Spice blends and seasonings
Industry: Food & Beverage
Products: Spice blends and seasonings
Don't be fooled by the small town, general store aesthetic: Since opening in 2013, High Plains Spice Company has fast become a top destination for Coloradans looking for spices, seasonings, and specialty foods -- and the company's reach stretches far beyond the state's northeastern corner.
Passion is the driving force behind High Plains Spice Company's success. "Both of us really like to cook and garden," explains Lacey.
She and her husband, BJ, had meant to start an herb business. But when they were getting ready to plant their first lot of seedling transplants, crickets ate their crop!
BJ smoked his own meats at home, and he was already making some rubs and spices. After the cricket debacle, well, spices seemed like a much more stable investment. "The business evolved from there," Lacey explains.
Spices are considered a food product, Lacey says; as such, she and BJ needed to manufacture their product in a certified kitchen, and that's how the ended up opening a specialty market.
In the fall of 2013, then, the News procured a storefront in Sterling's downtown shopping district. There, the couple makes seasoning blends and packages other food products in a 250-square-foot kitchen in the rear of a jam-packed retail store.
"Technically, we're a retail-food establishment, and we're inspected just like a restaurant would be," Lacey clarifies. But the "food" she's referring to is seasonings.
The News manufacture and package more than 40 blends -- all mixed in small batches in-house using personal, handcrafted recipes. "We're kind of picky," Lacey explains. Ingredients don't make it into the shop unless they're up to snuff, quality-wise. "None of our brands contain preservatives or anti-caking agents. Also, we don't use MSG" -- a common ingredient in commercial seasoning blends.
That's part of the reason High Plains Spice Company seasoning blends taste better than the ones you'd find in a traditional grocery store. The other factor is freshness. "Some of our stuff will be made 30 minutes before you walk in and buy it," says Lacey. (She says you don't even want to know how long some of the competition has been packaged before it hits your pantry!)
When it comes to the company's seasoning blends, the most popular offering is Pig Tickle, which was originally crafted for pork butt and ribs, but is also a great all-purpose seasoning.
"We carry all kinds of fun things you won't find in your traditional grocery store," adds Lacey, rattling off a list that includes saffron and smoked sea salts. The News retail the ingredients they use in their kitchen -- everything from the aforementioned items to salt and pepper, basil, and onion.
"Our kitchen is a raw kitchen," Lacey says, explaining, "We don't do any heating or processing." Hence, the News work with local and regional suppliers to bring in upsell items such as The Real Dill pickles (made in Denver) and Horsetooth Hot Sauce (a Fort Collins brand).
"We wanted to retail fun things that would support the community," Lacey says. Enter Riley's Brand Honey, which comes from nearby Fleming, and fresh popcorn from Colorado Jack in Holyoke. As you might have guessed, the News are having a blast thinking up unconventional spices to put on their popcorn.
The News also package a variety of products in their kitchen -- one particularly popular offering being specialty coffee beans sourced from a roaster in New Jersey. "We have a couple of organic fair trade coffees, and we do a lot of different flavors," Lacey says, pointing to top-sellers such as Sea Salt Caramel Mocha and Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup.
For its teas -- also packaged on-site -- High Plains Spice Company works with a West Coast importer offering varietals from China and India.
Since 2014, olive oils, balsamic vinegars, and BBQ sauces have been brought in from an importer in Arizona, and are labeled by High Plains. "Our BBQ sauces," Lacey notes, "have a really unique flavor because they're made with a balsamic base."
"Business," Lacey says, "has grown exponentially." As sales begin to level off, Lacey and BJ are focusing on direct-to-consumer online sales in an effort to reach even more customers.
High Plains Spice Company does its shipping and fulfillment in-house, and sends products to all fifty states plus a few military bases outside of the U.S. The company also sells a few products on Amazon, mainly gift boxes.
Challenges: "I know this seems a little strange, but shipping is a big challenge for us," says Lacey. Shipping costs add up, and they definitely impact the News' bottom line.
Opportunities: "We're always trying to find ways to grow our business and integrate new products," Lacey explains. High Plains Spice Company recently added a wine section, and is now classified as a "limited winery." The company currently sells local bottles, and is working to produce its own wines. In fact, the News might have a few batches ready by Christmas. "We also have the opportunity to do a tasting room," Lacey adds. And let's not overlook the potential for wine and local cheese pairings!
Needs: As far as BJ and Lacey are concerned, the biggest need is more time in the day. "It's just us running a small business, and it always seems like there's one more thing that we need to do," Lacey says.