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GrandyOats granola and solar panels

GrandyOats wins Small Business Persons of the Year Award

After 40 years in business, this Maine-based company shows small-business commitment in an industry that seems to think an exit is the goal.

GrandyOats was awarded the U.S. Small Business Administration 2019 Small Business Persons of the Year Award for Maine. The company, which manufactures certified organic granola, trail mix, roasted nuts and hot cereal, is the largest employer in Hiram, Maine, and has a long and impressive track record when it comes to doing right by the earth and its community. 

GrandyOats started as a female-owned business more than 40 years ago. When the owners decided to pass the torch, they picked current co-owner Nat Peirce, who worked with them to learn about bulk production of granola.

“For a few years, I refined the operation and made it more efficient production-wise,” said Peirce. “Then I realized the industry was about to blossom and I needed some help.”

Peirce reached out to his friend and college buddy, Aaron Anker, with whom he’d studied hospitality management at the University of New Hampshire. Both men grew up in the resort and restaurant industries and had gained real-world business experience since their years at UNH. With Anker’s strong sales background (he helped take juice company Fresh Samanta from $8 million to $35 in just two years before merging with Odwalla), and Peirce’s strengths in production and finance, they made a dynamic business duo. 

Together, they’ve made sustainability the cornerstone of their company and built a loyal team of 35 employees. 

The company uses only certified organic and non-GMO ingredients in all product lines, which have expanded to include packaged granola, trail mix, roasted nuts, and their popular line of grain-free Coconola. These coconut-based, gluten-free and paleo-friendly granolas feature a nutritious blend of nuts and superfood seeds. So far, they’ve won two sofi Awards from the Specialty Food Association: in 2018 for Coffee Crunch Coconola and in 2019 for Turmeric Ginger Cashews. 

They’ve also made it a mission to make their production facilities as eco-friendly as possible. In 2015, GrandyOats purchased an abandoned schoolhouse in Hiram and set out to remediate a host of environmental hazards, including removing all petrochemicals from the premises. With the help of the Small Business Administration (SBA), they also installed 288 solar panels on what were formerly the school athletic fields. 

“Power generated from the solar panels helps heat the oven for baking of granola, the machines that pack it and our heating and cooling systems,” Anker says. The project earned the company an EPA award in 2017. 

A longstanding partnership with the SBA

GrandyOats has worked with the SBA for several years. In fact, the organization was instrumental in helping make the schoolhouse-turned-solar-powered-factory a reality. 

“It helped underwrite the loan for our solar project,” said Anker. “There were programs for homeowners, but as a business it cost hundreds of thousands of dollars—the SBA helped us, which was a big deal.” 

The duo says one of the best decisions they’ve made as business owners was partnering with a local bank. Not only are both businesses invested in their local community, Bangor Savings Bank helped them navigate the intricacies of the Payroll Protection Program, and their banker nominated the company for its recent SBA award. The win was scheduled to be announced in March but postponed because of COVID-19. However, the timing turned out to be serendipitous.  

“By the middle of April, everyone was ready for some good news and by then, the SBA was much more well known,” said Peirce. 

A gathering of state winners was planned for May, but that was also postponed. Now, the SBA plans to have the winners meet in the nation’s capital this fall. There, Peirce and Anker will meet with the owners of 49 other small businesses and compete for the national award. 

What’s next for GrandyOats

Peirce and Anker have no plans to slow down—in fact, their recent accolades have only strengthened their commitment to community and sustainability. The company recently announced its Coconola line now features Fair Trade-Certified ingredients. 

“Fair trade is a way of supporting healthy working conditions and extra income for the people behind our ingredients,” Peirce says. “This additional income is invested in community projects like education and health care, so it’s an easy way to have a direct, positive impact on communities around the world.”

These business partners also never stray too far from their hospitality industry roots. 

“That’s the core of who we are as a business,” Anker says. “We are both foodies and customer service advocates. It’s about having a very high-level customer service and that goes for our suppliers as well. Our whole team is about taking care of people and the planet.” 

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