What It Really Takes to Launch A Food Business
Photo: Maarten de Boer
The NourisherKate Brown, 48
Founder, Boulder Organic Foods, Boulder, Colorado
Nine years ago, Kate Brown went to the supermarket on a simple errand: to buy soup for her 10-year-old daughter, Madeleine, who'd just had her tonsils out. She was shocked by what she saw on the labels. Even with organic brands,"I found ingredients I couldn't pronounce," she says.
Brown grew up in the '70s—"the age of Tang"—but her mom had always cooked healthy food and she'd especially loved to make soup. "It's nostalgic," Brown says. "Soup makes people feel cared for." As she served Madeleine mushy cream of potato, she thought, "Good soup isn't that hard! I could do this right." A stay-at-home mom for ten years, Brown knew "those skills would translate—patience, time management, even saying 'the buck stops here.'"
She hosted tastings, ladling out split pea along with questionnaires; she talked to retailers, buyers and "anyone who's ever eaten soup." The feedback wasn't always encouraging. "A mentor looked at my spreadsheets and told me, 'All I can do is pray for you,'" she says. "But I knew in my heart I had a great idea."
In 2008, Brown got a call from the manager of her local Whole Foods, who'd heard rave reviews of her creations and told her he'd like to sell them. Then Boulder Organic Foods "took off like a rocket ship," Brown says. She borrowed money, rented a commercial kitchen, and spent 14 hours a day chopping, cooking, and delivering.
She made mistakes—signing legal documents without a lawyer, ordering the wrong lids—but "I'd give myself five minutes to whine, then move on," she says. "Every disaster is a learning opportunity."
Today Boulder Organic Foods has 45 employees, and the soups are sold around the country. Every ingredient is fresh, and each batch is hand stirred. When people ask whether Madeleine, now in college, will take over, Brown laughs. "I want her to follow her own path," she says. "It's not hard when you trust your instincts."