Employees: 4 owners (plus several production line employees at Boulder Natural Meats)
CEO Doug Michaels might have been inspired by the caveman diet, but there's nothing primitive about his one-of-a-kind Paleo meal manufacturer.
Think of this fresh-frozen, vacuum-sealed microwaveable line as the highest-quality TV dinners known to modern man.
"Nutrition has become the third conversation you can't have in polite company," says Michaels. His goal was to create the healthiest meal humans can eat -- and, to that end, Grandcestors makes its meals with simple, clean ingredients: vegetables, high quality proteins, spices, and healthy fats like coconut and olive oils.
"A lot of times," says Michaels, "People on the Paleo diet eat too much protein, and that can have negative effects, too." It's all about striking the perfect balance of macronutrients: roughly 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein and 30 percent fat. (Okay, it's slightly more complicated than that, Michaels says, but the 40/30/30 rule offers a good baseline.)
From there it's only Paleo-quality ingredients -- meaning no grains, gluten, dairy, soy, added sugars, beans, or preservatives. "This might seem overly exclusive," admits Michaels. But, he adds, "There are some things that just about everybody agrees are healthy, and I wanted to hone in on that."
The company's certified Paleo by the Paleo Foundation, and, as far as Michaels can tell, Grandcestors is the only meal currently up to snuff with the Foundation's stringent guidelines -- and that's no small task.
"Our canned coconut milk, for instance, can't have any stabilizers, and our canned tomatoes can't have citric acid, a highly-processed preservative that's generally derived from mold on GMO corn," Michaels explains. "So we use the one brand of canned tomatoes that doesn't have anything other than tomatoes."
From Michaels's favorite chicken tikka masala to the beef cottage pie, Grandcestors comes in eight varieties marketed as lunches and dinners -- though, some, like the chicken and turkey sausage hash, work well for breakfast, too. The idea for a novel line of convenient-yet-healthy meals came to Michaels, a self-classified serial entrepreneur, when he was at the gym.
"I've been crossfitting for about seven years," Michaels says. His gym was founded by a stand-up crossfit athlete and nutrition guru, and Michael was shocked when he cut his body fat in half during a nine-week-long nutritional challenge hosted by the gym.
Michaels started cooking Paleo meals at home; friends raved about his creations, triggering the proverbial light bulb. "I love food, and I love small business," Michaels says. Creating Paleo-friendly meals, then, was, "a convergence of all of the things I'm passionate about," says Michaels.
In 2013 Michaels and his partners -- Aaron Kearns and two investors -- began developing recipes, producing frozen meals in a shared kitchen space in central Denver. "When we started out, we were making 25 meals of each recipe," says Michaels.
Seven months later, those numbers quadrupled as Grandcestors relocated to its current digs at Boulder Natural Meats, a co-packing facility near I-25 and I-70. Today, Grandcestors does two runs a week, each with about 1,500 meals.
Boulder Natural Meats is a poultry processor specializing in Colorado-raised, antibiotic-free poultry -- forging a partnership with their co-packer was a natural step in Grandcestors' evolution. The company sources its natural, 100 percent grass-fed beef from Crystal River Meats in Carbondale, Colorado.
Challenges: Right now, you might see Grandcestors' products sold under the Noble Savage brand as the company transitions to its new identity after encountering a trademark issue. Navigating USDA regulations has been tricky, Michaels says, offering, "It takes about six weeks to get labels approved, and producing out of a USDA facility -- well that's another whole thing."
Opportunities: Expanding distribution geographically. "Our sales are really, really strong considering we're only in about three dozen store," says Michaels, noting Grandcestors is currently carried in regional Whole Foods Markets. "While there's been a lot of consumer demand for our product, it's hard to get in front of retailers and get them to sign off on it," Michaels says.
Needs: More consumer involvement. "Customers are very powerful, especially at Whole Foods," says Michaels. "If consumers asked for our product, we'd have a better shot at expanding into other regions."