Before hummus was cool there was Blue Moose of Boulder, a local pioneer that's rightfully earned -- and kept -- its place at the forefront of the natural food industry.
"Since 1997, we've been crafting a full line of natural hummus, pesto, tapenades, salsas and spreads for the greater Denver area," says General Manager Bert Sartori, whose Blue Moose of Boulder products focus on "delivering great flavor in a fresh and natural way using pure, simple ingredients," as Sartori puts it.
You might recognize his name for its ties to Sartori Cheese, an award-winning, family-owned artisan cheese company based in Wisconsin.
When Sartori and his clan purchased Ciolo in 2010 and then acquired Blue Moose two years later, they were taking on companies that shared their core values surrounding family and quality. The brands' ownership was the same for the first time in more than a decade.
The story goes that Blue Moose founder Curt Tellem woke up one morning and told his wife he was starting a hummus company. Tellem held Blue Moose for a few years, sold the company and later founded Ciolo, a high-end line of chef-inspired dips made in small batches with organic ingredients boasting mouthwatering notes like truffled ricotta and white balsamic fig.
You'll have to head to Whole Foods Market for Ciolo products, but you'll find Blue Moose hummus, salsas, and spreads at area mainstays: King Soopers, Safeway, Natural Grocers, and Lucky's Market, as well as Whole Foods.
Blue Moose products, Sartori says, are "everyday spreads. The core is hummus; salsa -- ours come in mild, medium and hot -- is a big item, and the spreads round it out." Both lines have a pesto, too, and they build on Tellem's legacy of keeping food real.
"Go back to 1997," Sartori says. "There were plenty of opportunities to load things up with preservatives and ship 'em everywhere, but Blue Moose wanted to be different, and our customers have always appreciated that we were all-natural before it was en vogue."
For nearly twenty years, Blue Moose products have been handmade in small batches in Colorado "like you'd do at home," says Sartori. "As the business grew, corners weren't cut to save money."
Selling regionally is good business, but the Sartori family wouldn't mind getting a piece of the national multi-billion dollar pie, either. When a company breaks into new regions, though, its product must withstand shipping and longer stays on supermarket shelves. Forgoing potentially harmful chemicals and nutrient-damaging thermal treatments like pasteurization didn't leave Sartori many options.
A few years ago, he got wind of an emergent technology called high-pressure processing (HPP), which allowed him to add shelf life and push into new regions without compromising values.
HPP uses pressurized water to kill pathogens in ready-to-eat foods. The high-pressure process imparts 87,000 pounds of isostatic pressure per square inch on plastic container and food -- killing 99.999 percent of microbes. Because the treatment is non-thermal, high temperatures don't degrade the product, and that was important.
"Blue Moose uses the freshest ingredients it can find, and we didn't want to turn around and cook them at the expense of nutritional value," says Sartori about his decision to forgo traditional pasteurization.
Challenges: A year ago, Sartori would have said shelf life was his biggest concern. Today, though, the challenge is "keeping up with the demand," he says.
Opportunities: Blue Moose is in the midst of a national push. "In theory, we sell on both coasts, but there's a lot of green space in between," says Sartori. Blue Moose products sell in New York, Boston, and Seattle stores, and the company is expanding into Florida soon. Sartori also has been working with "different retailers in the club channel," he says.
Needs: As a growing business, Blue Moose is always looking to augment its talent. "As you're growing a business you might need equipment here or there, but the biggest demand is for people," says Sartori.