Local company expands granola operation at the Cotton Mill

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The Brattleboro Reformer | May 25, 2017

BRATTLEBORO — Operations are smoother and employees are more spread out after Back Roads Food Co. took more space in the Cotton Mill for its granola production.

“It’s kind of an ongoing process,” said Coral Vogel, marketing director. “We’re trying to grow.”

Her parents, Peter and Virginia, own the company. Coral moved back from Boston four years ago to help and her older sister is a sales representative for the company.

Having more room allows Back Roads to purchase larger quantities of the ingredients needed to get products into the hands of its 400 wholesale accounts in about 45 states. Last spring, Back Roads welcomed a new customer with 35 store locations. That prompted the expansion last fall.

Since then, processes have been streamlined. Take the dry-mix room for instance. Seeds and ingredients are stored in a way that makes it much easier on bakers, Coral said.

“It’s a different world for our bakers,” she said of the employees who may make 400 pounds of granola a shift.

Last week, the company yielded 10,000 pounds in one week, marking its biggest weekly output ever. Most of the product is immediately shipped. There’s nine flavors overall and 90-plus ingredients.

Back Roads granola is all organic and Non-GMO Project verified. The company employs about 20 people, with two employees in sales and merchandising in New York and Boston.

Employees who bag the granola now have more room. There’s also multiple stations for bakers, which makes the process more efficient as they no longer need to wait for space near certain equipment to clear.

A new cooler is being used solely for cooling granola and a pan washer frees up some time for other work. And a control to address humidity and temperature is being installed this week.

Part of the expansion project included a new furnished office with a conference room, employee break room, dining area and infant nursery for employees who are parents. The company says the changes have led to an enhanced work environment and increased output.

Peter and Virginia founded Back Roads about seven years ago. The business was first run out of a farm in Halifax but moved to the Cotton Mill in Brattleboro about three years ago.

Back Roads started out buying primarily from the Chesterfield, N.H.-based United Natural Foods Inc. and the Brattleboro Food Co-op.

“Now, we buy our ingredients from all over the world,” said Peter.

With a higher volume of products being pumped out in the same time it used to take to make less, he hopes to see the company able to come up with 1,600 pounds of granola in a shift. He admits the space is not ideal for production but said it’s tolerable for the rent rates offered to small businesses by the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp.

“It’s not a huge facility,” he said. “We started with maybe 2,300 square feet. Now, we’re close to doubling that. The BDCC has been really good. They really help businesses get going.”

He expects the company will eventually need to find yet another home as it continues to grow.

Back Roads has been “very, very cautious about growth,” Peter said. “It’s just calculated.”

While Back Roads was expanding its space, the company rolled out four new granola flavors including apricot chai, pineapple ginger and maple pecan.

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