Interview with Heather Kelly of Heather's Choice
Here's our interview with Heather Kelly of Heather's Choice! This was our last interview to finish up from our January Girdwood/Southside box but soon there will be new interviews up from our upcoming April box that will feature Eagle River and the Valley. Without further ado, let's get into it!
Tell me a bit about yourself, Heather's Choice, and how it got started?
Heather's Choice is a line of dehydrated meals and snacks for adventuring based in Anchorage, Alaska. After many many trips in the Alaskan wilderness, it became clear there needed to be a lightweight, packable food option that's loaded with the nutrition your body needs on extended backcountry trips. In 2014, we launched our site heatherschoice.com and have continued to grow year after year.
I'm sure you've developed lots of different processes so far for different aspects of your business. How have they evolved over time? Dehydration for example?
When I started the business, I was using a small five-tray dehydrator (or two or three or four or five) and cooking everything in crock pots. Today, we have two large commercial dehydrators that can produce upwards of 300 meals per day, and we cook our meals in a 40-gallon steam kettle. Scaling up recipes is pretty intimidating! For years, we were hand scooping and hand labeling bags for our world famous Packaroons®. Today, we have preprinted packaging (hallelujah!) and a machine that deposits the cookies so they are perfect every time. We can now make 8,000 Packaroons a day!
Following on the previous question, what about your processes for nutritional balance in everything that you create? Thankfully, our nutritional philosophy has stayed the same over the past five years. We believe that people thrive on healthy, whole foods that are free of excess preservatives. We are dedicated to being a fully gluten-free menu, and offering a wide range of vegetarian, pescatarian, and high protein meal options. All of the products are currently gluten, soy, and dairy-free, and contain no added sodium or preservatives.
I was reading on your website that you got the name Heather's Choice from your mom. Tell me about that and how you decided on that choice?
When I was a little, my mom wanted to start a line of baby food called Heather's Choice. I distinctly remember going to the farmer's market with my mom every weekend and buying 50 lb bags of Alaskan grown peas that she would then take home, blanch, and freeze for the winter. My mom was so busy raising me and helping my dad run his microbrewery that the project went on hold. Years later, it was really clear that our business should be named Heather's Choice!
I also read on your website that Heather's Choice wasn't your first business. You had a business back in 2011 called OPENutrition. Tell me about that and what ways it's helped you with Heather's Choice? When I graduated from college, I was eager to share the nutrition knowledge I had learned with other athletes. I was obsessed with evolutionary nutrition (folks might know it as Paleo or Primal) and I was also geeked on eating psychology. For almost six years, I had the pleasure of coaching athletes in person and remotely on how to not only eat for performance but also how to develop a healthy and satisfying relationship with food. Our relationship with food is one of the longest standing relationships we will have in our lifetime, so we should make sure it's healthy! All of the nutrition science I learned through college (and continue to learn) directly impacts the product development for Heather's Choice. You'll notice that our products are loaded with healthy fats, healthy protein sources, and complex carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, and safe starches. This is all very intentional, as I believe that people need a healthy balance of all three macronutrients, especially as athletes.
I've talked a bit with Zach and picked up our product for the boxes from Brad. When did you decide that you needed a team and how did you go about building it? Or did it happen more organically? (Which would be fitting of course!) Building a team has been one of the hardest (and most satisfying) parts of building a business. Prior to starting Heather's Choice, I was a "solopreneur" and could march to the beat of my own drum. Now, there are too many moving parts in the business for me to do it all on my own, and I'm not the best person for most jobs! As an example, Zach is FANTASTIC at sales and absolutely loves it. He thrives in that position, while I loathe feeling pressure to make sales. Brad has amazing attention to detail and excels as our COO. I, on the other hand, don't love managing the day to day, and I do a better job at long term planning and finance. We currently have eight people on our team, and it's great! We're all grateful to have a job and like the people we work with. I read that you started a Kickstarter campaign at some point for Heather's Choice. Tell me a bit about that? We launched a Kickstarter campaign in November of 2015. It was an aggressive goal, we needed to raise $48,000 in five weeks to fund our custom sized packaging (you'll notice our bags are super duper small). In the end, we successfully raised $52,000. It was a lot of work, but the people in our community rallied to help us hit our goal.
Do you have a favorite product of yours or is it too hard to decide? The Blueberry Almond Packaroons are SO GOOD! They are quickly becoming a best-seller for us, and that is the flavor I always reach for. I never go on a backpacking trip without Smoked Sockeye Salmon Chowder, but the African Peanut Stew is becoming my new favorite for long days at the office when I forgot to pack a lunch. ;)
Are there any future products on the horizon that you can tease? (No worries if you'd rather hold off!) LOTS! I'd like to introduce new Packaroon flavors, at least four new dinner options and a just add cold water breakfast option. After that, hopefully, we can add trail mix, jerky and hot drinks to our menu.
What was it about The Bear Box that made you want to be a part of it? I have to give Zach all of the credit for finding you guys! He is just the best! Anything else that you'd like to mention? Words of wisdom? Any path in life can be hard, scary, or uncertain, so you might as well chase something you're super duper excited about!
I just want to give a big thank you to Heather from myself and everyone else at The Bear Box. I'm already eyeballing the next Packaroons that I want to try. :) There's a ton more that she has to offer besides Packaroons, so make sure to give her website a look. Also reach out and connect on the Heather's Choice Facebook and Instagram so that you can stay up to date!