Kate Brown’s recipe for success includes fresh organic ingredients and experienced management. Expansion and fast growth are in the mix.
Kate Brown founded Boulder Organic! (originally Boulder Soup Works) after shopping for gluten-free soups for herself and her daughter. "She didn't really find much," says CEO Greg Powers. "That motivated her to start making soups at home."
Brown used organic ingredients in her homemade soups, and word soon got out -- Whole Foods called in 2006. After a tasting went well, she spent about two years honing her recipes, packaging and shelf-stability for a 2009 retail launch at the Whole Foods on Pearl Street in Boulder.
From there, the company grew regionally and then nationally as of 2012. Beyond Whole Foods, Boulder Organic! sells through Costco, Kroger, Fresh Market, and independent grocery stores.
"We've had 100 percent growth every year," says Powers. "A lot of our growth is driven by requests by our retail partners."
Brown is now the company's president. Powers came on board as CEO in 2009 after working in telecom and Boulder dog-day-camp franchisor Camp Bow Wow.
Retailing for about $5 to $7 for a refrigerated 24-ounce tub, the company's 11 soups include the bestselling Roasted Tomato Basil as well as Red Lentil Dahl, Green Chili Corn Chowder, and Garden Minestrone, and there are plans for rotating seasonal soups in the near future. All are organic and gluten-free, and about half are vegan or vegetarian.
"We've been true to Kate's vision since our founding," Powers notes. "It really is the only product on the market that is both of those [gluten-free and organic]."
This gives Boulder Organic! a unique spot in the approximately $5 billion U.S. soup market, about $150 million of which is in refrigerated products, and it's an enviable niche. Notes Powers: "The fastest growing segments for soup are fresh, gluten-free, and organic."
All of the growth means the company has maxed out its capacity at Boulder Organic!' current 10,000-square-foot kitchen on the east side of Boulder. The company is building a new 22,500-square-foot facility between Boulder and Niwot.
After the moving vans have come and gone, Powers anticipating hiring as many as 20 people by the end of 2014. He sees plenty of room to expand -- the company's growth to date has largely been fueled by word of mouth. "We hadn't hired a dedicated sales team until this month," says Powers.
Challenges: "One of our biggest challenges is controlling costs," says Powers. Organic produce typically cost 30 to 40 percent more than their non-organic counterparts, and weather and other issues can impact supply. In spring 2013, the price of organic zucchini was double and triple the norm. "Even corn has been a very tight market," he adds. "One week to the next, the price can go up 20, 25 percent."
"It's our goal to provide our products at a reasonable price so anybody can buy them," says Powers. "We have to be able to absorb those costs."
Opportunities: "We're going to expand our product offerings in the near future," says Powers. The company will make "other fresh, ready-to-eat meals" that align with its soups.
"The fresh trend in food is one of the hottest trends in the industry right now," he adds. "That is our biggest opportunity. We're very focused on the fresh category."
Needs: Space and people to expand. The move northeast can't happen soon enough, says Powers, and in 2015 the big need will involve recruiting and retaining experienced talent. Fortunately, the local natural-foods labor bench is deep, he adds. "When we look to hire people, we have a vast pool of talent in Boulder County and in Denver."