Built Oregon -Oregon's Entrepreneurial Digital Magazine

Category - Food & Beverage

A paleo bar 2 million years in the making: The GROK story

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Bryan Capitano of Portland had been in the web design industry since the late 1990s, running a number of different web companies and software startups, when a few years ago, he wanted to try something different.

He needed a new challenge, and before too long, assisted by a recent lifestyle change to a paleo diet, he found one.

Bryan recalls, “I had experimented with super low-carb diets and things like that. And I just wasn’t healthy on those kinds of things. But I noticed that when I was off of grains and wasn’t eating bread, I lost weight easier. I had tons more energy, and I felt better in general. It was just figuring out what worked for me, and then I saw the paleo diet and it was like, ‘Well, that seems like sort of a low-carb thing, but much healthier.’ So I tried that and it just really rocks. It works for me.”

After starting the diet, “I’d go into grocery stores and look for paleo bars or snacks on the shelves, and there was nothing. There was an empty space for it, and it was like, perfect. This is what I’m going to do. I’m going to make a paleo bar.”

The crazy thing was, Bryan had absolutely zero food product making experience.  But there was something intriguing about it. “I loved the learning experience of diving into something that I know nothing about. It was a fun challenge.”

Two weeks (and seven months) to a paleo breakthrough

So he and his wife did some internet recipe research, went to their kitchen, and started to make bars. That wasn’t a scary proposition for Bryan. “I love spending time in the kitchen cooking. It’s one of the things that I kind of do for de-stressing. So coming up with recipes didn’t scare me at all.”

Over the course of an intense two weeks of baking “My wife and I made probably a half a dozen batches of different bars and were like, ‘I like this one, I don’t like that one’, winnowing it down to something that we did like.”

With a winner selected, Bryan needed to find some willing outside taste-testers and initial buyers.  He had a friend competing in cycle races who suggested to him that the races would be a perfect place to pass them out and get some feedback.

But he still needed to come up with some packaging, and true to his fearless spirit, he simply put the bars in brown parchment and wax paper, wrapped them in garden twine and wrote “GROK Bar” on them.

The name came from the paleo community. As Bryan explains, “I’d been following some paleo bloggers, and that community had adopted the name ‘grok’ as a nickname for ‘ancient caveman’”.  That was the catalyst. He started kicking around names in his head, “Grok, caveman….the caveman bar……the GROK Bar. Perfect, that’s it. The GROK Bar!”

CVPGQNqUsAAkqk2Bryan started attending the cycle races and got a lot of positive feedback, leading to a return to the kitchen and a few tweaks to the recipe, and a need to take the packaging and the brand messaging up a few notches.

Like most enterprising startup founders short on cash but rich in connections and know-how, he was able to work a few trade deals with graphic designers, getting them to do logo and packaging design in exchange for web design work.

After more success selling bars direct to consumers at cycle and running races, Bryan hit an inflection point – to generate the sales necessary to really make the business work, he needed to outsource his manufacturing and distribution.

“I looked for a co-packer, and that was a bit of a challenge, because most co-packers want you to buy like 50,000 to 100,000 units. I didn’t have the check to write for that. I didn’t have the market to distribute 50,000 bars to people. So I had to find a small batch co-packer.”

By reading the back of similar locally-made bars at his local New Seasons, he was able to track down a small-batch company in Salem, Oregon.

As Bryan recalls, “I called them up and said, ‘Hey, I got a bar. You guys want to make it?’, and they said ‘Come on down. Let’s talk about it.’  So I brought some samples, and they said, ‘This is a great bar. We’d love to make it.’ They could make anywhere from 1,000 to like 30,000 a month, so it was a great stepping stone.”

So for just a “few hundred bucks” of upfront capital he was able to generate a template to stamp out the bars, and after adding in the cost of the ingredients and labor, Bryan put in his first order of 500 – a mere 7 months after baking that first GROK bar in his home kitchen.

Soon after, GROK bars were found on the shelves at New Seasons Market, Made in Oregon stores and some local food co-ops.

The challenges and struggles of the food startup

Getting on those crowded shelves looks like a daunting task, but Bryan noted that “At first I was a little nervous, because I’m not really a cold-call salesman, but I had some other friends in the food industry, and they’re like, ‘You know, this is really easy. You just contact their food buyers, and say hey, I got a product. I think you might be interested in it.’ So I did that once or twice, and after that, I wasn’t nervous anymore.”

In the future, Bryan would love to get into national chains like Whole Foods and Costco, but at present he’s focusing more on direct-to-consumer sales because those margins lead to better profitability.

CTZnZYYW4AA99e4Also, like any product producer concerned about margins and brand, he’s constantly thinking about issues like price, shrinking the bar size (their 2.4 ounce bar is currently one of the largest in the market), upgrading the packaging, and expanding the flavors (right now there are just two – almond cranberry and hazelnut almond).

And as the business grows there’s always the hurdle of getting the appropriate capital and financing.  Bryan noted “The struggle has always been funding because I don’t want to take on investors. I’m just self-funding and growing organically, and my wife and some family members have helped out a little bit. So funding has been a bit of a barrier, but I think it could also be considered a good thing because it hasn’t like exploded the business to the point where I don’t know how to manage it. It’s allowed me to grow with the business as a manager, as the business grows itself”.

But in any case, GROK bars have quickly made their mark on a Oregon health bar market that was looking for great tasting paleo alternatives, exceeding Bryan’s originally modest expectations when he was cranking out bars in his kitchen.

“You know, when I first started, I’m like, ‘Well, I’ll make a handful of bars and see if some friends and family will buy them’, and, it would be so wonderful if I got into New Seasons and the Made in Oregon store. I achieved those goals much faster than I thought, and easier than I thought. So it kind of surprised me.”

“Although there were a couple of periods during the summer of last year where I was spending several days in the kitchen, making bars one by one, and then driving out to a lot of sporting events. I said ‘I can’t do this. I’m getting tired of this. I want to quit.’ But then once I transitioned to the co-packer and that weight got lifted, and the sales started going up, and I started getting into stores, I said ‘Okay, this is going…I like the trajectory of this”

Just get started: sharing perspective

Bryan also offers great advice to someone thinking about starting a food or product business of their own.

CTULYmwUYAA_LyE“I have a lot of friends and other people that dream about starting businesses, but they draw up a lot of roadblocks on why they can’t do it. And my advice is just to get started. You’ll find that once you get the ball in motion, people are willing to help you, and you overcome the roadblocks faster and easier than you thought you would, just with like any startup.”

And for this native-born Oregonian (he’s from Beaverton), his community, and the state’s reputation as a collaborative and helpful place to have ideas blossom, have also been a great plus.

“Oregon, and Portland in particular, has a really creative maker ethos behind it, and I’m sure that that helped tremendously. The colleagues that I leaned on, my graphic designers, my PR and marketing people and other people that helped me along the way, they’ve all started businesses as well. And so, here it’s ‘I scratch your back, you scratch my back.’ I have to believe that that spirit is much stronger here in Portland than it probably is in other places.”

Indeed, where else can a web designer with no previous experience in food products blend a personal lifestyle and diet choice with a strong desire to launch a product, come up with something as unique and flavorful as the GROK bar, and get it into the stores within 7 months of whipping up the first bar in his home kitchen?

Only in Oregon.  With thanks to the caveman, of course.

To find out more about GROK bars, visit their website, or find them on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter

The science of the soil: The Abacela story

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Earl and Hilda Jones — medical scientists with a predilection for research — never thought their explorations would lead them to studying grapes. But sometimes, that’s how curiosity and creativity work, especially here in Oregon.

The hypothesis that drove a winemaker

Earl Jones grew up in the Midwest and graduated from Tulane University in 1965. Engaging in a career of Academic Medicine and research at Emory expanded Earl’s worldview through conferences; travel expanded his discovery of food and wine. Exploring European wine culture was mesmerizing, and Earl gravitated toward the Spanish varietals that he found compelling.

Regional experts said that there was only one region that can properly grow Tempranillo grapes, and the underlying reason was the soil. World Tempranillo experts said the grape couldn’t be grown anywhere else, only in a specific region of Spain. It had been this way for centuries. However, during one of their trips to Spain, Earl met Alejandro Fernandez, a wine expert whose grandfather made Tempranillo 100 miles from the region where the soil was said to be perfect.

That wine was excellent, yet not in the same soil area.  World wine critics raved about this wine in 1982.

Earl tasted the first bottle in 1986 and was enchanted.  Earl was intrigued about this outlier, a good wine from a different soil in a country where a very specific soil was attributed to the best Tempranillo – and yet he was experiencing a wonderful bottle from a different soil base.

That was what convinced Earl that there was opportunity elsewhere, that the soil wasn’t the only contributor to good wine. If there are other variables such as climate that could enable another location in Spain to grow terrific Tempranillo, why not similar climate elsewhere?  Earl formed a hypothesis that he wanted to test; the climate was the actual key to great Tempranillo, more than a single soil type that wine experts extolled for years.

This was a turning point in Earl and Hilda’s lives; they loved medicine and science but were becoming disenchanted with the business, politics and systems emerging in medicine at that time.  Their passion for wine and for research supported work on their evolving hypothesis that they could grow great Tempranillo beyond one small area of Spain.

Earl and Hilda and their family made a tremendous leap based on his hypothesis. It was a big decision to move away from solid positions in medical research and move with their family, whereby uprooting their lives to plant new roots for themselves and the Tempranillo grapes.13501842_10154515837267697_3217463125475619899_n

Climate Science is the Key

Guided by science, Earl started collecting data and knowledge. Grapes are fastidious, needing a correct growing season and the proper amount of solar generated heat, and Tempranillo grapes needs hot weather for their 6 1/2 to 7 month growing season.

Earl investigated locations knowing that Tempranillo had been grown in California, but had not performed well. The wine was inferior in CA, often blended; no one had produced a single bottle of Tempranillo that says “vintage” on the label. Earl also looked into the Southern Regions of Spain where it’s hot too long, and Tempranillo doesn’t do well. Armed with that knowledge, he was confident that he could find a similar ideal climate such as Spain’s Ribero del Deuro.

In Earl’s mind there was always  a major professor’s mentoring: “When you get an idea the idea enables you to develop a theory, read everything you can…but don’t make the mistake of trying to find the answer. Do the experiment.”

With his mind full of data and science Earl started with New Mexico but there were too many undesirable variables like high levels of frost, a short growing season, too much heat in the middle of the summer, and a suboptimal altitude level.  They read about Colorado and the Pacific Northwest, and although the South of France was an early candidate, Earl and Hilda didn’t want to leave their family of five children far away and move overseas.

Their son Greg wanted to study climate science and aspired to a PhD in hydrology. Greg changed his focus to atmospheric science in part because of the passion his dad had about climate.  Decisions about climate and soil characteristics were dichotomous; books were available, but not helpful. So Greg became the first viniculture climatologist, which proved to be  pivotal during the early data collection. With Greg’s help they found the perfect plot of land in Roseburg, Oregon.14258212_10154737794462697_7185350856267408466_o

Finding a home in Douglas County

The climate envelope is a near perfect match in Douglas, Jackson and Josephine counties, east of mountains. The question was where, within that climate envelope, was the best piece of land.

Earl delved into the problem systematically with topographical maps in order to learn where there would be minimal fog. He realized local airplane pilots knew the climate better than most, and he hired them to fly him over the areas where it’s always sunny, and the fog clears in the morning.

Armed with both topographical maps and his recently acquired knowledge from the flights, Earl drove to find the perfect location- a plot of land near Roseburg, Oregon.

In the early 1990’s, due to the economic conditions, land in and around Roseburg was more affordable than Earl had anticipated. Thus, he purchased more than initially planned, which was great, but they arrived operating on a shoestring. The shoestring budget was a result of the 3 year discovery into the right growing region, plus the additional 9 months to identify the land, all the while having no income. Yet they drove on, based on a great deal of belief that they were on the right track based on the tremendous amount of research they had done.

With the location acquired, Earl turned his focus to finding the perfect vines.

The only source of Tempranillo grapes was California, a place where the grapes had not grown well. Earl asked a winery for all the Tempranillo cuttings they could sell him. And since no one wanted them, he secured them all – 4 acres’ worth in the first year.  It was a great accident of timing that the vines were available. Earl increased his planting to 12 acres, and then added 3 more.

Starting small, they nurtured each vine, learning as they grew.  It is said that entrepreneurs work 100 hours a week or more, and Earl, Hilda and their children can certainly attest to this.  But the land and vines they cared deeply about allowed them to start a new chapter in their life.14560207_10154827370052697_7664395588902437960_o

Building a Winery

With the vines planted, Earl began to focus on developing the winery.  They were welcomed as the 7th winery in the Umpqua valley and the 13th winery in Southern Oregon. Many wineries were starting blends, and some made wine from their own grapes or purchased grapes.

No one but Earl grew Tempranillo at the time, and they chose the name Abacela. Few in the area had heard of Tempranillo, much less grown the grapes.

Coming from the Eastern US, Oregon was new to the family, but from a wine standpoint they were early founders in Southern Oregon. They dove in by learning all of the different valleys and varieties specific to each area in Southern Oregon. In the early years, the land and the winery drained the money reserves, and as with all new wineries, didn’t give back a return on the investment for several years.

To ease the financial burden, Earl secured a part time job practicing dermatology in Roseburg. There wasn’t much managed care and private practices, like the partnership he joined, were still available. Balancing a job while nurturing the vines to a point where they could produce enough grapes to make wine, and bringing this new wine to potential buyers, was tough going.   Eventually the demands of balancing both the medical career and the growing winery led to  Earl making the decision to devote all of his time to the Abacela.

The town of Roseburg was very accepting of Earl. His patients loved him and it was a bittersweet time at noon on July 22, 2004, his last day in practice, when a particular patient wanted to be the last patient he saw. That person is currently 97, and still remains in contact with Earl.

By their third year on their land in 1995, and all the vines were in the ground. In 1997 Abacela produced 238 cases of Tempranillo, and that wine was excellent.  Earl had planted vines that for 100 years didn’t produce good wine in California, but by bringing them to the right climate, his original hypothesis was validated.14100518_10154697759957697_1742172008539755320_n

Chances and Challenges

There were obstacles and difficulties along the way. When they first planted, people couldn’t pronounce Tempranillo, not even the wine people who thought Earl was “temporarily” planting something. At Abacela he also planted Albarino, a Spanish white, as the climate is permissive for those vines as well. In Spain the Albarino is grown in cooler climates than Tempranillo.  Recognizing that the hills on his land have a north side that is cooler, they chanced planting Albarino on the North side of the hills, and are now gathering acclaim for their Albarino wine.

The operations side of being a vintner was new to Earl and Hilda as well. They had to learn business, make hundreds of decisions, study and learn from experts and trial and error. The Abacela exclusivity provided a cash flow allowing them to learn the business.  The winery was also unique at the time, and continues to be.  They did some marketing for Abacela and the wines, however sadly a big potential opportunity for publicity was missed as Earl’s parents passed in 2001, the same summer Abacela entered a SFO international competition and took first place for all Tempranillo. Earl and Hilda could not take advantage of the accolade.

As of last year there are 57 Oregon wineries that grown Tempranillo, Earl started the Oregon Tempranillo alliance and 45 of the 57 vintners have joined. A new national association has over 100 members ,and currently there are about 250 Tempranillo producers in the USA.  Earl and Hilda host interns from US, France, Spain, and New Zealand that come to Abacela for harvest and to work the summer.

As elder statesmen are heralded in medicine, in wine, Earl is the grandpa.  Abacela has 5 interns now from Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Aranda del Deuro, a Sister city to Roseburg, and students from OSU and UCC.  While 57 producers mean a lot of competition, the increased knowledge and collaboration are big positives. Organization members get together in growing numbers to talk about the wine, network and collaborate. Greg travels to wine conferences and educates vintners while he runs his own consulting business, and teaches at Southern Oregon University.

Decanter magazine in December 2016 listed the 50 most influential people in wines, and Greg Jones was given accolades in many issues. Someday his son Greg will take over the business of Abacela, keeping it a family corporation. The experiment is an ongoing learning process, and a wonderful success. That sip of wine from an outlier winery in Spain led to the question – why was the wine so good in a different soil?

That question and the eventual answers led to a life change for Earl and Hilda, but one that has led to a remarkable success in the Umpqua Valley.

For more information, visit www.abacela.com, like them on facebook and follow them on twitter12705166_10154139485167697_1601066802562160725_n

Swallowtail Spirits leverages passion, hustle, and fortitude to build a growing distillery

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Kevin Barrett was spending hours upon hours researching and experimenting with home brewing and distilling, and consuming any content on distilling that he could find. He did all this while only putting a fraction of his time researching geography for his degree from the University of Oregon.

Given how he was focusing his time it only made sense that if he was to carve out a career, one that he loved, it should be around something he was passionate about. Thus, the journey from home distiller to Swallowtail Spirits began.14379769_568685866675742_4984882555288960865_o

Early Beginnings

Kevin started making home brewed beer around six years ago, and did so knowing that it would be the first step to making whiskey. The first spirit he made was a brandy, from 5 gallons of leftover wine from Silvan Ridge Winery in Eugene.

And so began his journey in the distilling craft, characterized by much experimentation.

“ I made a couple of stills and talked with local distillers about the production and permitting process. I made a few whiskeys, brandies and vodkas. Some were good, but most were bad so I researched more to find out how to make them better.”

But through trial and error, the whiskies started to taste better. The taste improvements led to people inquiring if Kevin could make special batches for weddings and one of a kind gifts. But the demand for the early batches led to a bit of dilemma.

“ The aging process is the toughest part though because no batch of whiskey that I have made has lasted for longer than 6 months on oak. Everyone drank it.”

The initial interest in the spirits he was making provided him with the validation needed to pursue starting a spirits brand. But in a crowded market, having a strong brand upon which to build is critical, and Kevin had help from a close supporter in creating it.

“ I wanted to link the distillery to the state in some way. I threw around a few names, but then my girlfriend suggested Swallowtail Spirits after Oregon’s state insect, The Swallowtail Butterfly.”

swallowtail-2With the brand locked in and the distilling process fine tuned, it was time to move past small batch production and bring Swallowtail to a larger market. But ramping up liquor sales is not simply about having a solid marketing plan, it’s about having the fortitude to grind it out.

“ Liquor sales in Oregon are all about the hustle. You or an employee have to be out there with the consumer, engaging with them, explaining the process and getting feedback. Nobody will sell the product better than an owner. We know every detail of the process and are passionate about the business. It’s why I am still out there doing the tastings in the liquor stores. Customers like talking with the owners and when they see how engaged we are they get pretty engaged as well. If you can get them engaged and passionate about the product then you now have a customer for life.”

Kevin and his team hustled. They met customers at markets and stores, and talked about the brand to liquor shop owners. The consumers really liked the Swallowtail vodka, with many folks comparing it to top shelf brands. But Kevin was conservative as he entered the market, and even though he believed passionately that their vodka was as good as many highly regarded brands, he entered the market at a lower price point, a move they looked to remedy as they scaled up.

“ We actually listed it at too low of a price initially. Price point reflects a lot on consumer opinion. If you don’t have a premium price, you don’t have a premium product. We’ve increased the price twice over the last year and have seen no drop in demand.”

The premium level of spirits that Swallowtail produces can be traced back to their distilling process. A process that begins and ends with an intense attention to detail.

The water used in the distilling process comes from the lowland Willamette Valley Aquifer System, which has been filtered over many years through the volcanic sediment. Kevin and his team continue that filtration process to an incredible degree. The vodka is filtered through activated carbon sixty times, which produces a very polished vodka and helps to eliminate the by-products of the distilling process.

“ By-products like congeners and fusel oils are left behind in small amounts in vodka. They are what’s responsible for off flavors, odors and colors. They are also responsible for hangovers. Activated carbon pulls these by-products out of the vodka like magnets, with positive and negative charges. We filter our vodka an insane amount of times to get the cleanest product we can in a reasonable amount of time.”

Given the bounty within Oregon, Swallowtail has a vision to use as many locally sourced raw materials as possible in the making of their spirits. But with scaling up fast, finding those sources takes time, and they are actively searching for local suppliers to make that goal a reality.dsc_0082

Connecting to the community and putting down roots

The distilling process, especially with vodka and whiskey, takes a very particular equipment setup to produce. Swallowtail recently purchased a 300 gallon pot still to make their whiskies. The new equipment will allow them to produce about a half a barrel of whiskey a day. The goal is to effectively ramp up sales and production, and purchase equipment to the point where they can produce at least a barrel of whiskey per day. In addition, they also now have a tasting room where they can really connect to the community and consumer.

In addition, the new equipment allows them to ramp up production of their gin, and Swallowtail is taking steps to expand their offerings even further.

“ We will be producing our own single malt (Scotch style) whiskey and bourbon. November marks the launch of two gins as well; a Navy strength (114 proof) London Dry gin and a American gin (90 proof) as well. A goal of our tasting room is to start sampling 2 different products each month to get input from our consumers. Once we find out what they like, we will produce those liquors as well.”

In addition, Swallowtail has partnered up with fellow Eugene-based Ninkasi Brewing to produce a whiskey based on their OATIS Oatmeal Stout. They recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to purchase the oak whiskey barrels and necessary equipment needed to produce the collaboration.

The time Kevin has put into building the brand to this point has been immense. But he has also connected to, and worked with, a diverse mix of organizations.

“ From the start I have never stopped asking questions. Anyone who would give me their time was on my list. I started with NEDCO in Springfield then moved to SBDC at Lane Community College for help with the business plan, forecasting and strategy for funding.”

The SBDC’s feedback around Swallowtail’s business plan was a huge asset. Multiple people took the time to go over a series of revisions, and as Kevin notes, it still changes every month.kevinbarrett1-300x216

In addition to the help NEDCO and the SBDC provided, Kevin was also accepted into the RAIN Accelerator program. Just like he did with the SBDC, Kevin continued to ask questions, which led him down the accelerator path.

“ I talked with Joe Maruschak at RAIN in February of 2015 about what I was doing. In September I met with Joe and Shane Johnson and finally convinced them that I really had no idea what I was doing. They let me into the program in September and it was one of the most amazing experiences. It’s like taking an MBA crash course in 12 weeks, but you get to focus in on where you really need to.”

But even a crash course MBA program and support from a myriad of business resources can’t speed up the time it takes to launch a craft spirits company. The wait time for permitting can put a serious dent into any solid plan, as the distiller continues to pay rent and insurance without revenue coming in during that time period. Luckily Kevin planned in advance, which allowed him to save close to $60K.

“ I started contract bottling a year and a half before I applied for a permit at my own facility so I already had a foothold in the Oregon market and had revenue coming in.”

That forward thinking and the hustle to get the product onto shelves has led to a 10% monthly growth rate in the state of Oregon, and with the addition of new products, their local growth will continue to grow while also looking towards distribution in other states.

So we’ll certainly keep seeing Oregon’s state insect on shelves in Oregon and beyond over the next few years.

For more information, visit www.swallowtailspirits.com.

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Tech, foodies and makers converge into a Perfect Oregon cupcake

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Can technology merge successfully with the foodie and maker movements to create a transformative consumer product that changes the way we work in our kitchens?  The Perfect Company is working to do just that.

We recently visited the test kitchen of Perfect Company to bake some gluten-free and vegan cupcakes using their Perfect Bake product, featuring many Oregon-based ingredients, with head of recipe development Matthew Barbee, and COO and co-founder Miriam Kim.

IMG_4602Perfect’s business is to design and develop smart products for the smart home. Through their cool products–such as the Perfect Bake and Perfect Drink, their aim is to bring  “perfection to your kitchen as well as your lifestyle”.  The products merge a simple and elegant scale with a smartphone or iPad app, and walks you through every step of the baking or drink-making process, measuring each ingredient by weight and (literally) telling you when to stop as you put them into the bowl or glass.

It’s also a product and company that’s caught the attention of Oregon angel investors – in November of 2015, the Oregon Angel Fund led a $4 Million investment round which will help the company expand its marketing reach and create new products, including the Perfect Blend, launching later this year.

perfect coverWhile making the peanut butter frosting for our cupcakes, we also chatted with Miriam Kim about the Perfect Company story, their innovative food & beverage products and technologies, and how they were able to go from idea to production of their first Perfect product in just 10 months (you don’t want to miss that part).

And oh yes, the cupcakes were delicious.

You can find Perfect on their website, on Facebook, and on Twitter

Here’s the interview:

And, here’s a list of the Oregon-based products we used in the cupcakes:

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Bob’s Red Mill Flours

Holy Kakow Cacao Powder

Jacobsen Salt

So Delicious Almond and Coconut Milk

Ristretto Roasters Coffee

Aunt Patty’s Coconut Oil

Singing Dog Vanilla

Oregon Olive Mill Olive Oil

Phoenix Egg Farm

Eliot’s Adult Nut Butters

(full disclosure: Terry is an investor in the 2015 Oregon Angel Fund, which has invested in the Perfect Company)

 

 

Orchestra Software Brews up an ERP solution for craft beverages

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The craft beer industry is booming, with existing breweries growing rapidly, and new ones opening at a rapid pace.

But this growth brings great challenges. From inventory management to purchasing and receiving, and production to quality control, the actual operations side of a brewery is not an easy job.

And is often the case, these kind of challenges open the door to new business opportunities. Brad Windecker saw an opportunity to help these brewery founders, and built OrchestratedBEER, an all-in-one brewery management software solution, to help these brewery founders manage operations and growth so they can concentrate on doing the thing they love to do – make great beer.

Identifying an opportunity

Before founding Orchestra, Brad was an implementation consultant, helping small and mid-sized companies implement ERP (enterprise resource planning) software – a job that requires the consultant to understand everything about a company, from their workflows, to the reports they need, all the way down to the structure of their general ledger.

“ Every time I completed a project, it occurred to me that we should target other similar companies and leverage the expertise we had gained from the implementation process. I especially thought that solution would fit one of Oregon’s favorite industries, Craft Breweries.”

However, the owners of the consulting business didn’t recognize the opportunity. So, when the recession hit in 2008 and his employer was bought out, Brad decided to leave and start Orchestra in Beaverton. The goal was to create an ERP company that focused on specific industries, enabling his team to build in best practices and turn as much of the traditional services component of ERP projects into software that worked out of the box.

This meant the company would need to have a hyper focus on each target industry, learn everything about it, and then work all of that knowledge into the product.

Listening to customers - 2But what that really means is it all comes down to one simple concept – listen to the customer.

“ We had a relentless focus on understanding what the first customers needed, so we could make sure that we worked all that knowledge into the solution. We looked at every spreadsheet that our customers were using, how they used whiteboards in the brewery, how they used Quickbooks, and studied their workflows. In the early days, there were many revisions of how we suggested people use our software, many versions of reports they needed, and so on. As we gained more customers, we fine tuned all the features and functions into the solution that customers see today.”

Listen to the customer.

It really is a simple concept, but the dedication Brad and his team put towards listening to the customer, and then responding, quickly helped their growth tremendously.

“ It showed our customers and prospects that we were focused on the industry and committed to making the product into the solution they needed. In a small community like craft beer, it was vital that we walk the talk and prove that we were in it for the long term and dedicated to the success of the industry.”

One of the biggest hurdles the Orchestra team encountered early on was the difference in how each brewery handled their TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) reporting process. Every brewery has to file the Brewer’s Report of Operations to the TTB, but every customer in the early days seemed to think about it differently. It took Orchestra almost 2 years to have enough customers to fully understand how to build a solution that handled every customer and all the infinite permutations of how beer moves around a brewery.

“ It’s easy to say you have TTB Reporting, but it’s really hard to get it right 100% of the time for all breweries, which we can now say with confidence.”

Another hurdle the team encountered was that they weren’t replacing a proven system; they were replacing spreadsheets, whiteboards, Quickbooks, and homegrown databases that breweries had all developed themselves to try and keep track of their business. This meant that every customer Orchestra encountered had different systems and processes that had to be replaced.

“ As we were building out our solution, this was hard to deal with. Today, OrchestratedBEER handles it all and we know exactly how to get customers off those legacy tools, but back in 2011, it wasn’t so clear.”

Early Wins and Growth

Oregon is craft beer spoiled (not that any of us are complaining).

Given that there are 200+ breweries located here, it would have made sense for a new Oregon company offering a software solution for the craft beer industry to build its client base in its home state.

But that wasn’t the path that Orchestra traveled. They didn’t target a specific geographic area, but instead targeted the industry.

“ Our first client was Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company in Kiln, Mississippi. Shortly thereafter, we landed Schlafly in St. Louis and Firestone Walker in California. The first customers found us at the Craft Brewers Conference, the big industry trade show for the craft beer industry. When we started exhibiting there, we were one of the few tech companies; we were surrounded by bottling lines, valve manufacturers and malt suppliers. That initial presence in the industry, combined with strong SEO on our website, drove traffic to us. The early success solidified our strategy of using inbound marketing, which we still rely on today.”Early Wins & Growth - OBeer customer map

But in an industry and community as tightly knit as craft beer, once a solution is being used with good results, word of mouth marketing takes over.

“ Once we had started solving the problems of the first few customers and had established ourselves as a company dedicated to the industry long term, things started to move fast. When you combine a great product that solves a problem, dedication to the industry and the customers’ success, and great marketing, you end up with great word of mouth and high traffic to your website. We also made sure that anyone that was interested in our solution could see everything we had without having to call us and get a custom demo. In other words, we made it as easy as possible for customers to decide that our solution would be a good fit for them.”

One of the main pain points Orchestra is looking to solve is to bring all operations and finance information into one place. Having multiple systems for different areas of the business is what causes most of the challenges in running a growing company, and you simply can’t get the data you need to understand your business when data is in many different systems.

Many businesses rely heavily on web based tools, with Quickbooks and Dropbox folders full of spreadsheets. Pain points addressed - fast track implementationBringing all the aspects of the business into one application that has been tailored to the industry solves this problem.

“ More specifically, all breweries, from the smallest startup to the largest craft breweries in the country, have challenges understanding their cost and margins. Orchestrated helps breweries of any size see all the cost components that go into a beer, from the malt to the label on the bottle, and all the labor and overhead involved, to see a true cost. Without having all the financial and logistics information in one place, this is almost impossible, but we’ve made it easy and provided the reporting out of the box to show the data to customers in a brewery specific format.”

Recently, Orchestra has seen the effects of the recent brewery M&A activity with some of their smaller clients merging with larger players. These mergers lead to additional high-end needs like multi-location production, consolidated reporting, and system integration needs.

“ From the brand new breweries being set up from day one to be multi-site conglomerates to the growing mergers and acquisitions space, our solution helps them see a big picture of what’s happening across their sites and brands.”

Evolving the solution for other opportunities

The Orchestra team has seen a rapid user adoption rate within the craft beer vertical, to the tune of 207% sales growth over the past three years. This rapid rise has landed them on the Inc. 5000 fastest growing companies in America list for the second consecutive year.

But the myriad of challenges in the beverage industry are not solely limited to breweries.

OrchestratedSPIRITS - distilleries face the same challenges as breweries“ Yes, manufacturing liquids poses many challenges that are faced by distilleries, brewers, and others. It’s critical that in a complex business like these, finance/accounting is in the same system as inventory, logistics, QC, and production. The main problem we solve is eliminating the silos of information and bringing everything into one application. This allows data to flow between the areas of the business and provides a single source of the truth. This challenge and solution exists in both beer and spirits. Distilleries also deal with the dreaded TTB and have similar reporting demands. Our systems handle all of the needs of a distillery to automate their TTB Reporting.”

Challenge equals opportunity, and for Brad and his team the opportunity was around launching Orchestrated™SPIRITS – an all-in-one business management software solution that helps you manage every aspect of your distillery, from accounting in the back office to production in the still house.

And Orchestra is not stopping there either.

“We’re in the process of working with a number of wineries already on OrchestratedWINE. We hope to launch the product in 2017, and expect it to be our third main vertical. Our goal is to be the #1 provider of ERP software to the beverage manufacturing market globally. We already have brewery customers in Canada, the UK, and Australia, and expect this global expansion to increase in the coming years and accelerate with the introduction of the winery solution.”

Much like they found in the brewery and spirits industries, there are a number of ‘tools’ wineries use for specific areas of the operation, but there is a huge gap in having an industry specific ERP solution that brings everything together.

Keeping up with the rapidly growing industries they serve is a huge opportunity for Orchestra. Craft breweries are opening up at a record pace and the distillery growth is nearly doubling year over year. There are currently 250 of the 4,000+ breweries in the US using OrchestratedBeer, so there is a huge opportunity to engage and work with many more breweries in the US, and around the world.Orchestrated tradeshow booth at Craft brewers conference

Brad also feels the craft beer industry is hitting a maturity as opposed to a peak.

“You can recognize this in the consolidation happening, investment capital flowing in, breweries starting out day 1 with 100 BBL systems, etc. These are the signs that the industry is no longer just a free for all; it’s now structured, there’s a lot of money at stake, and the growth potential is huge. When you look at the numbers, craft only makes up 20% of all beer consumed in the US. There’s still a lot of macro beer drinkers out there that will shift to local craft beers in the coming years. It’s very feasible that craft doubles in size over the coming decade and grows to 40% of all beer volume in the US, which would be an astounding volume of craft beer.”

And while craft beer is hitting maturity, craft spirit growth resembles craft beer circa 2008, with the number of companies doubling every year and the potential for acceleration as some of the early craft distilleries proving out you can make a big business in the space.

All this growth and client potential does pose challenges to the Orchestra team.

“ The biggest challenge facing us today is staying focused on our core mission. The old adage “you can drown in a sea of opportunity” is a good one, especially when our solution can help solve so many challenges. Orchestra’s place in all this is growth is to constantly listen to what our customers need, and make sure that we provide them solutions with a great experience. We’re now seen as the gold standard of ERP for the beer and spirits industries, so we have a responsibility to provide the industry best practices, benchmarking, and data analysis that is now needed.”

Creating a company culture that stays true to the core mission and the values of the people in the company is something that Brad and his team really focuses on. The values they have instilled into their business are Customer First, Continuous Improvement, Authenticity, Teamwork, and Integrity.

But creating a strong culture is something that took time, about 5 years, to fine tune and nail down.Orchestra Culture - with Beer

“ Our culture also has a lot of standardization; not for the sake of efficiency, but for extreme quality. Like a brewery or distillery that has to standardize their processes to ensure that every batch is high quality and offers the same great experience, we do the same for our people. Every department leader at Orchestra uses the exact same structure to ensure that regardless of what role you are in at Orchestra, your experience of working here is very similar and high quality. For example, every department has daily standups, weekly one-on-ones, monthly reviews, quarterly reviews and annual reviews. For engineers the standup might be scrum and for the consultants it’s the “go-live review”, but in the end, they are all following the same template to ensure that the experience of working at Orchestra is world class. We hire people that live them, and we end up with a culture that can be described as having an obsession with our customers, constant change and improvement, collaboration everywhere, and with really good people that are true to who they are and do the right thing.”

And doing the right thing in a company that focuses on the craft beverage industries means, of course, having good beer on tap in the office and having Friday at 4pm company happy hours.

So what’s currently on tap at Orchestra and the tougher question, what’s Brad’s favorite beer?

“We almost always have a beer from our friends at Buoy Beer in Astoria on tap here, so right now we have Czech Pils. They helped us out in 2015 by providing all the beer for our user conference, and they are active in the tech industry in Oregon, which I appreciate, and they of course have amazing beers. This is like picking a favorite child…I love them all!”

For more information, visit www.orchestrasoftware.com, like them on facebook and follow them on twitter

Our Vision for the future

Stein Distillery takes the journey from fields to bottle

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There has been a large increase in the number of craft distilleries over the past few years, and new ones can be seen from Ashland to Portland.

But there aren’t many whose roots run three generations deep in Northeast Oregon, and are linked directly to the raw materials that go into making exceptional spirits.

The Stein family settled in Joseph, OR in the late 1890’s and relied on the land and wildlife for survival. They became wheat farmers, and for many decades, the focus was on traditional crop growing and selling.

But the agriculture business is never easy.

Grain prices started to fall and the family was looking for ways to produce crops for alternate means, and with the ability to grow really good wheat, rye, and barley, the idea for a distillery was hatched, and enter Austin and Heather Stein.Combine with Austin

Austin and Heather are 4th generation Steins, both of whom wanted to carry on the hard-working tradition of their families and small town communities whose residents share some core values, and with many of them running family owned businesses.

They both achieved engineering degrees in college, and eventually wanted to use them for the greater good, and as Heather points out, they saw that opportunity present itself in 2005.

“We noticed 2 lots on Joseph’s main street for sale, and decided it was now or never. We had the know-how in the family to distill, to build, to manufacture and to manage. All the pieces were there to run a business. “

As with many small town families, the Steins also had a construction business, which gave them the wherewithal to know how to develop these lots into something that could bring new jobs and resources to the community.

So the plan was launched with the ability to develop the property, and the engineering backgrounds to assist in the distillery setup.

But Heather and Austin were focused on creating craft spirits that were both representative of their family’s farming heritage, and world class in taste from the start. This led them down the knowledge and education path.

“ We went to a distilling class in April 2006, offered by Bavarian Holstein, and learned how to distill using manufactured equipment. We decided to order the equipment after 3-years of obtaining licensing from both state and federal governments. After receiving the equipment in March 2009, it took 4 months to perfect the grain to starch conversion process. Once perfected, we distilled vodka right off the bat and then cordials, and then started distilling and barreling whiskey for aging.”

The ability to distill high quality vodka and cordials from the outset allowed them build the brand. The team did tastings, worked on distribution, and started to create the story around Stein Distillery. A story centered around making high quality spirits from their own grain – truly farm to bottle distilling.

The vodka and cordial sales also brought in much needed revenue to this young craft distillery. But, as Austin states, there was always a goal on producing another product line.

“ The vision has always been aged whiskey. We needed to get unique vodka and cordials to the market first to start making a name for ourselves and bring in revenue. But the ultimate goal was always aged Oregon whiskey made from true-Oregon grain. “23-Bottles Front of Still

In addition, the Steins had the intention to set themselves apart from other micro-distilleries in Oregon, as well as bring back some famous cocktails of yesteryear. To do this, they decided to grow their own rye for use in the vodka, and whiskey as an addition to their family grown wheat.

But the focus on uniqueness didn’t end there. The Steins knew they could distinguish their whiskeys even more by adding another unique grain, and so they started growing barley as well. Even with the ability and knowhow to grow wheat, rye, and barley, they were still in need of one other ingredient, an ingredient they would need to source – corn.

“We knew we couldn’t and shouldn’t compete with Hermiston corn so we decided to source corn from a cousin already growing it in Hermiston. Knowing exactly where the raw material is from and how it is grown, and knowing careful and meticulous Stein hands have been in the process from start to finish, ensures a consistent high quality product to our consumer.”

And getting the product to the consumer started in Joseph and Wallowa County – not necessarily the center of the craft spirits movement. To the Stein’s knowledge, the closest distilleries to theirs would be in the Tri-City area, Spokane or Boise – over 3 hours away. But being the sole distillery in a large area did create opportunities for not only the business, but also the community.

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 9.49.42 PM“ We would say that having the distillery in Joseph has created talk/interest for alternate uses for grain/agriculture in general, as there are still many family farms on the Eastern side of the state. Our distillery has brought additional tourism to Joseph which is a major industry for Wallowa County, and we hope to continue to attract people to this beautiful area.”

With the tasting room thriving, raw materials growing and a mix of products that includes vodka, rye whiskey, whiskey, bourbon, cordials and “steinshine” (based on a family bourbon recipe), one might think that the Stein Distillery would be content.

Not so much. It’s time for expansion.

The distillery is currently in the early stages of designing a barrel aging warehouse to their distillery in Joseph. This will not only allow more space for the barrel products to age, but will also free up manufacturing space to increase production.

In addition to the expansion in Joseph, they recently opened a tasting room in the Progress Ridge are of Beaverton. A move they know helps to build the brand equity in new areas.

“ Having a tasting room allows the consumer to be able to sample the spirit before making the decision to buy. It gives us the opportunity to educate the consumer on how spirits are made, what they should be tasting and why they should care about it. We find consumers are also interested in our story and our supportive of our small family business.”

And this growth has led to some new challenges and opportunities in the business.

“ Being of engineering and manufacturing brains, we are not naturally the first ones to market/advertise/sell but obviously these activities are critical to any business, and so we will be looking to add expertise and opportunity in these areas. These actions will help us continue to move nationally and internationally with our products. Meanwhile, we do foresee the current demand picking up in 2016, therefore expanding our production capability will also be critical.”

With a hard working legacy of 4 generations of Oregonians supporting their efforts, the Stein family is well prepared to weather the entrepreneurial storm, but offer this simple bit of advice for others making the leap.

“Be prepared for a long journey.”

For more information, visit www.steindistillery.com, like them on facebook, and follow them on twitter and instagramRye

Perfected to your palette: The Time and Oak story

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What’s the difference between top-shelf whiskey and well whiskey?  Tony Peniche, 29-year-old serial entrepreneur, asked himself this question in 2014 while shopping at a local liquor store. Turns out, the answer is quite simple: time and oak. Oak barrels infuse whiskey with unique flavor and incorporate the liquid with rich natural color. And the time for the oak to do its work.

But that “time” part is tricky. It takes years and there’s never been a convenient way for people to age the spirit at home.

Tony began experimenting with Josh Thorne, a 30-year-old Air Force veteran with a background in film, who enjoys home brewing. Josh cut, burned, and cooked a variety of oaks in the hopes of finding the right temperature, and best way to expose the wood’s capillaries while accelerating the aging process. The answer: reverse engineering — aka bring the wood to the bottle. Three months of tweaking the product and hundreds of blind taste tests resulted in a crowd favorite: the Signature Whiskey Element — A Lincoln Log looking product that promised to age a bottle of whiskey in a matter of hours or days — depending on your palette. Plus it would act as a filter removing many of the chemicals and toxins that cause hangovers.

“Our fans have shown us that when you can do it in days instead of years you can get barrel aged taste to things that would have otherwise spoiled. Whether a batched cocktail or spirits such as Pisco you can keep the fresh taste and still get that nice smooth finish from the wood, we think it is really cool seeing how people use the Elements.” says David Jackson, the 32-year-old CEO of Time and Oak, which was officially incorporated on August 6, 2014, two months after its inception, by co-founders David, CEO, Josh, COO, and Tony.

Garnering crowd support for a unique product

Fast-forward three months and queue the Whiskey Element Kickstarter campaign.

“We gave ourselves a really tight timeline because you can dabble on an idea forever,” says David. The campaign launched on October 1, 2014 and was funded in 18 hours. “Hitting our goal on day one. That was our goal — because there’s a lot of proof of concept and we wanted to prove price point and get people excited about the idea.”

David believes crowdfunding is an excellent way to attain free market research — but don’t expect to get rich in the process.

“When you do a Kickstarter there’s no money. You pre-sold stuff. Your first round of deliveries are always more expensive than you can project because you have no economy of scale. You have no reorder potential. You don’t know what your supply chain really is going to look like long term. There are a lot of things you have to pay a hefty premium on getting delivered on schedule.”

IMG_1835Time and Oak asked for $18K and received $200K over the course of the month with the help of WE ARE PDX, a creative marketing agency. While getting 1000% funded may sound like a dream come true, the reality of this is a nightmare.

“It was really when we breached the $100K mark halfway through the campaign — where logistics started to pile up. You have a goal for a reason — it’s what you can reasonably accomplish with a reasonable amount of money,” says David. By the end of the Kickstarter on October 31st, 35,000 Elements had been ordered between the campaign and website. “We were promising things by Christmas. We wanted to honor all those promises but the reality of delivering on those promises became more and more difficult.”

Around the onset of the campaign Time and Oak had been published in Esquire and Popular Mechanics — and was continually being re-blogged.

“I think based on the publications they were reading, people thought they were buying the product,” says David. When people campaign on Kickstarter they’re asking supporters to back an idea or prototype — not a product already being sold. “At the tail end we had 50/50 of the 5,000 backers — those who knew what Kickstarter was and were praising us on hard work and the other 50% wondering why they hadn’t received the product yet. By mid-November we had 875 unopened emails at the beginning of the week. Everything from support emails to ‘where’s my product,’ to ‘can I carry this’ to ‘can I write about you.’ We were working all through Christmas Eve and all through Christmas — literally finishing all the different packages and getting out as many as we could. There was no stopping.”

Notwithstanding the initial boom and complications fulfilling orders on time, Time and Oak has come out ahead.

“We’ve been able to take and build an actual company underneath that.” The company grew 46% in their first year through good old fashion hard work.

Last year they signed a multi-million dollar trade agreement to manufacture all goods in Portland. Everything is locally sourced except for the wood, and each Whiskey Element is laser cut and goes through four points of hand selection.

“It increases our cost but we want the consumer to have that high quality experience.” As to outsourcing the oak, “Your favorite whiskeys are made with very specific regions of oak. And each region tastes different,” says David. “We wanted to have the most traditional taste — that’s what people expect. You put it in and expect it to taste like a good Bourbon.”10665758_934717513224010_7477042485168932444_n

Building a responsible and sustainable business

In the meantime, Project Footprint was born out of the founders’ desire to give back. Their Whiskey Elements make a more efficient use of natural forest resources than most traditional alternatives but they hoped to work on land conservation while allowing people to buy their favorite products. So for every pair of Elements sold a donation is made toward preserving one square foot of land.

Companies often have to sell and explain the value proposition of their product but according to David, the Whiskey Element has sold itself time and time again in taste tests. “I’ve consulted and I’ve grown companies — I’ve never seen something where so many people have an ‘aha’ or get it or love it.” To date they’ve offered around 40,000 blind, Pepsi style taste tests. “You taste it before and after, and the amount of people that are blown away, or say ‘wow’ or love it is huge.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 11.35.54 AMCelebrities, rappers, and major distillers supported and back the product. John O’Hurley, an actor and TV personality originally from Seinfeld and winner of Dancing with the Stars, fell in love with the product and is now the face of the company. Time and Oak is currently sponsored by Tito’s Handmade Vodka, which is used alongside America’s favorite whiskey, Jim Beam, for before and after taste tests at trade shows, craft fairs, industry events, and Saturday markets. In addition, they reached a deal with Bacardi after their national brand director of whiskey picked David’s $40 bottle over a $250 bottle in a blind taste test.

All that being said, everyone’s palette is different. And Time and Oak is not into telling people how to drink. “I think the hardest thing when you have your own idea is you start building a vision of where you think it should go. With a product like this we have multiple sales channels because of how broadly used a barrel really is. One channel is the consumer — who will chose it, taste it — they’re a great market validation. But if the consumer likes it because they put it in their own bottle why wouldn’t a distillery want to use it and sell it to them direct and get a 10 times rate of return.” Why wouldn’t you want a high end well or house whiskey? Another trend involves barrel-aging cocktails. You can put the Elements in just about anything you would traditionally barrel age. “We just had a restaurant pick us up that’s doing infused balsamic vinegar and olive oil,” says David.

time & oak cocktails006A new use of the product: infusing alcohol with different alcohols. For example, you can put the element in a bottle of scotch for half a day and then move it to a bottle of tequila for half a day — leading to an amazing smoky finish on your tequila.

As for their competition — there is nothing on the market quite like the Whiskey Elements.

“You can get pieces of oak that you put in bottles but they take weeks at a time and leave sediment in the bottle.” Time and Oak recently released the Signature Dark Whiskey Element, which “draws out notes of mellow smoke and charred oak.” They also offer multi-flavor Whiskey Elements and a monthly subscription.

For David there are many perks to being an entrepreneur.

“For me it’s the challenge. There’s something fun about taking something that hasn’t really been done and making it come to life. We failed so many times as part of the process and I wouldn’t look at any of them as failures. You just look at them as learning — the only time you fail is if you stop learning.

The reality — yeah we don’t have a ton of money and we’re not huge and we’re 18 months old. But literally surviving that first year, creating a manufacturing process, developing a supply chain — from my background in consulting I couldn’t be more proud of that. We literally are creating a new industry.” Time and Oak is currently distributing their Whiskey Elements in all 50 states and 23 countries. And they’re projecting 300 percent growth in 2016 through the addition of retail distribution as well as distillery partnerships.

According to David, it’s not about good or bad whiskey — it’s about your whiskey. “Everyone has their own flavor, and if you want to tweak a flavor this is the best product to get that flavor with. And that’s really our core and that’s kinda why I don’t like telling people how to use it other than the power of it. Have you ever seen a piece of wood that goes in a beverage? Taste it regularly. When you fall in love take it out of the bottle. Every time you put one in a bottle you’re truly making a small batch of whiskey — one bottle at a time crafted to your exact flavor.”

For more information, visit www.timeandoak.com, like them on facebook and follow them on instagram and twitter

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Crafting from the cauldron: A Q&A with Jim Mills from Caldera Brewing

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Jim Mills is the founder of Caldera Brewing in Ashland, OR. Having been in the business since the late 1990’s, he has been at the forefront of the craft brewing industry’s rise here in Oregon. Jim was nice enough to do a Q&A with Built Oregon on everything from microcanning to sustainability.

What was the original genesis of launching Caldera?

Incorporated in 1996, first brew July 4, 1997, first keg sold August 28, 1997.

Who thought of the name Caldera and what’s the backstory on how it came to be?

I did. It means boiling kettle or cauldron in Spanish. Where all the magic happens in the kettle.

Did you (or any of the other founders)  have a brewery background when you launched the business?

I am the only founder. I have some silent investors that have a small minority share of Caldera. I did learn quite a bit from homebrewing. I honed many of my recipes while homebrewing. I was brewing around 8-10 ten gallon batches per month. When I started working in the brewery at Rogue I learned more commercial techniques (moving liquid with pumps, hooking things up correctly, troubleshooting and fixing broken equipment, yeast management on a much larger scale, etc.). I did glean as much as I could from Rogue as I knew I would start my own brewery someday.

Talk a bit about Ashland – were you all from Ashland originally? Did you always know that Ashland would be home to Caldera?

I moved to Ashland in 1989 to finish college. Knew within 3 weeks that I wanted to live here. Mountains, lakes, rivers, great weather. Outdoor life and a plethora of activities.

What were the first beers you brewed and what were some of the early challenges you faced as you launched a craft brewery?

Pale Ale and Dry hop Red were the first brews I launched. I self distributed for the first 6 years. Was tough doing everything myself. Educated Southern Oregon beer drinkers about craft beers. Was pretty Bud/Coors based back in 97.

What were some of the bumps in the road and early successes as you scaled up your brewery and flagship line of beers?

Ashland Amber was originally trademarked by Rogue. I watched the expiration date like a hawk and when they didn’t renew it, I trademarked it. Only makes sense since Rogue pulled out of Ashland in 1997 before Caldera’s first brew was brewed. Ashland Amber was a hit from the get go. Most bars and restaurants that had draft beer systems put it on tap and soon it became the top selling beer in Ashland. It still is today out of Summit Beverage’s line up of beers they offer. That being said, it seemed like every time I was getting a little ahead, I had to purchase more equipment and take out more loans.

You made the decision in 2005 to can your own beer – what led to the decision to invest in the canning equipment and be a pioneer in the craft beer canning game?

I received a flyer about cans and busted out a calculator and saw they had potential. Numbers made sense. Again educating consumers that good beer could be put in cans was hardest obstacle to overcome. Nobody was canning back then.

How were the cans received both from a public and distributor standpoint?

Everybody thought I was crazy, but I didn’t care. I knew the benefits of cans outweighed the negatives by a long shot.

The growth you saw led to the new facility being built in Ashland – including a new canning machine. How has the expanded operation allowed you to make more of an impact both to the business itself and also the community from a jobs standpoint?

I had 10 employees before building the new brewery – 18 if you count the Tap House which I started in 2009. I now have 80 employees and a facility where we have some room to breathe. I discouraged the public from visiting the old brewery as it was simply a hazard for people to be walking around with all day fork lift traffic.caldera_new_brewery1

Sustainability seems to be something that is core to your business. How did this become a focus and talk a bit about choosing to do things this way from the start. 

I always laugh that we were green before green was the cool thing to do. It is something dear to my heart. To take care of the planet only makes sense. Growing up I saw how detrimental people treated the planet and it didn’t make sense to me at all. Especially when these people had kids and grandkids. Fresh clean water makes excellent beer (the main reason for choosing Ashland to start Caldera). Also what I didn’t understand growing up was not only the environmental benefit of taking care of the earth, but it also makes huge economic sense. You pay for garbage removal, but do not pay for recycling, so I recycled as much as possible. Also day lighting in any building will cut down on lighting costs. It seems like everything I did that had an environmental impact also had a huge economic impact as well. The two go hand in hand.

Has the massive increase in craft breweries affected your business at all? What are your thoughts on the overall growth of the industry?

It only makes everybody grow. My friends and I that had craft breweries back in the late 90’s always knew we were not competitors, but rather Bud/Coors were our competitors. The massive growth of craft breweries is due to more people discovering/enjoying a good quality beer. This only helps our market share. Plenty to go around for everybody.

In addition to the increased production, the bigger facility also gave you more space to  experiment – talk a bit about how important this is to craft brewers.

We had a small 10 barrel system at our old brewery. I knew that when we built the new brewery, I wanted to set up a 30 barrel system, but also keep the 10 barrel system for one off/pub beers. We brew unique beers for the Tap House and the restaurant at the brewery. Also some distributors get ahold of some of these beers. It keeps the public interested as the public wants new/ experimental beers.IMG_4796

What are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities you see on the horizon?

Consolidation has been happening for a few years now with big breweries buying stakes in craft breweries. Also investment firms are getting into the scene. This can create some challenges as these craft breweries have even more of a presence via their distributors. There are many beers on the shelves these days which is a good thing, but also makes it more difficult to stay relevant to your customer base as there a more choices than ever now. On the flip side, there are mrs opportunities to get store placements because craft is widely accepted by the consumers.

If you could go back in time to when this journey started and tell yourself a piece of advice, what would it be?

My motto has been “Never sacrifice quality”. I would never change this, but I would have started the brewery with more money so I could have been where Caldera needed to be equipment wise rather than cash flowing and taking out multiple loans to get to that point. Then again who knows if I could have afforded the bigger payments. Kind of a catch 22.

How do you come up with the names for all the beers, and do you have a couple favorite names?

I think about new beers and names all the time. A couple of my favorites are:

Vas Deferens Ale

Hopportunity Knocks IPA

Hop Hash IPA (I was the first commercial brewer to ever use hop hash)

Mother Pucker Raspberry Sour

For more information, visit www.calderabrewing.com, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Keeping it simple, genuine, and real: The Brazi Bites story

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Keep it simple, genuine, and real.

This is the mantra that Brazi Bites founders Junea Rocha and her husband Cameron MacMullin live and work by, and, of course, this is the philosophy that lives in the hearts and minds of many Oregonians.

But more than just a mantra, it defines the brand values of a company that is on a journey to bring a little taste of Brazil to the United States. A journey that began when Junea initially made her way to the U.S. through a work exchange program, and has taken the couple from growing local production here in Portland to being in front of the cameras on Shark Tank.

It’s a journey that began with the simple desire to make the distance between Brazil and Portland seem a bit smaller, one tasty bite at a time.cameron   junea profile

Bringing a taste of home to Oregon

“I grew up with Pao de Queijo (pronounced “pow day kayyo”) a popular Brazilian staple, cheese bread. When I met and married my husband Cameron, I moved to Portland to be with him. Soon I  started missing my favorite snack and realized I couldn’t find it here. In 2009, I asked my mother for her recipe. This recipe began several generations ago with my grandmother, who grew up on a farm, with fresh milk, eggs and cheese.”

The first challenge Junea encountered was finding the right cheese.The cheese used in Brazil is called Minas. It is not available in the U.S. Thus, they went about finding a replacement – no easy task.

The process involved testing hundreds of cheeses. Junea and Cameron tried every possible combination, and through trial and error,  found that mild white cheddar with parmesan gives the perfect cheesy bite.

The bread has very few ingredients in it. Along with the cheeses, milk and eggs, Brazi Bites uses tapioca flour from Brazil, safflower oil, water and salt. The bread is naturally free from gluten, soy, and sugar but is loaded with taste.

With the recipe set, it was time to do some market research.

“Our first test of the product was at the Spring Beer and Wine Festival here in Portland. We made a ton of freshly baked product and it sold out half way through the show. We knew then that we had something special.”

But having something special does not always translate into being a successful business.

To get started, the couple took a 12-week course on how to take a family recipe to market, offered at Portland City College. The course covered packaging, regulations, marketing and branding, which gave them a huge leg up.

12249781_1160513880629544_7961723686897027647_n“The recipe-to-market class is unique to Portland as is the support system here. People are very willing to share their expertise and see you succeed. Another thing we found is shared kitchen space. Because it’s so expensive to start, we looked into sharing our overhead at a facility in Tigard. We did that for a year, then moved on to our own location. When we were ready to leave, there was another up and coming company ready to move in. This ecosystem is very important – not only are you sharing costs but knowledge. The mistakes NOT made because of the shared experiences … this is invaluable.”

But even with the knowledge gained and support of the Oregon food ecosystem, success is still hard to come by. Going from markets and shows to grocery freezers many times takes having a key person on your side.

Junea and Cameron found a champion in Denise Breyley, a local forager with Whole Foods. Denise travels the Northwest to find the best new products and produce to bring to Whole Foods, before anyone else sees them.

“Denise saw us at a food event early in our journey. She tasted our bread, loved it and gave us the chance with Whole Foods. We started in the Pearl store and grew from there. She has helped us get Brazi Bites into more stores, more regions of the country, even helped us with better shelf space.”

To honor the invaluable mentoring, Junea and Cameron give in return. It’s a way of recognizing the ecosystem does not thrive without putting in as much as you get out.

“Denise is always doing events for Whole Foods so we support her with product. And, we will meet with younger brands she is working with, to share our knowledge and experience.”

Sounds simple, right? Work hard and focus. Always listen to your customer. Adjust to market conditions, the next obstacle, the next lesson. Give back to the ecosystem that gave so much to you.

It also takes a good team of employees.

“The employees love working here because it’s a family company and they know that Cameron and I have done every single job here. We’ve mixed the dough, swept the floors, checked the freezers and they know this. Working side by side builds mutual respect.”

Success also takes something else – the guts and courage to put it all out there.

In November of last year, the couple went before the Sharks on the hit TV show Shark Tank.

“Shark Tank was one of the coolest experiences we’ve had, nerve wracking but you also know something big is happening. We went on the show with so much gratitude just to be there, that we actually had a blast.”

And of course, the Sharks loved the bread. Junea and Cameron are now negotiating a deal. The details are not ready to be released, but they will be shortly.Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 3.29.32 PM

Growing by concentrating on the core

From a simple idea to being under the lights of Shark Tank, The Brazi Bites journey is one that has taken many twists and turns – so what’s next?

Currently Brazi Bites comes in four flavors: the original cheese bread plus Jalapeno Pepper Jack, Garlic Asiago and Nitrate-Free Bacon. That’s it for now for this “take and bake” style snack found in the frozen freezer department of over 1,000 grocery stores.

With the growth comes questions on how to expand and enhance the product line. Whether to add more flavors or brand extensions are questions many founders ask themselves. But to Junea and Cameron, the answers always tie back to being true to what they started. They realize that if you lose your focus, the core brand can go sideways, or worse, downhill altogether.

“We are staying really focused on Brazilian cheese bread, period. Potentially we might do more flavors and more sizes but we want to remain true to the original cheese bread line’” adding

“We work very hard and focus on the quality of our product. It’s a daily fight to make sure you make the best product while you continue to grow.”

Since September of last year, Brazi Bites sales have grown 10-fold per month.

bb pack v1“We don’t want to be another casualty of the food industry. ‘Oh you have the perfect artisanal product, everyone loves you, you have a great family story.’ And then you get so big your quality goes – you’re everywhere, and you have a horrible product because you grew too fast while trying to save another 5 cents.

We want to offer an artisanal product that has national distribution. Sometimes you have to say ‘no.’  We walked away from a lower quality of cheese and tapioca flour and said no to fillers. The margins would go up but the product would suffer.”

It all goes back to the original mantra of simple, genuine and real.

“Our story would not have happened anywhere else in the country, with the exception of maybe Austin, Texas and possibly Denver or New York City “ says Junea. “Because Portland knows about great food and artisanal products, you start your company out at a very high level, otherwise, you will not succeed. People here want the best of the best.”

The end game for Junea and Cameron?

“We want Brazi Bites to be in every freezer in every grocery store all over the country.”
They are well on their way.

For more information, visit www.brazibites.com. You can also like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Instagram

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The proof is in the pork: The Elkhorn Farm and Forge Story

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Matt Alford quit eating meat in 1997 after reading Diet for a New America, which details the plight of animals raised in factory farm conditions.

It was the beginnings of a  journey that eventually led to the founding of Elkhorn Farm and Forge in Gaston, OR. It was not a predetermined journey or one that has been easy, but it certainly was rewarding.

The beginnings of a pig farmer

Matt’s vow to not eat meat took a bit of a turn after two years of soul searching.

“ I started hunting and gathering my own food so I could know exactly where my food came from, field to table. It was a  journey that led me to start raising my own goats as pack animals, and eventually I raised a few heritage breed pigs for my own consumption. “

He started with goats as the primary livestock on the farm, but the focus started to go towards pigs. The land and infrastructure requirements are similar for both animals, but pigs are easier to contain than goats, and they don’t need as much land or fence as cattle.  20150909_104307

“ I was able to start raising pigs using the farm assets I already owned (truck, trailer, shelter, waterers, fence, etc.) and that allowed me to get started without spending much additional money.  Along the way, I discovered that I really love being around pigs.”

His approach is based on pre-industrial methods where the pigs live outdoors on the pasture and forestland; free to roam, root, and run – in other words, be happy pigs. But starting a farm is anything but an easy task, and not for the unpassionate. But it’s a life that Matt had glimpses of in his youth.

“ As a kid I picked pole beans, strawberries, and raspberries for money.  In high school, I worked four years on a local farm growing and harvesting row crops, grass seed, and tending a small herd of cattle. However, I started my farm from scratch.”

Matt’s home and farm is situated on 1.8 acres and he leases and manages several properties nearby, which brings the total acreage up to 40.  In his perfect world, all the farmland would be contiguous, but as a startup, he is working with what is available.

“ It’s less efficient having multiple parcels of land, but I’ve been able to pick up under-utilized plots of ground and that has helped keep the costs down.”

But as with any startup, the costs to get going can add up quickly.

“ My biggest challenge was and continues to be time vs. money.  I scaled up the herd and grew the business by doing everything myself, working long hours 7 days a week to conserve cash.  I’m past the point where I can continue to grow the business simply by applying more of my time, so I need to invest in people and more infrastructure in order to keep up with the growth.”

1-20140531_165506Being out by yourself on 40 acres with nobody to talk to but the pigs can be refreshing, but Matt has also had the benefit of connecting to a community of resources as Elkhorn has grown.

“My friend, Will Woolley, is a co-founder of Templeton Hills Beef in California, where they raise grass-fed beef exclusively.  There’s a lot of overlap between our operations, and his willingness to share his experience has repeatedly helped me think through road blocks.  Locally, the non-profit Friends of Family Farmers has been a tremendous resource in terms of networking. The one thing that really gave me the confidence to buy a few pigs initially was the fact that my friend Brandon was already raising a few pigs each year for his own family.  We call each other when we have goat problems, and knowing that I could do the same with pigs was really important to me.”

With the farm and support network more established, Matt set out to source the pigs for Elkhorn. He searched and found a professional local hog breeder whom he could trust, one that could sell him top-quality stock and be another source of advice.

“I already had a great relationship with a local large animal veterinarian so I felt like I had a good support system in place.”

Bringing quality pork to the market

The taste of Elkhorn Farm and Forge’s pork is amazing, and it didn’t take long before the demand expanded beyond his family and friends. One of the most important aspects of being able to deliver quality pork on a consistent basis rest in the skilled hands of the butcher, so Matt set out to locate one by reaching out to the community for references.

“ I started calling and visiting slaughter facilities and butchers, while talking to everyone I knew who raised their own livestock.  As a livestock producer, your business is only as good as your last delivery from the butcher.  They can make or break your business, so I choose them carefully and make sure I’m a great customer to do business with on an ongoing basis.”1-LO4M0993

Elkhorn’s marketing started out as word of mouth and continues to be the best sales channel.  Matt sells directly to consumers and a few chefs over the phone and on his website. He’s purposely avoided selling to wholesalers and retail stores, primarily because he hasn’t needed to up to this point, and it doesn’t make sense from a margins standpoint. The farm is looking to potentially sell via farmer’s markets in the future.  

Matt’s foray into the farming business has opened his eyes to both the needs and opportunities in agriculture.

“ Farmers need technology that reduces labor and increases efficiency without abusing animals or the genetic integrity of plants.  In some places, technology is overused, while in others, technology and automation are sorely lacking.  As one example, a critical indicator of animal health is their internal body temperature, yet the market has yet to produce an affordable, reliable body temperature monitor for swine.  I should be able to get a proactive text message telling me when a pig’s body temperature is out of range or their daily exercise level is below normal.”

As it turns out, the local food culture really wants to know their farmer, and buy humanely-raised great tasting meat, which has resulted in the explosive demand for organic food in the United States. In Matt’s mind this creates great opportunities.

“ Forward-looking investors are forming real estate investment trusts (REITs), with the express purpose of buying conventional farmland and converting it to organic.  They hire consultants to manage the transition and lease the land back to farmers.  It’s a smart solution that solves critical financial hurdles for farmers while meeting a market need. Longer term, a big opportunity lies in urban agriculture.  There’s so much more that can be done to grow food within urban boundaries rather than trucking food in and trucking waste out.  People who live in cities yearn for the connection to the land and the taste of real food.  Urban planners, architects, and real estate developers who integrate the ability to grow food into their buildings and living spaces will capitalize on the deep seated emotional need of people to return to the land.”

Returning to the land is what he has done and it’s been a challenging, but hugely rewarding journey. It’s one that has taught him both entrepreneurial lessons and insights.

“ When things aren’t going as planned, be more flexible and take a step back rather than pushing forward.  I’ve made some bad situations worse by not wanting to deviate from my plan, when things would have turned out better if I’d just decided to give it some space and find another way.  You can get a long way applying steady pressure, but there are limits too.”

These are words that anyone who has started a business can relate to. But there are more intrinsic feelings and beliefs that truly sum up what Matt is doing at Elkhorn Farm and Forge. “ I really love being around pigs.  Being able to give them a great life on the farm and provide premium quality pork to local families is a win for everyone. “1-DSC02760

For more information visit, www.elkhornfarmandforge.com. You can also support them by liking them on facebook and following them on twitter.