May 3, 2013

Entrepreneur Spotlight – Courser Farm Kitchen Granola

courser farm kitchen granolaCourser Farm Kitchen Granola really did start at a farm’s kitchen table.  Thanks to the homestead laws in Hew Hampshire (known as Cottage Food Laws in other states), Emma Bates was able to start her company out of her home kitchen while keeping a watchful eye on her children.  But that’s not all there is to the story.  It was some ingenious thinking and the help of neighbors that helped Courser Farm Kitchen Granola really take off. 

If you’ve never been, the area around Warner, New Hampshire is some of the most beautiful in America.  Quant towns with historic buildings, rolling hills, and maple trees whose leaves turn brilliant shades of orange, red, and gold in the fall, make it a truly breathtaking part of the country.  Emma Bates was fortunate enough to not only grow up in this environment, but as part of a family who took this environment and their stewardship of it very seriously.

Emma’s great-grandfather purchased Courser Farm back in the 1900’s and the land has been farmed continuously since then.  To this day the corn grows tall and pumpkins grow plump on the farm and two of Emma’s uncles run a farm stand that sells the farm’s produce as well as maple syrup that’s tapped from trees on the property.  Knowing how important this land is to them and their family, Emma’s mother and her brothers started to put some of the property into conservation several years ago and the farm now has more than 1200 acres under conservation easement which protects it from future development.

new hampshire granolaGrowing up in such an environment, it’s no surprise that honest, quality ingredients are important to Emma.  Her personal passion is baking so when some relatives opened up a café in a nearby town and wanted gluten-free items to sell they turned to Emma, the family baker who’d also been eating gluten-free for several years, and asked if she’d be willing to provide them with baked goods.

New Hampshire’s homestead law allows for home kitchens to be licensed so three years ago Emma got the kitchen at the farmhouse, where she lives with her husband, two children, and parents, certified and began making gluten-free products for the café.  Not long after that she started providing goods for another café and decided to join a local farmers’ markets.

The funny thing is that while her muffins and other baked goods sold well, it was the granola she’d started making that people really went nuts for.  Initially her first flavor was a cranberry almond granola and people would literally come by her stall early and ask her to put a bag aside for them because she was selling out on a regular basis.

When the farmers’ market season ended Emma refused to let that be the end of her granola sales.  Thinking of other ways she could offer her product to consumers, Emma created what she calls a CSG – Community Sponsored Granola – where customers would pre-pay for 12 weeks of granola and would then come by to pick up their weekly allotment from the farm.  In addition to being able to continue her granola sales, her CSG customers loved to talk about her granola with everyone they met and the word of mouth about her company grew exponentially.  At the same time, those CSG members gladly became taste-testers and offered their feedback as Emma experimented with new flavors.

As more and more people heard about Courser Farm Kitchen Granola, as she started up wholesale accounts with local retailers, and as Emma began to take her company out to local events like a Made In New Hampshire fair, keeping up with demand started to become her biggest problem.  Working out of her kitchen had its benefits in terms of being able to work around her children’s schedules, but at the same time she was constantly focused on making sure no little fingers found their way into the granola and it was hard to be in the midst of a production run and then have to clean up the kitchen so that she could get started making dinner.

The time had come, she realized, to move into a larger commercial space.  As luck would have it, Emma granola food businessmet with a friend of a friend who made balsamic goods products and she recommended that Emma check out a local company called Neighbor Made.  This incubator kitchen outside of Keene, NH offered Emma everything she needed, from space to create her product to the expertise to help her redesign her logo, to help her take her company to the next level.  Neighbor Made also offers insight into local distribution which has helped Courser Farm Kitchen Granola grow to where it is now being sold in 14 local stores.

Even with a goal of being a recognizable New Hampshire brand within 5 years, Emma knows that shelf presence alone is not enough.  She is signed up to be part of two farmers’ markets again this Summer and has a schedule of other local events she plans to take part in.  This helps build her brand recognition and gives her the opportunity to meet with and connect with customers.  As she says, if she can just get someone to taste her granola they’re most often hooked and that type of one-on-one salesmanship comes best via meeting and talking face-to-face.

Thankfully with her husband finishing graduate school next month she’ll soon have more hands to help her with her growing business.  Emma says that she likes to joke that her husband will never use his degree for what it’s intended for if she has her way and as she pushes Courser Farm Kitchen Granola towards “world domination.”

Be sure to check out Courser Farm Kitchen Granola online.  The site does have an online store and an online CSG program as well (your granola will get mailed to you – don’t worry about having to go to NH to pick it up in person).

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