By Jamie Siebrase | Nov 29, 2015
Denver / Louisville, Colorado
Denver / Louisville, Colorado
Soon after co-founder Caseria sold Castor & Pollux's Organix pet food, a friend -- Ross Shell of Red Idea Partners -- introduced him to Natural Food Works' other co-founder, Richard Lappen, former CEO and founder of Fresca Foods.
Over the next few months, the duo hatched a new concept: "The Boulder-Denver corridor is an epicenter for natural brands, and we knew there needed to be another natural and organic co-packer to help those kinds of brands grow," says Caseria.
"Ever heard of a pupusa?" Caseria asks. Two years ago, he and Lappen opened shop in Denver, and began making those delicious Salvadoran corn-based pockets.
The duo has come a long way: Natural Food Works now employs 80 people in three Colorado facilities and manufactures for seven brands. But this full-service co-packer does much more than assembly.
"We think we're a bit different; our goal is to be an indispensable operational partner for a select number of brands," explains Caseria.
Natural Food Works manufactures and packages, of course; it also does quality testing, warehousing and transportation and, as needed, high-pressure processing for brands looking to extend shelf life without added preservatives. (Natural Food Works recently purchased HOPE Foods' HPP machine when HOPE upgraded.) The co-packer also tackles back-end operations: "That includes procurement and quality certifications, which are getting to be immense these days," Caseria says.
Natural Food Works focuses on select food production processes -- mainly involving baked goods, granolas, salsas and sauces, snacks and energy bars. "With all of the non-GMO, vegan, Paleo and allergen-free brands, there's so much to be certified in," adds Caseria.
All three Natural Food Works sites are certified gluten-free, two are organically certified and one obtained its USDA establishment number, which means Natural Food Works can HPP ready-to-eat meats there. The USDA facility completed a Starbucks social responsibility audit, and two of the plants have passed third party audits. "That," Caseria explains, "basically says we're doing everything operationally to ensure quality food." (The other facility is SQF-certified, and working on its third-party audit.)
"The brands we work with aspire to be in Whole Foods, Costco and all of the larger national chains," Caseria says. Big distributors, he explains, require audits for consumer safety purposes.
Natural Food Works doesn't focus solely on quality food; it's focused on people and the planet, too.
From production line workers and team leaders to quality coordinators and procurement managers, a large-scale co-packing operation boosts local employment rates. Says Caseria, "We're excited to be able to offer opportunities to people who are excited about food."
In supporting natural, organic, and preservative-free brands, the folks at Natural Food Works believe they're "doing a tremendous amount of good in how food is made and processed," Caseria says.
Beyond that, the co-packer has recycling initiatives in place at each factory, and efforts toward being zero waste. "We also have solar panels at one -- soon to be two -- of our facilities," Caseria adds. And, he and Lappen replaced incandescent lighting with compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs.
Challenges: Certification is growing increasingly complex: "To be kosher, to be organic, to be gluten-free or Paleo -- these labels are not always consistent," Caseria says. That creates some hurdles. "But, it's something we have to do to support our brands," he clarifies.
Opportunities: Living and working in the Denver-Boulder area, Caseria considers himself lucky to be surrounded by "so many neat entrepreneurs on the natural and organic food side," he says, adding, "We want to continue to grow so we can offer our services to more brands."
Needs: "We could always bring on another brand," Caseria says. In fact, the co-packer is currently working with a prospective client.