Pure Gold Granola hit a sweet spot for consumers of high-end, artisanal snacks. Who knew there was a market for anything in that category? Well, owner and “chief alchemist” Laurie Cochran for one – mainly because “A lot of people were asking for it,” she said.
Today, the granola is shipped around the world, garnering rave reviews from as far as France and Africa. But for several years before she commercially launched her handmade granola, Cochran gifted it to friends and donated batches to fundraisers in her Boston-area community. Like any niche product, Pure Gold Granola required a great idea and a creative marketing approach to become anything more than a hobby. So what does the journey from the spark of an idea to a place on the shelf actually look like?
A Breakfast Beginning
Her journey to small business owner began with the need for a filling breakfast. “I started because I couldn’t find a breakfast food that would keep me full until lunch,” Cochran said. “I thought I could find it in granola, but I couldn’t. Most of them are mostly just one ingredient – 90 percent or more oats – and a lot of them had a lot of sugar.”
She started messing around in the kitchen.
Cochran experimented with different recipes for a year, then spent another year determining the exact amounts – and types – of sugar and salt to include. Should she use brown sugar or molasses? Himalayan sea salt or kosher salt? She knew right off that it needed a heavy concentration of seeds and nuts. “Over time, I learned that if I put certain ingredients in first, and then added the maple syrup, it would coat each piece and make it crunchier,” she said. “I use maple syrup because it is not as processed as sugar, so it’s a lot healthier. I had brown sugar in there at one time. It took me a really long time to get the right level of sweetness.”
Salt was a challenge, as well. “I wanted just a whisper of salt,” Cochran said. “I wanted to taste it, but this is not a salty snack. My husband, God bless him, was my chief taster.”
Determining a Market
After perfecting her recipe, Cochran started giving the granola to her friends, who kept asking for more. “People started jockeying for who was going to get to take home the leftovers after girls’ weekends and things like that,” she said.
The staff at a local farm stand was on her gift list. When the owners decided to expand in 2011 to a full-blown grocery store featuring locally grown and produced inventory, they asked Cochran if she’d be a supplier. “It was one of those now-or-never, either I do this or I’m never going to moments,” she said. “Besides, my granola-giving habit was getting a little expensive.”
Becoming a Business
Once the decision was made, Cochran discovered all the bits that go into starting a business. She faced the usual start-up expenses, including the website, insurance (you have to carry liability insurance), licensing fees, setting up an LLC, applying to get the brand licensed and registered, and getting nutrition labels and barcodes. Because her product was food, Cochran also had to send a sample of her granola to a lab to be analyzed in order to secure a nutrition label.
“I sort of entered this naively, thinking, ‘Oh, this will be fun.’ But once I got into it, I realized it is really a boatload of work to get started,” she said. “There are just a lot of pieces to it. I didn’t really know about all those pieces when I got into it. But I like to build things. Just starting this all from scratch and building it, I really enjoyed that.”
Cochran bought larger equipment and licensed her home kitchen, then got licensed for a shared commercial kitchen for when she had multiple batches to make at once.
She learned as she went. “You can go online and pay $300 for a barcode, or you can pay $8 for the same thing,” Cochran said. “There’s a learning curve.” Another example: In Massachusetts, even though the kitchen is licensed, the owner has to be licensed to use the shared kitchen, and has to be certified for food preparation.
One of the trickier pieces was determining the price. “I knew it was a premium granola, that it was going to be at the very high end,” Cochran said. “All of the ingredients are very expensive because most of them are organic, and I use things like real maple syrup. You price it not based on what your costs are, but on what people are willing to pay.” Cochran spent an entire day shopping Whole Foods and the like, looking at different granolas, their ingredients and how they were priced.
She went to her boss, who’d built his own co-op company from the ground up, and asked for advice. She had a price in mind, and when he came up with the same number, she knew it was the right one.
For now, at least, Cochran is content to sell Pure Gold Granola in two local boutique stores, and from her website. “I don’t have a goal of becoming a great big brand,” she said. “I create handmade, artisanal granola. You can’t mass produce it.”