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May 12, 2017 | last updated May 12, 2017 11:55 am

GrandyOats, in growth mode, receives EPA sustainable practices award

Courtesy / GrandyOats
Courtesy / GrandyOats
GrandyOats co-owner Aaron Anker holds EPA's Environmental Merit Award as he's joined, on left, by Frank Gardner of the federal EPA, and on right by Paul Schumacher, director of Southern Maine Regional Planning Commission.

VIEW: Grandy Oats recognized by EPA

GrandyOats' co-owners, from left, Aaron Anker and Nat Peirce stand next to the 288-panel solar array that powers their granola factory in Hiram.

HIRAM — GrandyOats, producer of organic cereals and snacks, is on a roll.

The company, which employs 29, is on track for a 20% sales growth for 2017, has launched new product lines nationwide and is in the midst of equipment upgrades that will produce more product more efficiently.

An added laurel is the Environmental Merit Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it received last week.

"2015 to 2016 was a flat year, about 6% growth" for sales close to $5.8 million, says owner Nat Peirce. "This year, we're significantly up from there. We're currently on path to 20% growth. We've introduced new products that are really popular."

Peirce runs the business with his partner, Aaron Anker, calling themselves Head Honcho and Chief Granola Officer, respectively. They were named to Mainebiz's 2015 Next List.

As described in Mainebiz at that time, Peirce bought the company, founded in 1979 in Farmington, in 1997. He was a one-man show for several years, making product for New England outlets. One of those outlets was Bread and Circus, which became the largest natural food retailer in the Northeast and in 1992 was acquired by Whole Foods Market. GrandyOats fortunes grew along with Whole Foods. In 1998, Peirce reconnected with a friend from college, Aaron Anker, who was working in sales and marketing with Fresh Samantha in Portland, an organic juice company later bought by Odwalla. They joined forces, with Peirce as Head Honcho and Anker as Chief Granola Office. They incorporate three mantras in their business: live life organically, love the path you travel and keep it real.

Trajectory of growth

The company found great success in its production of certified organic, gluten-free and paleo; non-GMO; small batch; high protein; oil-free; salt-free; kosher; low sugar; and socially responsible product. In 2001, the partners moved the business, with four employees by then, to a barn they converted in Brownfield. Since then, they've grown their sales outlets in the Whole Foods chain, as well as other chains such as Hannaford, catering both to bulk-bin and package sales. They've developed food service clients such as universities and restaurants.

In 2015, they became the first independent, organic brand to be served at more than 75 colleges and universities from University of Maine at Orono to The State University of New York Buffalo. And they continue to service small customers.

In 2013, growing 25% to 30% per year, Peirce and Anker realized they had outgrown their 6,500-square-foot barn. Searching nearby, in order to retain their workforce, they came upon the 10,600-square-foot Hiram Elementary School, which was constructed in 1979 and abandoned in 2008, with environmental threats posed by asbestos building materials and underground fuel tanks. Peirce and Anker cleaned up the property and turned it into a state-of-the-art organic bakery.

They built an additional 2,000-square-foot warehouse and installed a custom-designed solar system on the grounds, consisting of 288 photovoltaic modules, to generate more than 95,000 kilowatt hours and power 100% of the company's energy needs, including ovens, computers, forklifts, lights, heating and cooling.

It's those efforts that captured the EPA's attention

EPA's Environmental Merit Award

The EPA award was given for the company's transformation of the Hiram facility. The award, presented annually, recognizes outstanding environmental advocates in the New England region for making significant contributions toward preserving and protecting natural resources, and ensuring that New England remains a vibrant community with clean air, land, and water.

The Hiram facility became operational in April 2016. This coming weekend, a further sustainability upgrade will be underway when they switch out all the interior lighting to LED, says Peirce.

"We're also currently upgrading our product cooling system, which will allow us to produce more product more efficiently," he says. "That would coincide with the growth we're seeing now. We're also looking at some pieces of equipment that would improve efficiency."

New office in South Portland

The company will also soon open a sales and marketing office, in South Portland, that's larger than their current office in South Portland. The move is expected to take place June 15, the company's director of marketing, Mic LeBel, wrote by email.

"The core of the sales and marketing team has been in South Portland for a few years," LeBel said. "Co-owner Aaron Anker lives in Cape Elizabeth and likes being very near a team office. He still goes to the bakery in Hiram every week. The sales and marketing team has been growing the last few years in conjunction with the production growth, and needs a bigger space to add employees. Aaron has always liked Spring Point Marina, and being active in the local community, he heard about the new building and space and hopped on the opportunity."

LeBel said the new location will have good exposure, creating opportunities to gain new customers from people who frequent the marina.

"Nat and Aaron have always felt that being in Maine offers the best of both worlds with the ocean and the mountains, and the new location is in line with that and the team will be inspired being part of the waterfront," he said.

Expansion of product lines

And expansion of outlets and product lines continues, says Peirce.

In its news release announcing the EPA award, GrandyOats said it has advanced the evolution of granola with a new line of grain-free Coconola, which are alternative coconut-based, gluten-free granolas

"We've done a national launch with the new product line, through National Cooperative Grocers, that gets us into more regions in the U.S.," he says. "We've expanded into additional regions through Whole Foods. We've opened major distributor warehouses around the country, where we had a few pockets that we hadn't tapped into yet. Now we're covering the entire country."

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