One Alaskan Entrepreneur’s dream to pioneer a sustainable and nutritious dehydrated meals business sparks a 10-year journey of learning curves, from humble beginnings to an episode of Shark Tank—And now to the next stage in making “Heather’s Choice” a household name. 

Although at first blush a business specializing in sustainable, highly nutritious dehydrated meals may sound like a “camping food brand”, but in the case of a tenacious business named “Heather’s Choice”, that’s not quite true. In fact, the company is determined to bring its products to store shelves and consumers across the US. 

According to the Heather’s Choice founder (big shock—her name is “Heather”), that’s because the small and mighty company has a duty to help answer a much larger societal question about health and nutrition. 

Heather Kelly explains that at its most basic, “that question is the wonderment and the curiosity of ‘How do I actually feed and nourish myself?’” To this end, Heather’s Choice offers a product line of gluten-free, sustainable, and nutritious dehydrated meals. They’re currently lab-tested to a shelf life of five years. An added benefit is that the meals are surprisingly tasty, making them an excellent choice not only for emergency preparedness and humanitarian aid efforts but also for everyday use. 

For Heather’s Choice, the journey has been a tumultuous one. But in true underdog fashion, the continued markers of success, such as the company’s recent appearance on Shark Tank, yet again prove the age-old saying that “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”  

 

The Founding of Heather’s Choice

Heather’s Choice had a rocky start, but not in the way you might expect. It all began in 2011 when Kelly first began dehydrating food in preparation for her first big Colorado rafting trip. What began as a curiosity quickly transformed into a favorite hobby—to the point that she’d make new recipes just to send them along with friends on their outdoor adventures. 

By 2014, her passion for feeding people, combined with continued encouragement from friends, finally convinced her to take the plunge into entrepreneurship. Thus, Heather’s Choice was born not in a boardroom or business meeting, but out of a “wager” among friends that Kelly’s newfound talent could take her on a new kind of adventure.

Looking back, Kelly is quick to admit that “I just had no concept of what I needed to actually launch a food business.”

The realities of owning a business began almost immediately after launch when Heather’s Choice was featured by a local newspaper. That’s when the orders came rolling in, and so did a call from the health department to inform Heather’s Choice that it was operating a food business without a permit. Little hiccups like these have “kind of become the tone” of Heather’s Choice ever since. 

 

Business Expansion over the first 10 years 

As the business grew, operations expanded from crafting meals for a small group to mass production for a growing customer base. 

The transition presented numerous challenges, like sourcing quality ingredients under the constraints of Alaska’s three-month growing season. But the company endured and began forging new partnerships with retailers like Whole Foods and Amazon. And in turn, those partnerships added new logistical complexities and challenges. 

“We had just recently gotten into REI,” Kelly recalls, noting “even that first couple of orders shipping pallets was such a big deal [because] none of us had ever shipped a pallet.” Then, as a global pandemic upended supply chains and boosted public interest in the outdoors, soaring demand led to more experiences and challenges.

As the company successfully overcame its problems, the team felt a clear sense of pride in what had been accomplished. An added focus was placed on raising capital, and this ultimately led Heather’s Choice to season 15 of the hit TV show, Shark Tank

 

A Shark-Tank Approved Product

The Shark Tank appearance meant a new level of visibility for the company. And the mounting pressure to plan for the long term, in addition to reflections on the years of exhaustion from running the company, Kelly wondered whether the “grueling” work of making dehydrated meals would ultimately appeal to the judges.

Kelly recounts: “Going into Shark Tank, I was mentally prepared to say, ‘I’m going to make a huge pivot, I’m going to kill the meal business altogether.’” 

This would mean focusing purely on selling Packaroons (a dehydrated snack and so-called “gateway product” to Heather’s Choice). But that is not how the conversation went. 

Against the odds of “[serving] people like Mark Cuban a meal in a bag” all five Sharks genuinely loved the food and refused to talk about anything else. 

Despite this, Heather’s Choice did not walk away with a deal. Instead, the Sharks advised that investors would need to see a clearer path towards expansion before signing on. 

 

 

An Unbridled Vision Meets Endless Possibilities 

At this moment, steps towards that clearer path are already underway. In a strategic decision to better align with its growth trajectory and core values, Heather’s Choice is planning its relocation to Ashland, Oregon. 

The new location will serve as a springboard for expanding the company’s operations, enhancing its production capabilities, and tapping into a rich network of suppliers and partners. One such possibility is partnering with nearby imperfect foods producers which will not only further its ability to scale production but also contribute to a more sustainable food ecosystem.

Greater access to quality ingredients could take the company as far as offering meal service subscriptions. In contrast to shipping frozen meals, which are heavy and require refrigerated transport, dehydrated foods reduce shipping weights by roughly 75% and carry a much longer shelf life and a much smaller footprint. These are just a few of the ideas in the works, and it will be interesting to see how the company adapts as it grows and expands into new markets. 

While this will require the company to add some more specific industry expertise in the not-too-distant future, Kelly is energized about the move and has full faith in the company’s “awesome group of scrappy, young, willing and capable people” to advance the ball.

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