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What investors can bring to the table beyond capital

Carole Buyers and Duane Primozich of BIGR Ventures explain how choosing the right investment partner can benefit you in more ways than simply financing your company, and why knowing less can actually work to your advantage.

Q&A: Urban Organics leads in aquaponics

Urban Organics Urban Organic hydroponics

What if you could grow organic produce year-round, in a sustainable way, right where the people are? That was the idea behind Urban Organics, an aquaponics-based grower that turned an abandoned St. Paul brewery into year-round organic farms.

Earlier this year, the company expanded with a new 87,000 square foot facility. It’s home to 14 fish tanks and 50 five-tier racks of greens. When it reaches full capacity, it will provide 275,000 pounds of fresh fish and 475,000 pounds of produce per year to local consumers. Here’s why President Dave Haider thinks he’s cracked the code to sustainable farming, and what still needs to be done for aquaponics to reach its full potential.

How has your reach evolved since you started?

Dave Haider: In the beginning we worked with a local retailer who picked up from us directly. It was mainly bunched kale and swiss chard. Now, we grow salad greens of many varieties, and we have nine different salad blends that are all in 5-ounce clamshells. We are currently in co-ops in five different states, and work with a local healthcare provider to get some of our produce to them in bulk for their cafeteria and patient meals. We also supply a handful of local restaurants.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced, and how did you get around them?

DH: The same challenges we had in the beginning are the ones we still see today. For the most part, we’re still pioneering in this industry so there isn't a playbook we can turn to. So there's a lot of trial and error, and it's a good thing we have a good team of engineers that have helped us along the way.

Specifically, our challenge is still optimizing this controlled environment. Again, there is not a playbook so if you look at the things we worry most about it’s power outages and pest management. If you're farming outside, you have beneficial insects available, but that isn’t the case with us. We have to create this whole ecosystem indoors.

Do you think that aquaponics is a potential wide-spread solution to demands for natural food? Does anything stand in its way?

DH: I think it's more of a consumer education issue than anything. Consumers need to educate themselves on where food comes from. Our thought going into this was, let's grow produce and raise fish where food is consumed most, and that's in densely populated areas. Let's stop growing in desert areas and then shipping it across the country.

[email protected]: Single-serve snack sales growing | Skratch Labs redesigns

Thinkstock/Roman Samokhin single-serve snacks

Individual snacking categories on the rise in the U.S.

The average U.S. household spends about $133 a year on individually packaged snacks, according to new data from Nielsen. Snack and nutrition bars have shown the strongest dollar growth, followed by jerky and cookies/crackers. Sales of snacks with non-GMO claims experienced an 18.2 percent uptick, followed by snacks with free from artificial colors/flavors and no/reduced sugar claims. Read more at Nielsen…


Fitness brand reformulates packaging from scratch

Functional food and drink mix company Skratch Labs has a new look with digitally printed packaging and new names for its entire product portfolio, including the division into two lines: one for sports performance and one for anytime. It took 10 months to develop the new packaging, according to marketing VP Jeff Donaldson, who says the brand wanted to convey the concept of nature and science working together. Read more at Packaging Digest…


Ginnybakes of Miami, seller of organic sweets, goes out of business

The Florida-based family business that made organic, gluten-free cookies, bars, crumbles and baking mixes is liquidating its assets, the Miami Herald reports.  Ginnybakes launched in 2010 with its organic baking mixes and began expanding nationally around 2012. In 2015, it landed at No. 211 on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies. But a court filing cited by the Herald showed the company was in debt for $3.68 million. Read more at Miami Herald…


Kroger rings up profit gains in fight against Walmart, Amazon

Lower prices and improvement in the online ordering process boosted Kroger’s sales for its third quarter ended Nov. 4. The retailer added delivery at 300 locations in the quarter, which led digital revenue to more than double, and plans to outfit 1,000 stores to fill online orders by year’s end. Read more at Wall Street Journal…


Branding survey shows advocacy matters

Seven in 10 consumers think brands should advocate on environmental issues, according to a new survey by advertising agency Meyocks. Three-fourths of respondents also said they expect brands to provide value-added information from brands, like recipe ideas, storage directions or different ways to use the product. Read more at The Packer…