By Eric Peterson | Nov 08, 2021
Cornmeal and polenta
Named for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe's cattle ranch of the same name, Bow & Arrow Brand is part of Ute Mountain Ute Farm and Ranch Enterprise.
"We started talking about it in 2015 as a value-added product," says Martinez. "Years ago, we did sweet corn, but we couldn't get it to the market fast enough, to the HEBs and Whole Foods, to keep it fancy. We were looking at five to seven semi loads a day. The thought came about with non-GMO corn to have a little longer shelf life."
With a two-year shelf life, the corn is non-GMO and kosher, and milled in a SQF-certified facility. The finished cornmeal is sold in 24-ounce bags and 25- and 50-pound super sacks. "We're also doing some pneumatic truckloads with different customers," says Martinez.
Near the Four Corners, the operation included 500 planted acres of non-GMO white, blue, and yellow corn in 2021, down from 2,000 due to drought conditions.
"Farm and Ranch sells the corn to Bow & Arrow, and in return Bow & Arrow is paying for that corn, which is revenue for the farm," explains Martinez.
The brand launched at retail in 2017 was hindered by slotting fees and other costs of doing business with mass-market stores. "In 2017, we started towards the retail end with larger corporations: Kroger, Walmart, and Safeway," says Martinez. "There was no volume investment on their end so we went back more into wholesale industry."
An uptick in online sales followed. "I pulled back and we established a good customer base as an ingredient," says Martinez, noting that Bow & Arrow supplies a wide range of food manufacturers as well as distilleries. "We're an ingredient, and we're good with that."
Customers include Hayden Flour Mills in Arizona, Western Foods in California, Raquelita's Tortillas in Denver, and La Milpa Tortilla Factory in Grand Junction.
Distilleries that use Bow & Arrow's products include Snitching Lady Distillery in Fairplay, Colorado; Deerhammer Distilling in Buena Vista, Colorado; and High West Distillery in Park City and Wanship, Utah. "We started with these guys years ago and they're steady," says Martinez. "Is the story important? I believe so. But I don't think they would continue to come back if they weren't satisfied with the actual product."
Ute Mountain Ute Farm and Ranch Enterprise has a 500,000-bushel storage facility that feeds into Bow & Arrow's facility and milling operation.
Martinez helped with construction on the farm in the early 1990s, then stayed on as operations manager and now serves as general manager. "It's been a big turnaround in the last couple of years," he says. "We're steadily getting new customers -- different restaurants, different gift shops, different uses."
"We're at a point with Bow & Arrow, if we had more corn, we would be able to sell it," he adds. "The quantity's not there due to the drought, but we're hopeful the quality stays where it's at and we're able to maintain it until this drought passes."
The indigenous backstory and whole grain has driven growth across the country. "We're in Minnesota, New York, California, up north, throughout the state of Colorado, some in New Mexico, Utah, and a little bit in Texas."
Challenges: The drought is a big challenge as it's limited the supply with the decreased acreage under cultivation. "At the farm, we grew 500 acres of corn specifically for the mill, to keep that operable," says Martinez. "Dealing with this drought has been the worst I've seen in 30 years here," says Martinez. "The Bow & arrow brand has been able to survive, stay afloat, and stay positive."
The remote location is another big challenge for Bow & Arrow. "Being where we're at, there's no rail system," says Martinez. "Everything needs to be trucked out by us or FOB by other distributors, and the trucking industry has been hit."
Opportunities: Martinez sees Bow & Arrow growing by providing ingredients to food and beverage manufacturers. The brand currently supplies makers of tortillas, pancake mixes, pastas, and spirits.
"We can do 16 different granulations, depending on what you need, if it's a number-three grind for a distillery, or a de-germed for a snack mix, or a whole grain for a pasta," he says. "They're able to zero in on a lot of different granulations of what the meal can and can't do at this time."
Direct-to-consumer sales have increased since Bow & Arrow retreated from brick-and-mortar retail. "We have seen a big increase in online sales," says Martinez. "People are interested in purchasing the cornmeal, we started a polenta, and we will also push a corn flour mix here in the near future."
Job creation is another opportunity. Martinez says that 10 of the company's 13 employees are tribal members. "That means a lot, because it's their home, it's their place," he says. "They've taken a hold of that part of it."
Needs: Water. "Whenever the weather pattern changes -- or however you look at it -- just being able to have corn run through the mill in order to provide the jobs and provide what is needed for a customer base that's interested in coming back -- and new ones."