Employees: 7 (plus 35 seasonal employees)
Co-founders Jim Mills and Ben Mustin are growing a brand of pickled, preserved, and live-fermented produce, and it's mmmm-good.
Less than 1 percent of the produce Coloradans eat is grown in-state, which is surprising since we've shown a propensity for supporting local businesses. "Our system just isn't set up to consistently deliver locally grown food to customers in the grocery store," explains Mills, MM Local's CEO. He and president Mustin are flipping the script, and building a consumer-to-farmer connection that allows shoppers to eat fresh, local food year-round.
Neither entrepreneur started out in the food industry; they met at a Boulder-based brand consulting firm. "That's where we hatched the idea for MM Local," says Mills about his undeniably unique label.
On the top of every MM Local jar, for example, you'll notice a traceability sticker that lets buyers pinpoint the farm where their produce was grown. That assures consumers that their dollars are going back into the local economy, and that they're contributing to a robust agricultural system.
MM Local's entire business is based on relationships. "Starting with those relationships with family farmers," Mills says. MM Local works with over a dozen Colorado farms, and has purchased over a million pounds of organic produce -- everything from tomatoes to cabbage to kale to plums -- from local farmers since the company's inception.
Farmers have even started approaching Mills and Mustin. That's because the company's business model is built around being able to respond to surpluses, and MM Local actually changes its product line based on what its farms are producing. "That's one way we support the growth of local agriculture and farming," Mills says.
Beyond benefiting Colorado's economy, MM Local products are good for local taste buds, too. "Colorado farmers are growing fantastic, delicious produce," Mills says. "Our philosophy is very simple: We source ripe produce from farms and add as few additional ingredients as possible to create an exceptional product."
MM Local's beautiful glass packaging says it all. "It's a very transparent brand, and we have absolutely nothing to hide," explains Mills.
The company uses traditional and natural methods of preservation -- mainly hot water processing and acidifying for vegetables, which are not naturally acidic like fruit. "There are no preservatives needed for our canning process," Mills adds.
From six items in 2009 to over 25 SKUs now available in Natural Grocers, Whole Foods Markets and independent grocers, the MM Local line has grown to include live fermented products and special seasonal releases including spicy dill cucumber pickles and peaches and pears, coming back to shelves this November; later this month, the company rolls outs its first Chile Rojo sauce.
Challenges: This year, Colorado's weather -- excess rain, in particular -- was problematic. "We're very similar to farms in that we're at the mercy of Mother Nature," Mills says.
Opportunities: MM Local is breaking into a new region: the Pacific Northwest. As of October, the company is officially partnering with Oregon and Washington farmers, after completing a successful pilot program in 2013. "From day one, our vision was to create a leading national brand for authentic local food," Mills says, noting, "The Pacific Northwest seemed like another great market for this product for a variety of reasons, including the region's strong natural foods community and robust volume of produce."
Needs: "We have our canneries here in Denver, and we're always looking at opportunities to co-pack or utilize our space in the off months," Mills says.