TELLURIDE VENTURE ACCELERATOR: HIGH DESERT FARMS, NUTRITION + SUSTAINABILITY
Here’s one sweet business proposition that contains very little sugar.
Although the outlook for this new company was just sweetened by a recent victory.
Bill Manning and his High Desert Farms became one of four winners of the Telluride Foundation‘s newest initiatives, Telluride Venture Accelerator, founded by TVA CEO Jesse Johnson in conjunction with the Telluride Foundation’s Paul Major.
As a result of the compelling story he told in his application, Bill received investment capital from the Foundation and is now living in Telluride for six months (through July), where he has access to two successful entrepreneurs-in-residence, a long list of resources made available through the TVA, and Telluride’s robust angel investment community.
High Desert Farm produces 6350 Natural Food Snacks, a new entry in the jam-packed dried fruit category. According to www.foodfacts.com, the competition includes 238 similar products.
Similar, that is, in name only.
Major industry leaders include Disney, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Kraft Foods North America, Gerber Products Co., and Welch’s, most of whom describe their products as “organic” and “natural.” Only trouble is, the claims on their packaging aimed largely at parents for their kids is mostly the stuff of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. The most extreme example is Kellogg’s Strawberry Fruit Streamer which lists 89 ingredients.
The Washington D.C.-based CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) contends that fruit products are mostly sugars, artificial additives, and potentially harmful artificial dyes. Moreover, the snacks are suspected to contain trans-fats.
Standing like David against these Goliaths is Bill Manning and High Desert Farms.
Eating an entire three-ounce bag of 6350 Natural Food Snacks ( so named because that is the mean elevation of the Colorado Plateau, where the fruits that go into the product come from) is similar to consuming half a pound of fruit. The company uses the whole fruit as often as possible, including skins (which add color). As a result, the products are a great source of antioxidants and other cancer-fighting ingredients. They are also natural sources of vitamins A and C and essential minerals, including calcium and iron. And High Desert snacks are soft and chewy, in contrast to the shoe leather that is now on the shelves. High Desert Snacks also contain the lowest level of added sugar of any vaguely similar taste treat in the category.
Nutrition alone would be enough reason to go run to your nearest food purveyor and demand a package of 6350 Natural Food Snacks. But that is just the start of Bill Manning’s inspirational story. High Desert Farms is also a model of sustainability.
The whole idea for the business dates back to 1999, when Bill began farming a 42-acre, 9,000 organic fruit tree farm, Kiva Orchard in the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument northwest of Cortez near the Utah border. Because Bill’s peaches, apples, plums, pears apricots and cherries (and seasonal veggies) tasted so good ( in contrast to typical grocery store form, devoid of flavor), he was able to sell out all the #1 grade fruit he raised – and at a premium price. The challenge was his sizable volume of #2 fruit, which simply means any peach with a blemish. Blemishes of any kind prevent the sale of fruit to fresh markets. In Bill’s case that amounted to 25 percent of his total harvest. There was – until now – no secondary market for #2 fruit, which typically got dumped back into orchards as fertilizers.
The sorry situation set Bill, a founder of Earth Day, on a path to find a better use for this otherwise great tasting fruit. High Desert Farms (and 6350 Natural Food Snacks) was born, turning #2 fruit into a winner. And part of the companies’ mission (besides ROI) is to provide growers in the Colorado Plateau, specifically Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah, with an additional revenue stream. Bill’s production facility is also in the Southwest, which means he is putting people to work.
What to know more about High Desert Farms. Click the “play” button and listen to Bill Manning tell more of his great story.