When COVID-19 forced families to stay home, many decided to roll out the dough and start baking. Shoppers hoarded baking essentials leaving many store shelves empty.
GROW Nebraska® and one of its long-time members recognized the opportunity and stepped up to satisfy that demand through online product sales. Heartland Gourmet’s online sales of flour and baking mixes reached all-time highs. The company filled more than 3,000 orders from GROW Nebraska® customers between March 15 and April 15.
GROW Nebraska® CEO Janell Anderson Ehrke said that before the COVID-19 pandemic, GROW averaged 15-17 orders per day for all members on e-commerce sites.
“During COVID-19, we are averaging 168 orders a day seven days a week,” Ehrke said.
Many of those orders were for Heartland Gourmet products, including 2,539 five-pound bags of flour, 108 beer bread mixes, 92 garlic cheddar bread mixes and 68 Mama’s scone mixes.
“The GROW team is working overtime on descriptions, keywords, Google AdWords and social media,” Anderson Ehrke said. “We are also doing three marketing emails per week featuring different products to get in front of customers. It’s working. Social media, Google Map photos, Yelp listings are helping drive traffic so that we can have success for our members. It’s our way of turning this lemon into lemonade.”
Susan Zink, manager/product development specialist for Heartland Gourmet, LLC, said her company didn’t spend much time marketing online sales before the pandemic. Instead, they focused most of their efforts on creating products for brick-and-mortar retail sales through their wholesale clients, including Russ’s Market and other grocery stores and retailers. During the pandemic, Heartland Gourmet switched gears.
“We were fortunate enough to be able to fill a need that consumers demanded,” Zink said. “I think that is the key — to keep trying things that people may want or need. Realistically, we know flour sales aren’t going to stay where they are at. However, kids are still home, people are getting used to baking at home, so we are creating items that help with that.”
Zink said when flour became scarce in stores, Heartland Gourmet packaged flour that they had on hand for their recipe mixes into 5-pound bags for consumers.
“We just shifted production lines around and everyone pulled together to get whatever was most important out the door at the time,” Zink said.
That flexibility and forward-thinking yielded amazing sales for the 20-year-old company.
About Heartland Gourmet
Heartland Gourmet specializes in gourmet baking mixes and dough, certified gluten-free baking mixes and doughs, and certified organic baking mixes and doughs. The company is based in a 54,000-square-foot production facility in Lincoln that employs 20 full-time staff.
“We pride ourselves in sourcing the finest ingredients and working with reliable suppliers,” Zink said.
The company started in 1996 as a fundraising company called Raising Dough Products. They transitioned to strictly manufacturing in 2000 and then merged a few businesses to become Heartland Gourmet in 2010. Soon after that, Heartland Gourmet bought three companies to add to their product offering: Gluten Free Mama, Cobblestone Kitchens and Coopers Best.
“We were excited to have the opportunity to purchase Coopers out of Humboldt/Cozad and keep the legacy of the brand in Nebraska,” Zink said. “The Coopers pancakes are certainly one of our top items.”
Popular products in their Gluten-Free Mama line include the almond and coconut flour blends. Cobblestone Kitchen products are sold throughout the United States at T.J.Maxx, and their cocoas with whimsical labels are a favorite. In the Heartland Gourmet line, beer bread is one of the most popular mixes.
Heartland Gourmet releases new products each fall. They created a Unicorn Pancake Mix with “magical” sprinkles and a lemon blueberry donut mix in 2019.
Zink said she originally joined GROW Nebraska® when she was doing bookkeeping/consulting out of her home and has continued to be a part of the organization over the years.
“GROW Nebraska® has always been there when I needed an opinion or advice, to help with social media, website, etc. It doesn’t matter how big you get, there are always things you don’t know,” she said.
Zink said she has participated in many GROW Nebraska® trainings and sales opportunities throughout the years. The trainings involving social media tips and Google have been most helpful to her.
The company’s recent successes include securing the business and trust of some large private label accounts and some entrepreneurs who have great products in the market place.
“To have someone trust you with their business, their livelihood (their baby) is, to me, the ultimate success,” Zink said.
In the coming years, Zink said her company goals including expanding their reach and becoming more efficient.
She has operated Heartland Gourmet with her husband, Mark, since 1996.
“It’s not always easy working, raising a family, and living together,” she said. “No matter what the partnership, what kind of business, being a business owner isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a sacrifice, but it is also rewarding. You can’t be everything to everyone in your business. Find a part of it you are passionate about, and find good people to help you with the rest.”