Soopers, and Safeway stores.
Bulk quinoa grew to represent about half of sales by 2018, when revenue hit $1.1 million. In 2020, Keen One saw sales dip as the pandemic interrupted food service nationwide.
"Getting over $1 million this year is the big, audacious goal," says Algea. "We're on track for $850,000 right now."
The sauce-focused co-packer saw monthly sales skyrocket from $100,000 to $700,000 last year. "We plateaued at about $700,000 a month, and that's because of supply chain interruptions," says CEO Jim Kreitman.
He's set a lofty goal of increasing that to $1 million a month by June 2021 and adding a second shift by early 2022. "We hope to double our sales by the end of the year," says Kreitman. "We're adding clients on a daily basis."
Kreitman touts a pair of new "major clients" in Rufus Teague and Yai's Thai. "It's great, because it gives us stability," he notes. "We'd like to add two more large clients and continue to fill with smaller, boutique-y, high-end products we're best at. It's not everyone who can fill a guitar-shaped bottle."
The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted numerous supply chains for customers, namely packaging made in China. "If we can change it, we're encouraging people to buy local Colorado suppliers," says Kreitman. "If you source local, you can save a ton of money."
Kreitman's background in finance is a differentiator for Motherlode. "We've raised capital for clients, which is unique," he says. "You're a chef and you've got your brand, and you hit $2 million then $4 million in sales. Now you have to raise capital to get to $10 million so you can fill that Costco or Walmart order, that's where we step in. That's where we help."
CompanyWeek profile (November 2020): https://companyweek.com/article/motherlode-co-packing
The barley business is booming at Root Shoot Malting, one of the rare craft malthouses that grows its own grain.
Co-founder Emily Olander says 2021 is all about maximizing its second malting drum so the craft maltster can move towards total buildout with a third drum in 2022. Each drum can malt about 1 million tons of grain annually, so the trio will have a capacity of 3 million tons. "We're growing organically, drum by drum," says Emily.
She adds, "To be able to continue farming and supply the malthouse, you have to have land for that. To be able to secure some long-term leases would be very helpful."
Emily and her husband, Todd, launched the craft malting operation in August 2016, and Root Shoot Malting now supplies about 100 breweries and distilleries each month, including Station 26 Brewing in Denver, Elkins Distilling Co. in Estes Park, and The Family Jones in Longmont and Denver.
The differentiators are high-quality grains (barley as well as corn, rye, and wheat) and customer service, says Emily. "Being able to supply what we think -- and what brewers think -- is the best malt is important to us. Alongside that, it's valuable to have relationships with us, too, so we pride ourselves on being there for brew days, or helping out with canning days, or just trying to be part of the process with them. That sets us apart, too."
CompanyWeek profile (September 2016): https://companyweek.com/article/root-shoot-malting
The winners of the 2021 Colorado Manufacturing Awards will be revealed at a virtual event on April 29, 2021.