A couple of weeks ago, Nutty Steph Rieke went to the hospital. But the crunchy entrepreneur wasn't sick; au contraire. She was on a mission: to get Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington to offer her granola as an alternative to "corporate sugar cereals."
At first it didn't seem like she'd make much progress. "The buyer seemed uninterested," she explains, "I spent about five minutes talking to him, and gave him a bag of granola and a smile." The pitch worked, however, because the next day he contacted her "eager to get started buying right away," she recalls. "Apparently, they have some granola stocked, but they plan to start buying in a week or two."
Can the Montpelier business handle the hospital's demand? "We're producing about 5000 pounds a month," Rieke says. "We have the capacity to do 30,000 pounds a month . . . without hiring anybody and without compromising the lifestyle of my bakers or me." In addition to FAHC, she hopes to sell to local schools and prisons.
National distribution is not a huge priority. Rieke is interested in shipping to individual customers via the Internet — one way to bring out-of-state food dollars into Vermont — but she says she wants to keep her wholesale markets close to home. "I'm more interested in pushing the envelope within the state," Rieke declares, "within 100 miles." Once Nutty Steph's is producing at capacity, her focus will shift to improving the product and sourcing sustainable packaging.