Gluten-free Summit County food biz catching on across Colorado
May 14, 2013
It's been just over two years since Jo-Anne and Dwight Tyson started their small business, but already they are seeing it expand.
The husband-and-wife duo are the creators of Bee Nut Free, a wholesale bakery that produces trail mix and granola bars that are both gluten free and allergy free.
The Tysons started small, building a base of local connections while they got their business off the ground. They sell their products — six in total, including energy bars, granola bars, trail mix and a cookie — at various retail stores and farmers markets around Summit and Eagle counties. The Tysons are enthusiastic when it comes to describing the local support they've received.
"They've helped us create the local foundation and our brand recognition," Dwight Tyson said. "We've had terrific support from all of the coffee shops and bookstores and naturopath clinics."
"And local natural grocery stores," Jo-Anne Tyson added. "They have really been our partners in developing this brand identity and really getting our product out into the market. They've been super supportive."
With the support from other local businesses, Bee Nut Free is starting to reach beyond the mountains.
"We're excited to say that we have been accepted into the Vitamin Cottage family," Jo-Anne Tyson said. Bee Nut Free products can now be found in the Vitamin Cottage store in Dillon as well as in Boulder. If there is enough demand for the product, it eventually might be distributed through a larger network of stores.
The Tysons also recently entered into an agreement with Whole Foods. Their products will be seen on the shelves in Boulder and Basalt in the next few weeks.
The excitement for this growing success comes from the two years of hard work to get going in the first place. Even now, the company is still just Jo-Anne and Dwight Tyson. They handle the product from the raw ingredients all the way to packaging and boxing for shipping. Currently they work between three and four days a week for eight to 10 hours at a time at their bakery in Silverthorne.
In fact, equipment is another part of the expansion process. They've gone from hand-sealing packages to a machine that can do up to four at once. Their biggest piece of equipment is a butterfly sheeter, which folds the granola mixture into the correct thickness before it's placed on the tray and cut into bars.
"It has certainly made our life easier," Jo-Anne Tyson said of the machine. "But it's not the be-all, end-all. But it's the next step in our production and as a growing company you take baby steps and make sure the market is going to support what you're doing before you make a humongous investment. So we're starting to look at that next step, because with the number of retail accounts growing within the Summit and Eagle counties and as we're starting to transition down into the Denver/Boulder market, our demand is certainly going to continue to grow."
With success ahead on the horizon, Jo-Anne and Dwight Tyson don't mind looking back at what has brought them to this moment. The inspiration for the business came from their son, Spencer, who has severe allergies to tree nuts and peanuts. Not only did the Tysons have to religiously read food labels to ensure his safety, but they began cooking more at home.
"We live with food allergies, we understand them, we respect food allergies and understand how difficult it is to shop for them and to find something that's healthy, that's nutritious, that's all-natural ingredients, organic, that actually tastes good," Jo-Anne Tyson said. "A lot of gluten-free, in particular, items have a bad stereotype in that they're texture-less, tasteless, they taste like the cardboard boxes that they come in, so we wanted to get away from that and really offer something that not only has a nutritional component to it, but also tasted good."
Months went into testing and tasting various recipes to come up with just the right balance of nutrition and flavor.
The Tysons rely on many local sources for their ingredients — honey, oats, brown sugar, etc.
"Our first market was really the grab-and-go lunchbox kid," Dwight Tyson explained. He and his wife also hoped to address the emotional and psychological issues of kids having to eat only "special" food just for them.
While out marketing their product at running events, however, the Tysons soon realized that kids weren't the only ones who could benefit from their product. Athletes came up to their booth and were pleased by the list of ingredients.
"So we said, 'oh, we're going to need to re-do our business plan,'" Dwight Tyson said with a laugh. Since then, he said, people of all ages have voiced their appreciation for healthy, tasty, allergy-free products that they can eat without worry.
"The positive reaction from people was amazing," Dwight Tyson said. "That's the real driving force, is to provide this product that everyone can eat and it's not special to you, it's something that anyone can eat."
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