A graphic designer who was bored with her work, Ashley Phelps in 2009 created a line of plant-based finger paints for kids called Glob.
Glob was sold at independent toy and gift stores and, in some parts of the country, Whole Foods. The business chugged along, and Phelps continued tweaking the formulation.
Then in 2013 Phelps came up with an Easter egg coloring kit, and she said it sold better than any other Glob product. Grocery customers were asking whether she had anything that would work with cookies, Phelps said, and she realized the market of moms who are concerned about dye in their kids’ food could be much broader than those who wanted nontoxic art supplies.
“I realized that demand was there and the bigger grocery market was right in front of me,” Phelps said. “Why don’t I just pursue that?”
Phelps moved from San Francisco to Bend in 2014, and in 2015 she transformed Glob into a line of food coloring called Color Kitchen. The pivot paid off. Last year, which was Color Kitchen’s first full year in operation, the business had $300,000 in revenue, Phelps said.
She recently shipped an order to Meijer, a Midwest big-box chain that competes with Wal-Mart and Target. Color Kitchen is now sold in 900 stores across the country, Phelps said.
Made with turmeric for yellow, beets for red and spirulina for blue, Color Kitchen powders can be mixed with water and added to frosting or batter. Color Kitchen also makes the egg-dyeing kit that sparked its rapid growth.
Phelps, 47, talked recently to The Bulletin about her growing business. Responses have been edited for length and content.
Q: How did you manage to transition from art supply to food coloring?
A: The good news was I already had a manufacturer, already had a supplier for the colors. I had a shipping warehouse. I had a lot of the tough stuff figured out. I just had to simplify (the formula) and come up with new packaging. The transition was more about the branding and the aesthetic of it. But selling in the grocery channel was a whole new arena.
Q: Did you have any competitors in the all-natural dye world?
A: There was one main natural food color on the market. It was a liquid, so the beet red was brown by the time someone bought it off the shelf. I was using powders for paints. Why doesn’t anyone use powders for food?
Q: What inspired you to start Glob?
A: My landlord was a chemist. He was making this house paint out of cactus. He would come over and show it to me. I was an artist. I react to the paints I use and the chemicals in it, and that’s why I started trying to learn about it. I tried to make a wet paint … and it went bad. That’s when I knew, if it’s an art supply, it’s got to last like 10 years. Then I came out with the powder form.
Q: When did the business become your full-time job?
A: With Color Kitchen, I’m able to pay myself. I’m going through growing pains. It looks like I’m going to double or triple my sales. I’m looking for funding so I can hire staff members.
Q: What’s your long-term goal?
A: The hope is I can grow it and be bought within five years. The bigger food companies now are just buying smaller companies, rather than coming out with new products. It’s just kind of a major wave happening in the food industry.
Q: Do you have other business ideas?
A: Not at the moment, although if I were to sell this business, I would be looking for the next thing. I have compulsive product-development disorder. I really find it fun creating products.
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