Sometimes a vacation can change your life. After graduating from the University of Colorado in 2008, the McHughs spent less than two years working self-described "real jobs" before realizing they wanted more. "Lisa was working as a personal trainer and I was working as a mechanical engineer," John explains. "And I found that I really wasn't happy sitting in an office all day, so we decided to travel to Europe for a year."
They spent most of 2010 traveling and working on organic farms, connecting with the "grow it and eat it" mentality of the Europeans they encountered. "It really ignited our passion for food again," says John. "When we returned home, we decided we wanted to create a snack that embodied that fresh, simple produce but fit the American, on-the-go lifestyle."
"It was just natural for us to put spinach in with the berries because that's always how we've made our smoothies," adds Lisa, describing the couple's pureed and dehydrated product, Veggie-Go's. "We quickly realized that no other fruit snack companies were putting vegetables in at all. We knew we were onto something and wanted to move quickly to be the first to market with our unique product."
Naked Edge Snacks currently produces five varieties of organic fruit and vegetable leathers: TropiKale, Mountain Berry Spinach, Sweet Potato Pie, Cinnamon Spiced Beet, and Carrot Ginger. The trimmed edges are packaged as Ends and Bits. All are gluten-free, non-GMO, kosher, vegan, and free of added sugars. Each strip contains one half-serving of vegetables, one half-serving of fruit, and a mere 20 calories.
"When we first started, we were producing only 100 units a week," Lisa says. "We would shop the local farmers markets for all of our fresh produce. But as we've grown, it hasn't been feasible to continue doing that."
Though Veggie-Go's are still created with domestically grown produce, much of it now comes from the West Coast. The company produced about 1.6 million units in 2015, generating $1.2 million in revenue. They expect to double production this year in their 5,000-square-foot, allergen-free manufacturing facility. "We can actually grow production tenfold in the current location," touts John.
Their customer base is comprised largely of moms with children under the age of 15. "I like to call them the 'Chief Health Officers,'" says Lisa. "They are the ones in the household in charge of the family's health and wellbeing. They take their job very seriously and will pay a premium price to make sure they succeed."
However, Veggie-Go's aren't just for kids. "The carrot ginger is a more sophisticated flavor that appeals to adults as well," she adds. "We've broadened the fruit snack category so it's not just a kiddo snack anymore."
Customers can purchase Veggie-Go's directly from Naked Edge Snacks and Amazon online. "We're also available in about 2,200 retail locations across the U.S.," says Lisa. "We're in most of the natural foods retailers including Whole Foods, Sprouts, Alfalfa's Market, Lucky's Market, Vitamin Cottage, and Natural Grocer."
"It's no longer just Boulder-based, organic-minded people looking for high-quality, healthy products like ours," says John. "Now people are looking for health options in every grocery store in every state, and we're happy to provide them."
Challenges: Rapid expansion and cash flow have been major challenges. "We're growing so quickly and we always need to buy more ingredients than what we sold the previous month," John explains. "We were also in a number of different locations over the last few years and had a lot of growing pains as a result." The company built their production facility in 2015 after trying out a contract manufacturer the prior year. "It wasn't a good fit," he concludes.
Opportunities: Broadening the brand's retail footprint is a big goal. "We want to grow into more traditional, conventional supermarkets," says John. "That's really where our growth is going to come from over the next year to year and a half. We have an excellent sales team so it's really just a matter of putting boots on the ground and getting in front of the buyers to present our product."
Needs: "Our facility can house quite a bit of growth," says Lisa. "But to support that growth, we're going to need more equipment very soon."