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Archive for Friday, May 23, 2014

Town Talk: Veggie burger company is little business with big growth

May 23, 2014

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The area near 23rd and Haskell is quickly becoming one of the more important food centers in Lawrence, and not just because of the cheap hot dogs in the area’s convenience stores.

Just west of the QuikTrip, in a converted machine shop, is the headquarters and production facility for Hilary’s Eat Well, the veggie burger company formed by the owner of the former downtown restaurant Local Burger. Keep an eye on that location because Hilary’s Eat Well is quickly transforming from a little veggie burger company into a full-fledged natural foods company with a national footprint.

There’s two pieces of news with Hilary’s Eat Well these days: The company earlier this month launched a new line of health-conscious salad dressings, and in the coming days, the company will be making its first appearance on the television shopping network QVC.

“I think the perception locally is that we’re just a cute little local company, but we really are becoming a national brand,” said Becky Harpstrite, creative director and brand manager for the company.

The salad dressing line is a good example. Right out of the gate, the company landed a nationwide deal to put the line of dressings in Whole Foods stores. In fact, until Aug. 1, Whole Foods has an exclusive deal to sell the dressings. After that point, Harpstrite said the dressings will be in a host of major grocery retailers.

With the salad dressings the company is capitalizing on its philosophy to produce only allergen-free products. That means no gluten, no soy, no dairy, no eggs, no corn, no nuts and no yeast. But the dressings also may have some ingredients that you wouldn’t expect, like dandelion root and eyebright, which fall into the medicinal herb category. Eyebright promotes eye health, and dandelion root may help reduce inflammation. (That’s good to know. When you see me rolling around in my yard, you’ll know my joints are sore.)

The dressings may seem familiar to some Lawrence residents because they are based off recipes founder Hilary Brown used at her Local Burger restaurant in downtown.

The company launched four dressing flavors earlier this month: Apple Fennel with Dandelion Root; Ranch Chia with Omega 3’s; Balsamic Thyme with EyeBright, and Creamy Remoulade with Dill Pickles. All four are made with a specially-processed grape seed oil that also is designed to cut down on allergic reactions.

As for the company’s appearance on QVC, look for that at 4 p.m. Tuesday. Brown, who is the company’s founder and CEO, will be on for about an hour demonstrating different ways to use the company’s veggie bites, which along with the veggie burgers are among the company’s more popular products.

Harpstrite said Brown has already been out to QVC to do some training for the live, national television performance. So far, Harpstrite said nerves haven’t seemed to be a problem for Brown.

“She is such a firecracker, that I think this type of pressure just pumps her up,” Harpstrite said.

Harpstrite said the company is optimistic that both the QVC appearance and the new line of salad dressings will spark further expansion. Harpstrite said Brown has several more product lines in the development stage. Thus far, the new products haven’t produced new jobs at the Lawrence headquarters. The company is using a contracted factory in Nebraska to produce the salad dressings, although the veggie burgers and veggie bites are made at the Haskell Avenue facility.

The company’s sales and marketing force also is based at the Haskell facility. In total, there are 25 employees at the location, and Harpstrite said additions to the sales force are likely in the near future.

“I think you’ll see us grow quite a bit in the next couple of years,” Harpstrite said.

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