Employees: 2 (plus contractors including co-packing)
Industry: Food & Beverage
Products: Frozen natural foods
Co-founders Lindsey and Ryan "Chef Ko" Cunningham have reinvented the tater tot with one of Colorado's signature crops.
Launched by Ryan's parents, RollinGreens took to the streets as Boulder's first organic food truck in 1980. That incarnation of the company lasted just a few years, then Ryan and Lindsey relaunched the concept with a new truck in 2011. Ryan's background as an executive chef led him to experiment with healthy ingredients.
After getting married, the Cunninghams parked the food truck for good in 2015 to focus on manufacturing packaged foods. "The food truck industry is a tricky one," says Lindsey. "You create your own hours, you create your own destiny, it's exciting and fun, but it's backbreaking hours. It wasn't scalable at all. We just wanted to create something that would bring us into the future."
That something is Millet Tots, a gluten-free alternative to tater tots. Using organic, whole-grain millet and no binders or fillers, the product is now available in three varieties: Original, Italian Herb, and Spicy Sweet.
The key ingredient of millet -- small-seeded grass that's rich in protein and numerous vitamins -- is a big distinction. "We always say, 'We didn't choose millet, millet chose us,'" says Lindsey. "It's definitely an underutilized grain, but it has so many benefits. It's an easily digested grain, and it's nutrient-dense. It's also a very sustainable crop."
And Colorado is the top millet-growing state in the U.S., supplying more than half of the nation's crop. CleanDirt Farm in Sterling is RollinGreens' primary supplier.
But being local is just one of the factors at play. "The reason we launched with them is they're so dietary-friendly," says Lindsey. "They're vegan, gluten-free, and non-GMO."
The kicker: "There's nothing like it on the marketplace."
Taking the product from the food truck to the frozen foods aisle involved a "huge learning curve," she adds. "Ryan lived at the plant for six months. It was a lot of trial and error."
Scaling the product in a manufacturing environment involved tweaking the recipe for mass production, shelf stability, and other factors. "Once you nail it, you've nailed it," says Lindsey. "It's 10 times better now."
She credits RollinGreens' co-packer, Aveno Antiguo, for supporting the concept from day one. "We've been in the same plant since we started," says Lindsey. "Most co-packers need sales before they take you on. They don't want to take the risk."
But the Cunninghams' experience bucked that trend, she adds. "We had a plant that helped us scale up."
The leap of faith is paying off. "This time last year, we were in 17 stores," says Lindsey. "Now we're in 300." Colorado retailers include King Soopers, Whole Foods, Natural Grocers, and Sprouts, as well as some independent markets and co-ops.
RollinGreens is rolling west. "In the next couple of months, you'll see us in Northern California and Southern California," says Lindsey. "By the end of 2017, we'll be in 500 to 750 stores."
In late 2016, RollinGreens connected with a strategic partner in Boulder-based Sage V Foods to help with capital and back-end needs. "We're going with a third party for sales," says Lindsey. "We brought them on for manufacturing expertise."
Challenges: Marketing. "If you asked me a while ago, it would have been manufacturing," says Lindsey. "Right now, it's driving consumer interest. How do you get people to try your products?"
She adds, "A lot of people don't even know what millet is, so that' s a big challenge." The company's current strategy involves social media, "costly" in-store demos, and other promotions. "Being on sale, that yellow tag really helps."
Opportunities: "I think California and New York are the real meccas," says Lindsey. "We want to take over the West before we take over the East."
New products are on the horizon. "We're working on other plant-based, revolutionary products in the frozen foods section, but it's on the back burner," says Lindsey. "Right now, we want to focus on the Millet Tots."
Needs: "We're always looking for better and more cost-effective ways to manufacture," says Lindsey.