Woodland Park, Colorado
Industry: Food & Beverage
Products: Soups and cereal
Founder Kelly Strong is winning awards and new accounts for her brand of soups and granolas.
Strong began selling batches of her gluten-free, vegan soup to restaurants and cafes around Colorado Springs in 2013. "We jarred our first soups by hand [in January 2014]," Strong says. "We made a few cases. We ran a few dozen labels, and I presented [the soup] to City Market and King Soopers here in Colorado and they liked it."
By the end of 2014, Blue Moon Goodness was in every Kroger store in Colorado and some surrounding states. Safeway picked up the brand in 2018.
Blue Moon Goodness' soups -- Moroccan Vegetable, Tomato Fennel, and Vegan Green Chile -- are now available in around 400 stores in Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Florida, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. She projects that the soups will be in 900 outlets by the end of 2018.
Strong says a new distributor has told her, "Nothing exciting has happened in the soup aisle in a long time." Her response? "Party in the soup aisle! I think there's a great opportunity for new packaging, new flavors, and something really different."
She calls her Moroccan Vegetable soup "authentic," reflecting the time her family spent living in North Africa in the early '80s. "I was deeply influenced by the food culture in Morocco," she says. "When I was in Morocco, that was the soup we ate at the end of the day." The lentils within it aren't mushy or hard, they have a welcome chew to them -- and the soup is pleasingly spicy. "We don't want to have wimpy flavor profiles," Strong says. "We want [the soups] to be unique."
Strong sources some local ingredients for her soups, including potatoes, carrots, and onions. "I was always foraging through farmers' markets, and now I'm going directly to the farms," she says. The chiles in her Vegan Green Chile are from Pueblo. And three types of Colorado-grown mushrooms will be used within Blue Moon Goodness' upcoming release: a spinach-mushroom soup.
In a building that formerly housed a sausage factory in Colorado Springs, Strong's company shares resources and contract labor with two other tenants. Given the facility's former use, Strong calls it "kind of ironic because we're gluten-free and vegan." (Strong and colleagues actually burned sage to drive "the spirits of the pigs out," she says with a laugh.)
Strong, who isn't a vegan or vegetarian herself, says, "There are a lot less hoops to jump through if you don't use meat in your product, to be quite honest. And we know there is a lot of demand for that right now -- and we don't think that is going to slow down. Just personally, it matters a lot to us, so we think it matters to other people."
Her company produces about 150 to 230 gallons of soup at a time, utilizing the facility's two stainless steel, steam-jacketed kettles -- one 80 gallons and the other 150. Hot packing the soups into glass jars at 180 degrees makes them shelf-stable for two-plus years.
But soup isn't the company's only offering. In the facility's convection ovens, Strong bakes her granola. Blue Moon Goodness produces about 600 pounds of granola per month. Some of it goes to Whole Foods and Natural Grocers stores along the Front Range of Colorado. The rest goes to corporate clients: three large hotels in downtown Denver, as well as the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square. A farmer in Wyoming grows the oats, and Strong obtains honey from apiaries in the Pikes Peak region. "It's just delicious," she says of her granola, which include the varieties Original, Berry Blend, For Kids, and No Fruit.
Strong credits the Colorado Department of Agriculture's Colorado Proud program for helping to make local products an in-demand commodity in the state. "It gave us a real opportunity," she says. "I have to admit that it wasn't just luck."
Still, she considers herself lucky in business. "Just the fact that people like my product -- that I get to make real food for real people -- it's a joy," says Strong. "It's a privilege making people happy."
Strong grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While working in the software industry in the early '90s, she moved to Colorado. But making granola (initially based on one of her mother's recipes) and soup has always been part of her life. And now she's producing both professionally. Strong says, "My mother said I've married my two strongest skills: cooking and sales."
Apparently, the judges at the Colorado Manufacturing Awards, an event produced by CompanyWeek, agreed: Blue Moon Goodness won in the Outstanding Small Food Brand category.
Challenges: "Balancing my workload at this point between sales and marketing and production," says Strong. For her, that will entail relying more heavily on production help in the future, delegating those responsibilities. "You can't really grow if you don't," she says.
Opportunities: Working with a large natural food distributor, KeHE Distributors, has opened up a lot of stores for the brand, including Safeway and Albertsons stores. "They're giving us a lot of opportunity to expand and cast the net further," says Strong.
Needs: "One thing we need is capital to grow," says Strong. "We are fishing for a strategic partner, which may bring the capital we need."