GrandyOats: Success not articial, it’s organic

NW dd48 Grandyoats art PRODUCTS MADE MORE HANDY

PRODUCTS MADE HANDY — GrandyOats co-owner Nat Pierce shows off two of the Maine-based business’ products that received revamped, re-usable packaging a few years ago. (De Busk Photos)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

BROWNFIELD — Two owners of a Maine-based granola factory are glad that they decided to join forces and become their own bosses 18 years ago. They are doubly satisfied that they jumped on the chance to bake and distribute granola.

Co-owners Nat Pierce and Aaron Anker have expressed extreme pride in what has been accomplished at GrandyOats during the past two decades.

The company manufactures more than 900,000 pounds of edible product: 11 flavors of granola, six different trail mixes, seven types of roasted nuts, instant oatmeal cups, and organic oats grown in Maine.

Based in Brownfield, GrandyOats now supplies its products to mainstream grocery stores encompassing 150 Hannaford stores and more than 100 Wegmans stores plus numerous natural food stores, including Morning Dew Natural Foods, Grocery and Deli in Bridgton.

Also, GrandyOats sells its products to university and college cafeterias all throughout the Northeast, and is eying expansion to upstate New York’s educational institutions.

Additionally, the business employs 18 people in rural western Maine. Plus, approximately 300 acres have been set aside for growing the organic oats used in GrandyOats’ granola recipes.

This October, GrandyOats hit two sizable milestones, according to co-owner Pierce, who is in charge of production at the plant.

The locally-grown company experienced its “busiest October ever,” he said.

Plus, in late October, GrandyOats was named the 2013 Food Producer of the Year.

The Maine Grocers Association and Food Producers Alliance announced that GrandyOats was the recipient of this recognition during the alliance’s annual awards banquet. Bow Street Market in Freeport was chosen for the 2013 Grocer of the Year award.

Gov. Paul LePage gave kudos to the two companies in a press release.

NW dd48 GrnadyOats art MIXED BY HAND

MIXED BY HAND — On Friday, an employee mixes by hand the ingredients for granola at the GrandyOats factory in Brownfield.

“Both of these family-owned Maine businesses are doing it the right way by investing in their employees and local communities,” LePage said.

“Bow Street Market and GrandyOats have sharpened their competitive edge and established a foundation for success and continued prosperity,” LePage said.

GrandyOats’ Chief Granola officer Anker responded to the recent recognition.

“It is a tremendous honor. We were nominated by other food producers, and other retailers. So, that was really nice,” Anker said.

“We have got some great compliments in the form of e-mails from buyers and customers,” he said.

“We are trying to enunciate it as much as we can,” Anker said.

“As one of the owners, I am really proud that GrandyOats received the Food Producer of the Year award. I am mostly proud that we employ people in a part of the state that doesn’t have much employment,” he said.

“We are 100 percent organic. That means less and less chemicals, pesticides, go back into the earth,” he said.

“And, I am really proud of our quality,” he said.

Anker works mostly outside of the factory — promoting the company and selling the 28 different products it offers. Meanwhile, Pierce maintains a presence in Brownfield and oversees daily production.

“I like being an employer in a rural area,” Pierce said.

“We strive to be positive, have fun, and allow our workers to have fun,” he said.

“We don’t take out the whip. They have fun while they work,” he said.

In fact, a few weeks ago, the entire staff went to Stone Mountain Arts Theater and saw the comedian Bob Marley.

Humor abounds during work hours.

When asked what he was thinking of while hand-mixing the granola, an employee dreamily said, “Skiing.”

But, he was on the ball instead of the moguls as he prepared the pans of granola mix before the previous batches were ready to be removed from the ovens.

Meanwhile, forklift operator Jaime Pelosi was all smiles and jokes as he loaded pallets onto a United National Foods truck.

Grandyoats products are shipped all over the United States, and even to Japan, according to Pierce.

NW dd48 GrandyOats art GRANOLA SALES GROWING SINCE 1979

GRANOLA SALES GROWING SINCE 1979 — An example of re-useable packaging is shown here. GrandyOats, located in Brownfield, recently received the 2013 Producer of the Year award.

At one point in time, the factory was actually a barn. The downstairs stalls that housed horses were transformed into the bakery. A loft upstairs is used solely for labeling the varieties of products that the company distributes. The production space is 5,000 square feet, including the upstairs for space. Also, there is 1,500 square feet of storage outside of the barn.

The upper floor — formerly living quarters — provides a down-to-home office space for workers.

In addition to being located in a barn, the company has a rather intriguing history. GrandyOats was founded by two friends, Penny Hood and Sarah Carpenter, in 1979. At that time, the small business was located in Farmington. The women decided to sell their business in the late 1990s; and the prospect of owning GrandOats piqued Pierce’s interest.

“I knew the natural food industry was gaining popularity,” he said.

In 1997, Pierce bought the business, moved it to Bridgton, and operated out of his basement.

Later, he called a former college classmate who had also majored in business and asked him if he was ready to work for himself.

In 2000, Anker agreed to the offer. A year later, on Labor Day weekend, GrandyOats moved to its current spot in Brownfield.

As the general population has embraced organic granola, production levels have revved up.

In the basement of Pierce’s home, he was utilizing two ovens two days a week. Then, in the first factory in Bridgton, four ovens baked the product two to four days out of the week.

“Now, we run seven days a week with six ovens,” Pierce said.

In recent years, the products have evolved for coffee shops and college cafeterias.

“We have targeted universities —– that is a great market for us. We are starting to get some university cafeterias in upstate New York,” Pierce said.

“A lot of schools are focusing on food service. Parents who have fed their children organic foods ask what the school will feed them. If they are unsatisfied, they can take their tuition money elsewhere,” Pierce said.

In 2010, GrandyOats made a switch in some of it packaging.

“We consciously made the decision to change the packages,” he said.

“We were working with Stonyfield Organic Yogurt at the time,” Pierce said, holding a yogurt-style tub filled with granola.

First, GrandyOats conducted a survey via the Internet, asking customers how they re-used the plastic bags with zip-lock tops.

“We got one e-mail. Someone used the bag to store used sponges under the kitchen sink,” Pierce said, adding that was not the image to promote recycling of their packaging.

“Anyhow, we decided to switch to yogurt containers. They are good for our older consumers. It is easier to scoop out of a tub than a bag, and they can re-use it,” Pierce said.

Another plus: the tubs stack and stay standing up at the grocery stores much better than the bags, which often fall down on shelves and cannot be as easily seen, he said.

“As far as retail packaging, that is a small portion of our sales. So, it was not a huge risk to make the switch,” he said.

“Why we did it: Branding. It is seen by people at coffee shops and in natural food sections of grocery stores. People make a connection between the logo and the name of our business. That didn’t happen with our bulk products,” he said.

“We still do promote bulk buying because it puts less stress on the environment,” he said.

As part of GrandyOats’ mission statement, the company strives to promote sustainability and be aware of potential impacts to the environment.

The business is dedicated to creating less negative environmental impact.

“Organic farming has been shown to improve wildlife habitats, increase soil health, and create more jobs than industrial farming,” the website said.

“We give back to the earth and the earth gives great ingredients back to us,” the website said.

Pierce said that his hands-down favorite granola is the classic recipe.

Anker agreed that the classic granola tastes the best.

“Breakfast is such a ritual. People very often eat the same thing. They love our product, and it’s 100% organic,” he said.

“Granola is a great way to start your day,” Anker said.

For more information about this local business, go to www.grandyoats.com

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