Alcalde, New Mexico
Mac and cheese mixes and grits
"Our three favorite things are fly fishing, skiing, and Southwestern foods," McCormack says about he and his wife, Tania, who's also the co-founder and chief marketing officer for FishSki Provisions. "The original recipes were backpacking-camping-rafting recipes of ours that friends had been pushing us to sell."
Today, their company FishSki Provisions makes quick-to-prepare macaroni and cheeses with Hatch green chiles in one and Hatch red chiles in the other. But, by far, their spiciest product isn't a mac and cheese: it's their Jalapeno, Hatch Green Chile, Cheddar Grits. The addition of Hatch chiles, in all the items, speaks to their passion for those beloved New Mexican pods: "There's not a better chile-growing region in the world," says McCormack.
The McCormacks lived in Colorado for 10 years, and their company was based in Boulder until the start of 2022. A co-packing facility made FishSki's products in Thornton. But now the McCormacks have moved production closer to their home in New Mexico -- and a bit closer to those legendary Hatch chile fields. "We just shipped our first major orders out with New Mexico packaging" at the beginning of March, McCormack says. "The reception here has been incredibly warm and generous. People are excited to have us manufacturing in Northern New Mexico."
The products are assembled at their 2,000-square-foot commercial kitchen facility in Alcalde -- located "halfway between Taos and Santa Fe," McCormack notes. Thanks to a grant from the Regional Development Corporation, the company was able "to purchase the rest of the equipment we didn't own in Colorado." And McCormack adds, "The county of Rio Arriba was nice enough, excited enough, to help us find a facility [to lease]."
The assembly and packaging of the ingredients is done by hired hands who reside at nearby Hoy Recovery -- a residential treatment service. "They've been great workers," says McCormack. "Just super-hard-working folks. We pay them well for the area . . . between $14 and $20 an hour."
The ingredients come from all over: Montana winter wheat pasta; cheese from Indiana and Wisconsin; and, of course, those Hatch green chiles. McCormack says, "Our [chiles] are air-dried instead of freeze-dried, so there's definitely a better flavor, and also none of the unhappiness that comes with freeze-dried foods and your stomach."
In terms of sourcing the food components, he adds, "The smartest thing we ever did was not prepare any of the ingredients. So we're just assembling [the mixtures], essentially."
But McCormack doesn't want to just assemble food products for his own company. "We've got the equipment and we want to keep them running as much as possible," he says about now offering co-packing services. "We're looking to expand a bunch in that area." Although the company hasn't brought in additional clients just yet, it's able to handle "any dry-food co-packing. Anything from spices to dried meal mixes."
In terms of FishSki Provisions' products, McCormack says, "We're in over 500 stores now. The core sales area is Colorado. The Southwest. Texas. We've been selling really well in Texas." But FishSki can also be found, for example, in New Jersey, Arkansas, Ohio, California, and Oregon. In early summer, 170 Walmart stores will be carrying FishSki's mac and cheeses, as well.
Additionally, the company is making inroads with Spanish-speaking consumers, offering a page on its website in the language, in order to inform them about its flavors and unique ingredients. "We sell well in population centers where there's a good amount of Hispanic folks," says McCormack. "There's definitely a demand for our product there."
What does McCormack miss about Colorado? He appreciated how the state's Department of Agriculture was "really great at championing Colorado products." But, he notes that, "In Boulder, we often felt like we were just another food company -- and here we kind of get a feeling we're doing something exciting and different."
Although there are additional demands on McCormack's time, the onetime "professional fly fisherman" and wilderness guide still builds outdoor activities into his schedule. And the company donates to the wilderness preservation group Trout Unlimited. "I love fishing the Upper Rio Grande," says the co-founder of FishSki Provisions.
Challenges: "Being a small brand and clawing away trying to get shelf space," says McCormack. The company could stand "better placement" within stores, given how the large food conglomerates' products tend to "monopolize eyeballs and space" on the shelves.
And there are challenges in terms of national distribution: "Keeping the product on the shelf after it sells out, keeping stock in place."
Opportunities: "We're excited about offering co-packing," says McCormack. "We think there's a lot of other small and mid-sized, growing brands that have exceeded their capacity to pack for themselves without the equipment and/or don't fit in the larger plants out there."
Needs: "More and more sales," says McCormack.