February 10, 2012
I must admit, the moose is my favorite animal so when Diane Tap contacted me and told me that her small food company was called The Zesty Moose, I had to know more.
It turns out that the company’s name comes in part from Diane’s own affection for the large doe-eyed ungulate which can be found roaming the Rocky Mountain West region Diane calls home. As for the zesty part? That comes from the spices Diane uses to create the company’s handcrafted spice mixes, dips, and marinades.
Like many artisan entrepreneurs, Diane never thought she’d one day start a food company. “I started reading a lot of food labels on products and was totally blown away by how much stuff like fillers, preservatives, and MSG is in our food,” Diane explained during a telephone interview from her Grand Junction, Colorado home. “I didn’t start it as a business, I just made up some spice blends to give away as gifts and next thing I knew I was getting calls from people asking how they could order.”
At that time, Diane was working for an area winery as a tasting room manager and helping with their wine inventory. She was hesitant to leave her full-time job so despite the requests, she continued to work and dedicated her evenings and weekends to fine-tuning her recipes and developing new flavor combinations. It actually took Diane more than two years of testing and experimenting but in 2007 she and Brian, her business partner, launched The Zesty Moose with nine products in the company’s portfolio.
Though the company originally rented commercial kitchen space to produce their mixes, their presence at craft shows and holiday shows helped them quickly gain brand recognition in the area and sales picked up so much that in 2009 they decided to build out their own certified kitchen space. “I kept adding more products,” Diane says of a product line that now also includes things like handmade pasta and finishing butters, “and I just ran out of space. I was at the point where I needed my own space and I did not want to rent another place only to have to move out later down the road.”
The Zesty Moose products can now be found throughout Colorado and it’s in stores in neighboring Rocky Mountain states but Diane has her eye on growing the company even further. “This year we’re going to do a lot more bigger food shows,” she says. “We’re doing the National Fiery Foods Show in Albuquerque in March. The booth rental is a lot higher but we feel that the exposure will be better and get our information into people’s hands.”
Of course the potential issue with taking the company to a bigger show that draws merchandisers, buyers, and distributors from around the country means that Diane needs to be ready to increase production quickly when those orders start flooding in. “The worst thing that can happen is not being prepared to fill orders,” Diane explains. “When you get into these natural food stores you only have a certain amount of shelf space and if you can’t fill an order then you’re basically axed. I want to make sure I’m prepared to fill the demand for orders before I head to those bigger trade shows. We really do feel that we need to do these bigger shows though to get our name out there and get more exposure so people know what we’re about.”
One of the things that Diane and Brian did this year was purchase a commercial mixer that enables Diane to create larger quantities at one time and an automated filling machine since The Zesty Moose keeps all product production, from creating the product to filling the bottles, in-house. These purchases, which cost significantly more than basic kitchen goods, were carefully planned and budgeted for. “We have a certain amount of cash flow set aside that we earmarked for these larger equipment pieces,” Diane says. “I see this company growing and know that one day we’ll have a number of machines helping us but we need to work within our budget and if that means we purchase piece by piece then so be it.”
Diane is understandably proud of the fact that she and Brian have worked hard to keep their expenses as low as possible without compromising the products’ quality in order to help fund their own growth. Things like their website development, product photographs, and even the printing of their signs they keep in-house rather than outsourcing to a third party or contractor. This helps keep their expenses down and allows them to save money for those larger purchases. They also do all of their own marketing which includes a rather comprehensive blog that showcases recipes that The Zesty Moose products can be used in.
It takes a lot of work and a lot of time, but for Diane, seeing the business grow and sales increase year over year is the best reward. “Don’t be afraid to start a business,” she advises aspiring food entrepreneurs, “don’t let things discourage you and get in your way. You have to have a vision and a direction of where you want to go and then you just have to go for it! It takes a lot of hard work and determination but if you believe in your product and the company you’re building it will pay off.”