SISTERS — Launched just three years ago, Laird Superfood, Inc. is shipping an average 800 orders a day to consumers who want to emulate the strict — and somewhat out-there — eating habits of big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton.
The company’s main product is a coconut-based coffee creamer, mixed up in shiny new stainless steel equipment. The same building that houses the manufacturing line is also stacked high with boxes of raw ingredients and filled with people packing and shipping orders. A second warehouse on Lundgren Mill Drive is nearly complete, and a third is being planned, co-founder and CEO Paul Hodge said. The company has also acquired more land to accommodate future growth.
“It’s ramping up a lot faster than we ever expected,” Hodge said. “We can foresee having as many as 300 to 500 employees within five years here at this location.”
Hodge, 45, is a serial entrepreneur who splits his time between Sisters and Hawaii. He was introduced to Hamilton through another venture, GolfBoard, and they struck up a friendship, he said. Hodge talked with The Bulletin about Laird Superfood’s founding and growth. His responses have been edited for length and content.
Q: What was the genesis of Laird Superfood?
A: Laird would make me coffee in the morning before going surfing. All the sudden I noticed that I was getting this long five-hour energy burn, where before I’d go out and I’d be done, I’d be hammered in an hour and a half. I said, “OK, Laird, what are you doing to my coffee?” He educated me about healthy fats, using healthy fats for fuel. It was, “OK, Laird, I think we need to get this out to the world.” Because there’s a huge hole in the marketplace for a healthy coffee creamer as a start. I took his formula and created the first product.
Q: What’s Laird’s role in the company?
A: This is one of the first times he’s owned and operated a company. (Hamilton is an investor and member of the board of directors.) His wife, Gabrielle Reece, is also deeply involved. On a daily basis Gabby and Laird are involved with the company, on the marketing side, product formulations.
Q: This is your first time running a food company. What have you learned?
A: I didn’t realize how deeply regulated it is. We’ve hired full-time quality assurance managers. We’re trying to be way ahead of the curve. The only risk I see to this company would be compliance or quality issues. And also for the brand. If there’s some sort of quality issue with the product, it could be bashing Laird himself. I made a commitment to him, I’m not going to let that happen.
Q: How much of your early success is due to Laird’s following?
A: I think it’s helped quite a bit. It’s helped with our initial online fan base. But his fan base world is pretty limited. And we’re educating now a lot of people about Laird, his lifestyle, fitness, nutrition. Especially in places like the Midwest and East Coast, where he’s not as well known as the West Coast.
There is an opportunity to create a whole food brand around his eating habits, which are really pure and amazing and performance-driven. In essence like a new-age Newman’s Own, based on this celebrity character.
Q: Where are your products sold?
A: It’s a pretty significant online business. We also have wholesale resellers. There’s some chains, and there’s a lot of independents still. Mostly grocery stores, natural food stores. The sales aren’t the problem. We’re limited by our production, and operating capacity. A lot of these raw materials come from places like the Philippines and Indonesia. For some of the coconut products, it’s a three-month lead time to get product. We can only grow as much as we pre-buy.
Our sales this year will be about 400 percent more than last year. We had Costco approach us, Whole Foods. We just aren’t ready to take them on.
Q: What if coconut products lose favor with consumers?
A: We already have multiple categories of products. Over the next three years we’ll be in basically every single aisle in the grocery store. We’re in the process now of both developing new products and acquiring other small companies that fit our strict product criteria. We don’t allow for preservatives or basically anything you can’t pronounce on the label.
The whole premise of our company is to bring products that would be basically too expensive for your middle market … and make them affordable. One bag of Hydrate (a new product), which will cost $12.95, will produce 19 8-ounce bottles equivalent of coconut water. It tastes as fresh as coconut water out of the shelf because of the freeze-dry process, and it has the vitamins and minerals from the aquamin (sea algae). It works out to 60 to 70 cents per serving, whereas a bottle of coconut water in the store on its own could cost $4 or more.
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