This past month, we were lucky enough to meet AC of High J Orchards and Applesauce located above Lake Chelan in Washington State. AC produces some of the best applesauce around and we sat down with her to learn more about her applesauce business.Meylah: What inspired you to start making and selling High J Applesauce!AC: I was a spoiled with homemade applesauce growing up as my father is an apple and cherry grower. When I ran out of my frozen "stash" and opted to buy applesauce in the stores, well the options were very disappointing to say the least. All the brands tasted pretty much the same, bland and not worth the cheap price they sell it for. My dad also complained why 'they' can't make applesauce that tastes like our homemade version.So, I decided to do just that. I began doing stove top recipe testing and taking the results to friends and family for their input. Soon enough, I found a local manufacturer to run a few test batches for me and I took those samples around to some of the local independent retailers and showed them my applesauce (2 different types) and had them taste it. Surprisingly enough, I made a sale! I couldn't believe it and I was very fortunate that our local retailers were very accepting of local vendors and locally grown produce.I quickly began searching for a manufacturer with the equipment and facilities as well as one that would be able to pack my recipes in shelf-stable glass jars. I didn't want plastic as I kept reading alarming news about toxins and chemicals leaching from the plastics into our foods - thus into us! Plus glass is the most "green" packaging of all the options. Finding a manufacturer was difficult, but I was able to partner with one of the best in Oregon.In 2005, our orchards were devastated by hail and the young apples were damaged and essentially ruined - they were perfectly fine to eat but the physical marks excluded them from the fresh (eating apple) market. When life gives you lemons or in this case apples, make applesauce. And that was my first run of shelf-stable, jarred applesauce. Because I don't add sugars or sweeteners to the applesauce I prayed and hoped the apples were sweet enough! Fruit flavor and sweetness varies from season to season, from region to region and luckily the customers were pleased.Meylah: How many retail locations sell your product & how did you go about getting into those stores?AC: Currently, we sell our products in about 200 retail grocery stores covering most of Western Washington and NW Oregon. Selling into grocery stores is a whole new world with new buyers, requirements, paperwork, etc! The key is to just go for it and don't give up. I started offering product demos and free tastings for the retailers that carried my product which was a great hit.At one of the demos I was doing, I met another local vendor, an Alaskan fisherman who packs and sells his smoked salmon to assorted niche and small retailers, and he does his own distribution. He liked my applesauce so much that he now distributes my applesauce to his 30+ retailers which include many specialty food stores, natural food stores and even retailers in the San Juan Islands. You just never know when you're going to meet a person like this so my advice is to always keep your eyes and ears open.Meylah: What’s the toughest part of your job?AC: Marketing, PR and accounting are the toughest parts of my job. In order to grow my business I need more customers or I need to sell more product to the same customers. I'm working on both, but I am a one person show and it's tough to manage my time between trying to develop new products, take care of current business, balance the books, update my website, etc.Meylah: What advice do you have for folks interested in selling food products? AC: Keep your day job and do your homework. Don't make your food products in your own kitchen, make them in a licensed facility and make the best product you can make. Remember taste is first and foremost. Know the competition and their products...and most important, be unique, be exceptional, be appreciative and be kind.Meylah: Last, but not least, what’s your favorite variety of apples?AC: That's easy - the Honeycrisp apple. That apple is not only super crisp and juicy but it has the perfect balance of acid and sugars. It is the apple that all other new varieties are compared to and the apple that all other apples aspire to. A fresh picked Jonagold as well as a Macintosh are my other favorites. These are all good apples to bake with too, providing exceptional flavor plus they become sweeter and soft before the crust gets overdone.AC: So, now let me ask you and your readers, what is your favorite apple, apple dessert or a recipe using apples? Send me your apple recipes to me at AC@highjorchards.com and I will post on my site! Thanks Meylah!Thank you AC! We really appreciate you sharing your story and insights with us today...and, our favorite is the Honeycrisp Chunky Applesauce from High J - SO GOOD!
[Read the rest of this article...]