8 plus independent contractors
Employees: 8 plus independent contractors
Industry: Food & Beverage
Products: Frozen fish
Claudia was running a fish farm when she noticed consumer demand for sustainably sourced seafood was lacking. "It wasn't that sustainable fish farming wasn't happening -- but people didn't know what it was," Claudia recalls.
Brouker, Claudia's cousin-in-law -- "Yes, that's a thing," Brouker says -- was reviewing natural foods in Boulder when the two hatched an idea for a novel company focused on making high-quality and sustainable fish more accessible to consumers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends Americans eat two servings of fish weekly. "One in five Americans meets that recommendation," Claudia says. The problem, she adds, is that 70 percent of U.S. households grocery shop on a weekly basis. "Fresh fish is meant to be consumed the day it's purchased," says Claudia, noting that her product was designed as a healthful alternative to frozen pizza.
Convenience is only half of the story. LoveTheWild has some of the strictest sustainability criteria in the industry. "We source the best fish we can from all over the world," explains Brouker. When the company launched, half of its fish were wild, sourced from the Marine Stewardship Council's most well-managed fisheries.
Claudia and Brouker have since shifted their sights to farming: Today, LoveTheWild sells about one wild fish for every five farmed fish. "We've stopped offering wild SKUs to new retail partners; by June of next year -- or sooner -- we'll only have farmed fish in stores," Claudia says. Adds Brouker, "We're the only brand that's focused solely on farming, and we're leading the way in that arena."
"Farming fish is like farming anything else," Claudia explains, adding, "You'll notice we don't have salmon in our lineup." Salmon and tilapia move the highest volumes in the industry, and that's increased incentives to cut corners.
"But there's also plenty of great fish farming happening, which is actually restorative for the environment and produces high-quality seafood," Claudia says. "Our aquacultured fish come from farmers we know and trust," she continues. Barramundi, for example, is raised at an open-water farm in Vietnam -- the first of its kind to get a Seafood Watch "Best Choices" ranking in 2014. "That's the caliber of folks we work with," Claudia says.
But even the highest quality fish can taste bland. "Many consumers are confused about how to cook fish, and how to season it," says Brouker. LoveTheWild removed those barriers, pairing its fish selections with flavorful accompaniments: coconut red curry to compliment albacore tuna, for example, and red pepper almond sauce for milder cod.
Sauces are cooked up by the company's team of chefs at its Denver production facility, where Chef Dave Query -- a local culinary legend, and the man behind Jax Fish House -- was brought on to aid in developing flavor profiles for all six LoveTheWild products.
The result is a ready-cook freezer kit containing six-ounce portions of high-quality, lean protein that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less. Individual and two-person servings range from $6.99 to $10.99, and are stocked locally in Alfalfa's Markets, Lucky's Markets, and Sprouts Farmers Markets, and regionally in Whole Foods Markets. Wegmans delivers LoveTheWild to the East Coast, and the meals are sold at Save Mart Supermarkets in California.
LoveTheWild sauces are scratch-made from simple, clean ingredients, using spices from Colorado purveyors. "You can read and understand everything on our labels," says Claudia.
Speaking of labels, LoveTheWild emphasizes seafood-supply chain traceability; upfront packaging lists the supply chain, linking consumers to farms, proprietors, and seafood watch ratings. "Flip the box, and you know exactly where your fish came from," says Claudia. "Every piece of fish we buy, we are 100 percent sure of the species; there's no seafood fraud here," she says.
Challenges: "Experience tells you that you don't go to the freezer aisle for really high-quality fish," says Claudia. The challenge, then, is getting new consumers to try frozen fish for the first time. "Our repeat business," she adds, "is really strong."
Opportunities: Claudia and Brouker founded LoveTheWild because they wanted to get consumers to eat more fish. "The largest opportunity we have is to do just that, by showing people how healthy and delicious fish can be," says Claudia, noting that her company could have a big impact on public health in America.
Needs: "Consumer education is our biggest need," Brouker says. "Our operations are growing, and we're well capitalized," adds Claudia. "Now," she says, "We need to dispel the myths about fish, and educate people on farmed fish, in particular."