Federal Heights, Colorado
Industry: Food & Beverage
Products: Finishing butter
Husband-and-wife co-founders John and Janey Hubschman are taking their booming butter business to the next level.
"Restaurants use compound -- or flavored -- butter to make everything taste better," says Janey. "We found there were no compound butters on the market. John and I decided to take the leap and start a company."
John previously worked as a chef for the Rock Bottom and ChopHouse restaurant chains and Janey worked in sales and consulting for the specialty food industry before the couple pivoted to manufacturing. "This was the perfect marriage of our backgrounds and what we loved to do," says Janey.
The Hubschmans started making their butters in a shared kitchen at the since-shuttered Denver Enterprise Center. "There was a great opportunity to start up a business without a lot of capital investment," says John. "That got us on our feet."
After six months, Epicurean Butter moved to a co-packer in Denver. "While I was there, I decided to hire my own employees and rent space from them," says John.
Five years later, the company needed its own manufacturing space, and the Hubschmans found a 13,500-square-foot facility in Federal Heights, the former home of Larabar. "Larabar moved out and we moved in," says John. "It turned out to be a very ideal building for us."
Epicurean Butter had less than 10 employees at the time. "It was much bigger than we needed, but it allowed us to grow," says Janey.
Since the beginning, the company has blazed its own trail. "We created this market segment," says John. The company developed sizes, prices, and retail strategies "by trial and error."
Perfecting production was the first big hurdle, he adds, citing shelf life as a major issue. "It was a very different process coming from a restaurant to the manufacturing world. We learned a lot on the fly."
The market was similarly untested. "We had preconceptions of what would sell," says John. "We thought the sweet flavors would sell the best. We quickly found the savory outsold the sweet."
Roasted Garlic Herb emerged as the most popular flavor in the early years. "That's far and away our bestseller," says Janey, noting that such flavors as Wasabi Ginger, Blueberry, and Coconut Orange have "come and gone."
Notes John: "You can really go on some wild tangents."
The company sources spices and herbs from a number of vendors in Colorado and California and gets 55-pound blocks of butter from a national dairy cooperative. "We'll purchase close to a million pounds of butter this year," John says.
Epicurean Butter now offers 13 flavors at retail, plus custom butters for private-label customers that include national retail chains and restaurants. The company sells to three channels: retail, food service, and private label. Customers include Whole Foods, Sprouts, and other grocers; restaurants and delis; and other food manufacturers. "Our company has grown in many different directions," says Janey. "We've really diversified over the 13 years."
Food service represents roughly half of the company's sales. "The biggest part of our food service is to in-store bakeries," she adds. Such customers often use Epicurean Butter on bread for take-and-bake garlic bread, and the company started making rosettes for inclusion with frozen seafood in summer 2017.
Another new product, a one-ounce squeeze pack, is sold with pre-cut vegetables in the produce aisle, for such combinations as potatoes or mushrooms with Roasted Garlic Herb butter. "That is giving our brand huge exposure," says Janey, noting that it's just one example of her husband's continuous brainstorming. "John has a new idea every two hours."
It's all added up to "steady growth" since 2004, says Janey. Without disclosing revenue figures, John forecasts 23 percent sales growth for 2017. "We have accounts coming online that are going to slingshot us to a different level," he says. "Our intention, our mission is really to invigorate and innovate the butter market."
Challenges: Swings in commodity prices. "We're at the mercy of the market," says John, noting that butter now costs double what it did in 2004. "The price has gone up and up and up."
Capital is another issue. "We're a bootstrapped company," he adds. "There are alway challenges associated with that." Is he pursuing outside investment? "Not at this point," he says. "It might be the endgame." For now, John adds, "We grow at a healthy clip. We don't get ahead of ourselves."
Opportunities: "When I think about our opportunities, the word I use is 'limitless,'" says Janey. "We can sell to so many different channels. Very few items can be merchandised in so many places in a retail store."
Needs: "Finding qualified employees, because of the low unemployment in Colorado," says John. "We're always looking for good employees."