Boulder County is a magical, mountainous Mecca for all things green. It’s not the Garden of Eden. It’s the Garden of Good.
On an average trip to the grocery store, one is bound to find an abundance of processed food and, presumably, not much healthy food to go around. Chances are, if the food packaging claims to be “healthy,” a close scan of the label will prove otherwise. Loaded with harmful ingredients, most foods are made with fillers and additives that the discerning customer may not want in or on their body. Thankfully, that’s not the case here in Boulder County, the Garden of Good.
Boulder County has long been a Mecca for natural foods and natural goods. From soup to hummus to ethically harvested alpaca garments (really, just name it, we have it), one can find anything here. Also, a scan of many BOCO food labels will bring a smile to even the most discerning shopper. What makes Boulder County such a center for natural products? How did we become the garden of good?
The appeal of the natural food industry cannot be denied, so much so that Boulder County industries caught the attention of Wall Street, and Forbes reports that there is no shortage of angel investors for startups. “Justin’s alone had about 60 local angel investors”, said [Justin] Gold, of Justin’s Nut Butter. Hailed as the Silicon Valley of food by the Daily Camera, we see food not as the new tech, as the Camera claimed, but as a rejection of the new tech (aka, a rejection of processed, modified, lab mutated, preservative-drenched foods that have fueled the obesity epidemic in America).
In fact, the article claimed that Boulder County’s natural food companies were drawing heavy interest from investors, in part because sales had shown them selling for three, four and five times their valuations. There are “$200 million in funds looking for investments,” and investor groups, like Ross Shell’s Red Idea Partners and Green Alpha Advisors, are ready for the action. There are others ready for the windfall. The “U.S. organic food market grew 11 percent in 2015 to $43 billion — nearly four times the growth of conventional food sales, according to the Organic Trade Association,” says Forbes, adding to the investment melee.
Consumers have demonstrated an increasing need for quality and transparency in their food. With piqued interest from savvy (and vocal) food critics, vegans, vegetarians, and your basic healthy eater, food has swung back on that pendulum. We’ve swung from farming to grocery stores to increasingly processed products and back to farms, in the guise of farm-to-table and other holistic food system projects. Still, producers are keeping up, and BOCO is at the forefront.
The interest hasn’t stopped; in fact, the complete opposite. It’s sped up. In February of 2018, Modern Market, one of the trailblazers of the farm-to-table movement, was acquired by Butterfly, a Los Angeles-based private equity firm that specializes in the food sector. Anthony Pigliacampo and Rob McColgan founded the company in Boulder. Modern Market focuses on wholesome dishes with an holistic view.
What Makes BOCO Products So Good?
It’d be easy to say we’re a bunch of green, hippy, earthy yuppies willing to spend our money on foods of fancy. But the fact is, science backs the claims of healthy eating, with Colorado having the lowest obesity rate in a country known for its extra poundage. The investment dollars follow, not because it’s trendy but because its a good bet. How are our local producers meeting the demand and keeping their place on top of the organic compost heap?
Hope Foods, a Boulder County manufacturer of hummus (Hope Hummus on Facebook), says, “Our competitors blast their products with high heat or pump them full of preservatives, which results in bland taste and texture, along with decreased nutritional value. At HOPE, we only use cold pressure with state-of-the-art HPP technology to retain fresh, peak flavor, wonderful texture, and important nutrition without artificial preservatives.”
Bobo’s Oat Bars, a company that creates nutritious and healthy oat bars, started with treats prepared on a rainy afternoon. It soon boomed into big business, as word of mouth propelled the bars to celebrity status. Flavors offered are chocolate chip, peanut butter, maple, pecan, and peach, to name a few. Bobo’s says, “From the very beginning, Bobo’s committed to baking in simple ways with a simple ingredient list with simple language and simple packaging. And while the snack bar category has gone absolutely bonkers, very little with Bobo’s has changed. In our bakery, you won’ t find extruders, presses or die-cutters, Just a lot more pans!”
Boulder Organic is another heavy organic hitter in Boulder County. They make homemade soup. Founder Kate Brown was excited to share the way her vegetables are grown. ‘The growing process for our vegetables is a question that I have not had before – I am thrilled to get a chance to speak about it!”
She went on to say that her vegetables are grown the “good old fashioned way,” in the soil with water and sun to nourish them. “We use a lot of root vegetables and not so many of the delicate plants, like lettuce, that do well in a hydroponic system. Our vegetables come from Colorado soil when we can get them, but most come from California due to the very short growing season we have in Colorado.”
She was going to plant some peas and beans when contacted for this interview, but the weather turned snowy. “That’s a great example of the Colorado fickle climate!” she said.
Kate says that their farmers are dedicated to the organic process and have solid reputations, along with strict adherence to the documentation of organic processing that goes along with organic certification. “I never fail to be thrilled at the excellent quality of produce that comes to our production facility every day. We bring in whole vegetables straight from the farm and wash, trim, peel and dice right before cooking so they couldn’t be more fresh. I’m so proud of our veggies!”
As far as going from her kitchen to large corporation, Kate explained her unique set of circumstances: “We started from humble beginnings indeed in 2006.”
She says that soup was a food product that strayed far from its nutritious and nurturing origins when food technology exploded through canning methods.
“A bit of food history here,” she said, “To be shelf stable in a can, soup needs a lot of sodium to inhibit bacterial growth. Over time, consumers got used to the high sodium flavors and lost touch with fresh soups. They didn’t forget the savory memories of grandma’s soup though, and as I listened to people recall family soup recipes, I realized that there was a huge discrepancy in the marketplace between our ideal of soup and what existed on the shelf.”
Enter Boulder Organic, whose mission it was to make soup better, to bring back real, fresh soup with whole simple ingredients. Kate said the response to her soup was fantastic as people were able to enjoy a real bowl of those great memories.
“We now hang our hat on the fact that we have been able to scale up and retain the integrity of our products.” She said the ingredients are recognizable. “You won’t have to worry about high sodium, preservatives, stabilizers, emulsifiers and other funny business, because we left those out. We are certified organic and gluten-free and delicious.”
Another of our local natural products legends, Kay Allison of Farm and Oven, stumbled upon the idea to put veggies into baking treats because her daughter was a picky eater. Kay explains the growing and preparation process: “We use all non-GMO ingredients from growers, including Bob’s Red Mill, Lockhead vanilla and Butternut Mountain Farm maple syrup. Our non-GMO vegetables come from Van Drunen Farms. Van Drunen is a seventh-generation-owned farm.”
Kay said that the farm grows non-GMO veggies on a 1,500 acre farm in Illinois, and they have an air-dryer on their property. “They grow and air-dry all of the vegetables we use in Farm & Oven Snacks”. Regarding the nutritional value in her offerings, she says her snacks have two full servings of one’s daily veggie needs in each pack of the bakery bites. We’re sold. We don’t get nearly enough vegetables, so we’re sold.
“We use a probiotic that stays active through the baking process. It’s a truly amazing ingredient from Ganeden.” Ganeden is an international probiotic ingredient manufacturer.
The company self-manufactures the bakery bites in a shared commercial kitchen in Thornton. “I’d never set foot in a commercial kitchen before last September, and today, we bake 10,000 bakery bites per shift!” Kay’s Farm & Oven bakery bites launched in November of 2017. The products are available on the website, farmandoven.com, and on Amazon.
“Everyone in my family loves sweets and doesn’t eat enough veggies. Just like 91 percent of all Americans. When I was baking pumpkin bread one Christmas, I had the idea of adding more pumpkin as a way for us to indulge our love of sweets and get more veggies at the same time.”
Kay said that as a mom, she knew incorporating the vegetables into the sweets was a great idea. She also knew that it was a great business idea as well. She had spent the previous 20-plus years as a consultant to big food companies, Pepsi, Kraft, Mondelez, ConAgra, helping them generate new revenue by creating new products.
“I’m very grateful that my former client, Mike Senackerib, joined me as a co-founder. He has 20-plus years in senior roles in some of the biggest food companies in the world. He has amazing business acumen, and he is honest, humble and always helpful.”
Beyond Natural Foods
While natural foods are big business in Boulder County, it isn’t the only thing going, naturally speaking.
Pact Clothing, located in Boulder, specializes in clothing made with organic cotton. On Pact’s website, founder Brendan Synnott says, “I started Pact with a lofty goal: to create the comfiest clothes in the world without destroying the earth, or harming people. I believe that what we wear matters. So, I set out to do things better. I believe there is always room to improve, but I couldn’t be more proud of the clothes we make. By using the best sustainable ingredients, and Fair Trade Certified factories, we create clothes that don’t just feel good, you can feel good about wearing them.”
The power of these natural products is the focus of Naturally Boulder, a 501(c)6 not-for-profit organization formed in 2005 as an economic development initiative by a dedicated group of industry veterans, entrepreneurs and supportive organizations and individuals including the city of Boulder and the Boulder Economic Council. The organization has about 1,000 members and more than 100 sponsoring companies. They serve as a voice for the industry and offer year-round education programming and networking events, mentoring for entrepreneurs, and celebrations that bring together Colorado’s natural products community.
An event scheduled in April, “Reverse Climate Change Through the Power of Natural Products!” in cooperation with Naturally Boulder Partners with Climate Collaborative, which took place recently in Boulder, profiled how local companies are coming together to take action on climate change. Nearly 200 companies have more than 600 commitments to action through the collaborative.
The state of Colorado is known as a haven for lovers of the glorious outdoors — from our scenic skylines to our endless trails and the endless tails of how epic everything is here — and we can now add Boulder County’s accomplishments to that list. Not just as a space for science and technology, for higher education, or even for healthy living, but for being the Garden of Good that’s having a positive impact on the whole world. One healthy treat and organic cotton top at a time.
Our Local Food Favorites. #greenlegends
You can see members of these legendary food companies on our April Green Issue cover!
- Horizon Organics
Part of the DANONE family, Horizon Organics was founded almost 20 years ago. “Our founders helped pioneer the organic dairy movement and became the first company to supply organic milk nationwide. We began with a handful of organic family farms, and family farms are still the heart of Horizon.”
- Miche’s Kitchen
“Miche (meesh) is the cookie mistress. She believes everyone deserves a good cookie, so she set out to make a cookie that tastes as good as it looks, one that everyone can make, and most people can eat.”
- Bobo’s Oat Bars
“On a rainy afternoon in 2003, Beryl Stafford and her daughter ‘Bobo’ baked oat bars that soon became a Boulder, CO cafe favorite. This humble oat bar has since captivated loyal fans nationwide, with no compromise to the original recipe, small-batch baking process, or mother-daughter tradition.”
- Boulder Organics
Kate Brown founded Boulder Organic Foods in 2006 on a mission to make soup better. And better they did, cultivating loyal fans and a national market.
Farm & Oven
“Passionate about making amazingly crave-able foods that make healthy eating joyful. Let’s be real: we’re not gonna eat foods that we don’t love.”
Hope Foods“On a collective mission to introduce healthy, high quality and wonderfully flavorful food to the world.” Consider us introduced.