GORP Makes Big Moves into U.S. Market

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Colleen Dyck in her office at The Great GORP Project Evan Braun

The Great GORP Project in Niverville, one of the southeast region’s fastest growing businesses, has been making big moves in the past several months to expand their market. With their products cropping up on shelves all across Canada, including in some major retailers, GORP has its eye trained on the sprawling health food market south of the border.

In September, GORP received a prestigious NEXTY Award at the New Hope Network 2017 Expo East in Baltimore, the second largest health food trade show in the nation, winning Best New Pantry Item for the GORP Protein Bar Ready Mix. According to GORP owner Colleen Dyck, competition for these awards is fierce.

“There were 420 submissions of products,” says Dyck. “So we made it to the top 60, with three in each category, and we ended up winning our category. It was a really nice compliment and a bit of an affirmation that we’re going in the right direction.”

The Ready Mix is GORP’s newest product, having been rolled out to retailers only in the last couple of weeks.

“It kind of twigged for me when I had so many moms come to me, going, ‘Love your stuff, but I hide it from my kids because it’s too expensive to share,’” says Dyck. “I thought, ‘Well, that’s sad, because then I know what they’re eating and it’s probably less nutrient-dense than what a GORP bar would be.’ I know it’s a really high-end bar and it is expensive—for all the right reasons—and people know that and appreciate that. But the facts are the facts, right?”

Dyck says that the Ready Mix concept came about as a means of lowering the cost of the bars without sacrificing their essential quality.

“I thought, if I assemble all the ingredients, all they have to do is add the honey and peanut butter themselves, or their own choice of sweetener,” says Dyck, adding that the products are both more affordable and customizable. “It also allows them to control the sugar, and customize the recipe for their own nutritional needs. Like, if they want more protein, they can dump more protein in there. If they love roasted peanuts, they can fill it with that. If they want to add less honey and more nut butter to cut down on the sugar, they can do that. Or if you’re vegan, you can add maple syrup instead of honey. All you need is 15 minutes and a rolling pin and you’ve got 25 GORP bars for under a buck a bar. Huge savings.”

Another advantage Dyck foresees is that people can control their own portions. Although the package instructions result in 25 portions, someone could easily choose to instead divide the mix into 50 smaller portions.

After GORP’s success in Baltimore, the company’s next step is to get into an even larger upcoming trade show in Anaheim. This event, which takes place in February, is hard to get into and expensive to attend, but Dyck sees it as an opportunity to maintain her company’s momentum.

Dyck says that GORP bars can already be found in a lot of independent health food stores through the United States, but the key to breaking into the wider market is to hook one large retailer. For GORP, that big break could come in the form of Google.

“We just did a quote for the Google campus, which was really fun,” she says. “If that comes through, that will be big. They provide free food to all of their employees, and they have all these cafes on campus where they want to use the Ready Mix to make food. So that would be amazing for us.”

Initially she had been focussed on selling the Ready Mix to end-users, but recent interest has caused Dyck to see a larger and potentially even more lucrative market: commercial kitchens.

“I’m kind of thinking, maybe I need to actually point in that direction and think of healthcare facilities, universities, hospitals, and personal care homes, places that make food for people,” says Dyck. “I think I may have stumbled on a new market that I actually need to really pay attention to, where I’m not paying for the marketing to the end consumer, I’m not paying advertising… and it will probably have a decent margin. For food, the margin is very slim. You’re always fighting.”

Despite the recent push into the U.S., Dyck still sees a lot of expansion in the Canadian market. Dyck is currently in negotiations with Costco. The Ready Mix will also soon be available at Bulk Barns across the country, and the bars will be stocked in Loblaws stores.

“That’s big news and it’s just happened in the last couple of weeks. It will be interesting. It’s hard to know if it’s going to sell there. You’ve just got to try and see what happens.”

Increasing Capacity
With all these new markets opening up, the pressure is on for GORP to increase capacity at their local production facility. Until now, Dyck has run the entire operation out of the commercial kitchen in the basement of her home on the family farm. To put it mildly, space is at a premium.

Dyck is currently in the process of upgrading an adjacent farm building on their property to serve as the new home for GORP production.
“We’re making it food-safe, for inspections,” she says. “We’re cladding the walls and we’re redoing the concrete. Because it was a farm shop, we have to resurface it and make sure it’s not porous. But it’s got a good roof, it’s got good bones, it’s got a really good structure.”

Most importantly, it’s roomy. “We will probably quadruple our capacity. And then we can take advantage of some economies of scale with ingredient ordering. We can start to maybe reduce the price of the bar if we can order in bigger palate quantities for some of our more expensive ingredients and have the capacity to store them. Lowering the price would be great for the consumer.”

After the HVAC and electrical is installed, and the new equipment brought in, the upgraded facility should be open for business before Christmas.

Corporate Responsibility
Companies that don’t grow and innovate eventually die. And yet Dyck points out that there’s a tricky balancing act to undertaking growth while maintaining the same values her business started with.

“I’m very conscious that I have to manage this properly and not compromise through growth,” Dyck says. “That’s what I’m trying really hard to do right now. But at the same time, we have to grow. Ninety percent of food companies fail in the first five years. For us, it’s been five years. So we’ve made it past that mark, but then 80 percent more fail in the next two.”

There are numerous causes of failure in the food industry, a notoriously tough business. “There are a lot of multinationals. It’s really price-sensitive. It’s complicated, because there’s shelf life involved. There are a lot of places to lose money. And shelf space is expensive. So it’s a really sensitive, competitive business. I didn’t realize that until I got into it, thank goodness!”

As though these factors weren’t tough enough, Canada is an especially daunting place to start a company like GORP. Canada’s food regulations are extremely rigorous, possibly the most rigorous in the world.

“Canada is really tough on food, but that’s good,” Dyck says. “It’s good for us, and it’s good for the customers, and it’s good for our reputation. But it’s hard, because you have so much protocol and traceability and tracking for everything. It’s hard to learn it all. That’s okay, because we’re putting out some of the safest food on the planet.”

Indeed, Dyck sees this as being a core principle of both her business and personal philosophy. While it may be tempting to see the business merely as making and selling a product, when you’re dealing with food, it’s critical to remember the big picture.

“You’re responsible for people’s well-being and providing a safe product… People are appreciating this and see that we’re trying to get good health to them. And that’s our mission.”

Private Member’s Statement
On November 2, Morris MLA Shannon Martin stood up in the Manitoba Legislature and made a private member’s statement praising Dyck and her accomplishments.

“GORP energy bars are now provided to the Winnipeg Goldeyes, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Winnipeg Jets,” Martin said. “In 2015, GORP was awarded the Company of the Year award by the Manitoba Food Processors Association. In 2016, Colleen was named the Mompreneur of the Year… GORP energy bars have even been handed to many of Hollywood’s brightest stars as Colleen was invited to present their product in the Celebrity Luxury Gifting Suite at the Academy Awards. These accolades are well deserved… Colleen’s passion is to fuel your adventures and do some global good at the same time. Her business is about more than food, about more than making a dime. It is about people.”

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