Industry: Food & Beverage
Utah educator Jane Fenton’s crash course in the food business is a natural fit.
Growing up, Fenton, owner of Nova Granola, lived in a home where healthy eating was more than an occasional choice, it was a complete lifestyle.
"We had a garden, and we tried to eat as healthy as possible," says Fenton. Which was a challenge because Fenton loved baked goods. So she took it on as a challenge: take a favorite treat and make it healthier but still delicious. Fenton was good at it, but one snack had her stumped. How do you make granola truly healthy?
"Granola has a reputation for being a healthy snack," Fenton explains, "but looking at it, I found that most granolas are full of sugar and oil. So I started experimenting. A lot. And I finally found something that worked!"
A first grade teacher, Fenton started selling her granola. Years later, she's no longer teaching, she's all-in with her granola company, and she now sells four different types of flavors and even has a staff. "For years, it was just me!" she adds.
Growing means finding additional suppliers, which has been a challenge. "In the beginning, I was just going to Costco," Fenton admits. She graduated to a food supplier until she was ready to source her ingredients directly.
"It has been challenging because I care greatly care about the quality and do not want to compromise, but it is hard to find the right ingredients at the right price. We will always keep looking, and we do not source from one place. We have one shot to keep a customer, and we want our customers to have a good experience when they eat our granola."
Nova Granola is sold online, at a few Farmer's Markets, and directly to companies. "Most of our reach is online," Fenton says. "We want to go retail. We are looking forward to it. We need more products in more mouths. But our granola is essentially a homemade, preservative free granola. We want the customer to have a fresh experience but have some life to it. We make to order and try to get it to the customer as quickly as possible. How does that work in a retail setting?"
How to go from a small online company to a retail shelf is a step Fenton is still investigating. "I do not have a business background. Or marketing or accounting or anything that would be applicable in business. If I had known how hard it would be to grow this business, I do not know if I still would have done it. In my case, innocence was a great benefit. I had to figure things out along the way and make smart hires to fill the gaps my business was missing."
Fenton is also committed to growing at her own speed. She sees overnight successes all around her in Utah, but she wants to remain focused on her product and her own path.
"I do not want to push things," she adds. "I want to carve our own way. There is no right way or wrong way to run a business. People are excited when they find out that you have a small business. They want to talk to you about it. I have people telling me if I'd just use a different type of ingredient, I could save so much money. It's tempting. But I want my customers to feel the authenticity of my product. I don't want to make something that's not me. I need to constantly remind myself of that."
Challenge: Work and life balance. Since starting her business, Fenton has gotten married and had two kids. "I want to be hands on," she explains. "I want to make every decision. Letting go and trusting the process is hard."
Opportunities: A holiday market. Traditionally, the holidays have been kind to Nova Granola. "It is a great product to give as a gift, and we have a lot of success at parties and events."
Needs: New equipment. Bigger distribution equals a bigger dehydrator in the granola world. "Growing will have its own problems," Fenton believes. "With food, you have to be so careful to preserve the feel and taste while raising it to a larger scale. You can't speed up the process. Making granola is a labor of love and why we taste so great."