When we sit around a dinner table — or a campfire — with family and friends, food and drink made by local businesses enhance our lives. Tasty beer and wine. The fixings for flavorful meals — as well as the healthy snacks we reach for in between them.
The Colorado brands within the Craft Food & Beverage category at the 2023 Colorado Manufacturing Awards are forging pathways, developing desirable goods, and promoting sustainability. They stress good relationships with their workers.
Some represent Colorado from coast to coast: Denver’s Polidori Sausage can be found in grocery stores across the country.
Others have responded to unique challenges at home. Perhaps, the most extreme case of overcoming adversity would go to Aspen Peak Cellars, which lost one location to fire and then had its next building destroyed by a runaway truck. Yet, the married couple who operate the Bailey winery, Marcel and Julie Flukiger, still approach their business joyfully.
Speaking of family meals, many of the businesses in this category are — or began as — family businesses. For example, Matt Davis started Packaging Express with his father, before buying the Colorado Springs business outright himself.
As Sanitas Brewing Company CEO Michael Memsic notes, many people are choosing to live, work, and raise families in Colorado out of an appreciation for the state’s amenities — not because they’re forced by circumstances to reside here. “I think that you end up with a culture of people who are happier,” says Memsic..
Aspen Peak Cellars (Bailey)
Here’s the secret ingredient behind Marcel and Julie Flukiger’s success at marrying Colorado, Washington, and California grapes into their award-winning blends: This husband-and-wife team utilizes the palates they developed as chefs (they met working at the Brown Palace) to create balanced wines that pair spectacularly with food, says Marcel.
Not only does their winery serve award-winning vino, it offers a gustatory experience, as well. In the late winter, there’s snowshoeing followed by an authentic Swiss-style fondue. (Marcel originally hails from Switzerland.) Naturally, they had a wine recommendation for the 1,300 visitors who partook at this weekend seasonal event: their crisp, dry Pinot Gris–selected for the 2022 Governor’s Cup Collection–complements the creaminess of the cheese. It also pairs well with the seafood dishes they prepare for diners, sometimes at three course Colorado Wine Club meals.
Instead of snowshoeing, summertime visitors can sit with bare feet alongside the adjacent river, enjoying red selections which won platinum at the Great American International Wine Competition. The Flukigers employ a special crusher machine to create super-fine “sand” for their riverside “beach” from the winery’s retired bottles, while also sustainably cleaning and reusing 25 percent of the ones in their tasting room.
A beloved boon to the town of Bailey, Marcel invites visitors to take a “trip to the hills — and leave with a pleasant memory.” And also with bottles of their wines — primarily sold direct-to-consumer.
Packaging Express (Colorado Springs)
Matt Davis’ company serves as an asset for food and beverage companies in Colorado, making the cardboard boxes, often with branded printing on the outside, which meet their specific shipping and delivery needs — whether that’s sending-off containers of yogurt to stores inside boxes with protective dividers or getting a boxed pie from a pizzeria to a customer on their couch. Packaging Express makes attractive holders in which a selection of whiskey bottles fit into their own slots, as well as those folding cartons for six packs of bottled beer. The company also produces catering boxes.
“Anybody and everybody who puts something in a box is a potential customer,” says Davis. That goes for the makers of fishing rods, skis, snowboards, and bicycles, as well.
Davis describes his 94,000 square-foot facility in Colorado Springs as a “boutique plant.” And it recently made a major investment in a Swedish machine that can create 500 boxes per minute, with three-color printing on them. “It’s the fastest one in the state,” says Davis.
The process of making “millions” of boxes per year results in tons of cardboard scraps. Last year, the company sent over 600,000 pounds to a recycling plant. As Davis notes, “A typical box is 58 percent recycled.”
CompanyWeek profile (Jan. 2017): https://companyweek.sustainment.tech/article/packaging-express
Claremont Foods (Longmont)
Caremont Foods, which once co-manufactured a variety of healthy snacks, now exclusively makes energy, protein, and nutrition bars for around 20 different clients. The narrower focus has translated into massive growth. “In the last 2.5 years, we’ve almost tripled our production volumes,” says CEO Alex Cioth. In addition to adding a few new customers, the company’s existing clients have experienced booming business, as well.
To meet the increased volume of orders, the company now utilizes a couple of different IT programs which help, for instance, manage inventory and track production (one being Redzone). “Because when you grow that much, you can’t do things the same way as you did them before,” notes Cioth.
The company also went from 50,000 square feet divided between two buildings in Longmont to four — although Cioth says it will be down to three by the end of the year, totaling 130,000 square feet. The production facility is filled with mixing equipment, extruders, and enrobing equipment — the latter making Claremont Foods still one of the few contract manufacturers able to coat a bar with pure chocolate. At least a hundred different flavors of bars are produced, spread between its clients’ orders, necessitating hundreds of different ingredients.
It’s a family business: In addition to Cioth as CEO, his wife is the controller and one of his brothers is chief operating officer. And employees have increased from 85 to 185, with the company providing health insurance and 401 (k) plans. “We’re always striving to be a high-quality workplace where people who are outstanding can thrive,” says Cioth.
CompanyWeek profile (Apr. 2016): https://companyweek.sustainment.tech/article/claremont-foods
Sanitas Brewing Company (Boulder / Englewood)
CEO Michael Memsic has seen the frontier for his brewing company — and it’s in Englewood, Colorado. That’s where Boulder-based Sanitas is in the process of completing its second taproom location, expected to open up by June 2023. Although the Front Range of Colorado is jam-packed with breweries, Memsic describes Englewood as a “beer desert” in an area where many young families are moving due to affordable housing.
The expansion reflects a change in the craft beer business, which has experienced phenomenal growth over the past two decades. When Memsic co-founded Sanitas in 2013, the plan was “to become a regional player, and to fill semis full of cans and ship them all over the country.” But nowadays, worthy craft beer crowds store shelves, both locally and nationally.
But Memsic observes about taprooms, “They’re drivers of community. The margins are great. And they help us become a more profitable business and they give us a path for growth.” Although there will be a small R&D brewery on the premises, much of the beer will be coming from its Boulder location. There will also be a coffee shop and a food vendor on site, allowing people to socialize on Sanitas’ outdoor patio — something it’s already well-known for at its Boulder location.
While store shelves may be getting crowded, Sanitas still has retail and tap accounts at about 450 outlets along the Front Range served by its majority-owned Brewer’s Star Distributors.
CompanyWeek profile (July 2016): https://companyweek.sustainment.tech/article/sanitas-brewing-company
Farm to Summit (Durango)
“It’s been really fun to combine all of our passions together to solve multiple problems,” says Jane Barden about Farm to Summit, the instant food company she co-founded with her partner in marriage, Louise Barton.
First off, flavor-wise, there was the problem of less-than-satisfactory backpacking meals made by some other brands — which was something Barton noted during her extensive field trips as a Forest Service employee.
For Barden, who grew up on a Michigan farm, there remains the issue of perfectly-nutritious produce going to waste since food stores won’t accept vegetables which display “blemishes.” Nationally, the annual total of unused produce totals billions of pounds. And there’s also the issue of truly sustainable packaging that’s safe for the environment.
Today, Farm to Summit dehydrates vegetable ingredients and prepares its meals at its Durango facility. It works with regional farms to obtain the produce — such as the bell pepper, green beans, kale, chard, spinach, carrots, onion that go into its Thai Red Curry. And it packages its ready-to-eat meals — just add hot water for the recommended amount of time — in “omnidegradable” packaging, which decomposes without the need for composting first.
The brand has been winning over customers locally, as well as in additional states, since its first products became commercially available about a couple years ago. Several outdoor gear stores across the US carry the brand. And Barden says about Durango, “The community here is not only a perfect demographic for what we’re producing and marketing, but the town itself has just been incredibly supportive.”
Polidori Sausage (Denver)
As a longstanding family business, Polidori Sausage is a couple of years shy of celebrating its centennial. And the company has boomed ever since Vice President Melodie Polidori Harris’ Sicilian great-grandmother made her first Italian sausages at the family’s Denver grocery and market.
Today, Polidori Sausage prepares about 70 different products, with sales taking place in 24 states — from New York to California.
While the brand’s Italian sausages and best-selling chorizo can be readily found at King Soopers, Safeway and “boutique grocery stores” in Colorado, about 75 percent of the business consists of food service accounts nationally. That includes “stadiums and arenas, hotels, restaurants, university campuses, ski areas,” says Polidori Harris. The company has partnerships with Ball Arena, the CU Buffaloes, and the Colorado Rockies, as well as having its own branded concession stand at Coors Field.
Since 2016, the company has worked out of a modern 15,000-square-foot facility. But now, Polidori Harris says, “We’re out of space so we need to move again” sometime in the next three to five years.
The company emphasizes quality assurance and food safety, as well as worker appreciation: Polidori Sausage has profit-shared with its employees about five years now.
Polidori Harris says her great grandmother remains a spiritual guide on the company through all its changes. “She’s beaming down. And she is so incredibly humbled, like we are. And she’s very proud,” says Polidori Harris.
CompanyWeek profile (Jan. 2017): https://companyweek.sustainment.tech/article/polidori-sausage
Join us on the afternoon of Thursday May 11 for the CMA Gala & Winners Reveal to celebrate one of America’s most compelling manufacturing outposts.
Photos by Jonathan Castner except where otherwise noted.