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July 28, 2014
On the record

Local granola maker GrandyOats stands up to the big boys

Photo / Courtesy GrandyOats
Photo / Courtesy GrandyOats
Aaron Anker and Nat Peirce, co-owners of GrandyOats, an organic foods company that has made its mark with granola, with a shipment of their products.

First they turned a historic dairy barn in Brownfield into a granola factory. Now, Aaron Anker and Nat Peirce, co-owners of GrandyOats, are rehabbing the former Hiram Elementary School, which will triple their production space and include a line for their first gluten-free products.

The move, expected next year, couldn't come at a better time. The company, now at capacity in its 6,000-square-foot barn, expects to grow 25% and break $4 million in sales by the end of this year, says Anker. It sells to Whole Foods, Hannaford, co-ops and online, is profitable and employs 18 workers. And if it gets an expected $150,000 Community Development Block Grant from Hiram, it can add five employees as well.

GrandyOats, named as a takeoff on the word "grandiose" by its former owners, is tapping the trends for healthy, organic and non-genetically modified organism foods. It's also evoking the homey hippie cooking of the 1960s, when granola became a rage, but as Chief Granola Officer Anker says, "never a fad." Adds Peirce, who says he does "this, that and the other thing," GrandyOats' business always comes down to its major product. "It's classic granola. A bowl of oats, nuts and seeds. You can eat it dry or however you want. Granola is the cornerstone of the natural food industry."

The desire to avoid GMOs is stronger than ever, according to a recent study by the Organic Trade Association, which separately noted that organic product sales in the United States rose more than 11% in 2013 to $35.1 billion. Cold cereals remain the top breakfast choice for Americans, with sales topping $9 billion in 2012, according to Nielsen, and food giant General Mills alone saw its granola sales jump more than 40%. Hot cereal also is growing quickly, with sales up 7% over the past two years.

Peirce and Anker, University of New Hampshire classmates who have self-funded and owned GrandyOats for the past 14 years, now sell 40 different products, including six trail mixes, seven roasted nuts and 11 granolas. They recently talked about their future plans with Mainebiz from their office in the old barn, where Jersey cows were bred in the early 1900s and where for a while, Peirce lived upstairs with his family, which explains the ceiling chandelier. An edited transcript follows.

Mainebiz: It seems lots of companies make granola. What distinguishes GrandyOats?

Aaron Anker: We're 100% organic and we've grown organically without capital. We've got a great banking partner with Bangor Savings, but aside from that we haven't taken on investors. That's allowed us to grow faster or slower when we wanted, when we both had newborns and wanted to be with our families. As far as our product, we're 100% organic, we make it in small batches and mix everything by hand. So we've been able to keep that cottage industry [feel], yet grow to a decent-sized company. We compete with people 100 times bigger than we are in their sales and marketing scope like Kellogg's and General Mills.

MB: Isn't granola fattening?

Nat Peirce: The fats in our products come from nuts and seeds, not from butter.

AA: We don't use any sugar. We only sweeten with honey, maple syrup, agave or orange juice.

MB: What's the difference between natural, organic and non-GMO?

AA: Natural means nothing. Organic means none of the ingredients have pesticides, chemicals or fertilizers. If you're organic you are non-GMO. That's our biggest education issue now, that being organic we're GMO-free.

MB: How do you turn a grade school into a granola factory?

AA: It's a 35-year-old brick school with a pretty open floor plan. It's potentially a clean slate, and there's room for expandability. It's only 15 minutes from here, so we'll retain all our employees. This year, we expect to put a substantial amount of our profits into the new facility. We are looking at solar and alternative energy, as we'll need more climate control.

MB: What's next?

AA: We are revamping our brand. We're going to redo our packaging and relaunch it at the Common Ground Fair [in September]. Our new brand look will have a much more authentic, retro feel to it.

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