LunaGrown is a small-scale jam, jelly, and Marmalade manufacturer located in New York State. Offering consumers, a traditionally made, small-batch product, thus avoiding commercial additives and excess sugars. LunaGrown is Kosher Certified. The company’s motto “It Begins With A Memory” reflects its approach to product creation and consumer interaction. “It is our intent to help embolden life’s moments with a thoughtfully made product. To become part of our consumer’s daily activities, the good ones, and the challenging ones. Hopefully to be part of their family traditions for generations to come. We thought, let’s start mornings off that way, and then keep going.”
“Food is an effective trigger of deeper memories of feelings and emotions, internal states of the mind and body.” – The Harvard University Press
How it all began; LunaGrown Jam at the start
LunaGrown began with a group of friends, a land purchase, and a dog. While the company’s founder was hiking with friends (now business partners) and their dog Luna, the pup went off exploring only to discover multiple acres of wild blueberries growing on the land. The question arose, “What can we do with those?” There were a number of considerations, from ‘pick-your-own berries’, to niche wine manufacturing. The concept of small-batch local preserves won out and the company was named after the pup Luna.
Initial offerings from LunaGrown in 2011 were blueberry and strawberry jams, created in a home kitchen. These products were offered on a very small scale with the intent of garnering feedback. Could this concept blossom into a sustainable company? By 2014 LunaGrown broke ground on a commercial kitchen, which is required to sell nationwide. Prospects looked bright, soon LunaGrown was producing larger quantities of product on a full-time basis, shipping from New York to California. Direct to consumer and business to business.
What had begun as a ‘cottage’ business soon developed into something a little larger. LunaGrown built a stable online presence and customer following, shipping nationwide in the US. Focusing on specific markets with clientele that would appreciate the attention to detail was a key facet of marketing. Expanding the product usage to include commercial applications such as specialty sandwiches, pastries, ice cream toppings, and cocktails put LunaGrown on the shelves in gourmet shops and on the menu in some eateries.
The founder of LunaGrown, Christopher Wilson, as a young man had started with a career in visual arts and then made a move to the food industry in the restaurant and bar business. These skills proved to be invaluable as LunaGrown progressed. Understanding the workings of both large and small businesses made the growth of the company more manageable.
With his background, labels and packaging could be done in-house and artwork licensed without the expense of an outside designer. Recipes could be developed with an understanding of the food science that made them shelf-stable. Standard processes for those recipes could be created by appropriate entities and filed with state and federal agencies. Understanding product marketing within a startup budget was crucial and of course, numbers had to be crunched to keep the product affordable on such a small scale.
The farming aspect of LunaGrown Jam
As the farm was young with the only established fruits being, Blueberries and Elderberries it became vital to search out other local farmers who shared the same views of sustainable agriculture and build strong business and personal relations. “During our infant years, we relied heavily on many of our local fruit growers. Some we still have strong business relationships with. There are some items we just don’t have the ability to grow.
“While our initial intent was to grow only berries and this is how we began. Our focus has adjusted to manageable crops and customer favorites. We continue to grow an array of red and black currant varieties as well as elderberries. We have added cherries, pears, peaches, and plums as well as other vine and tree fruits. We continue to locally source our strawberries and apples.
The varieties we offer change with the seasons, and at times are affected by the weather. If there is a poor harvest there will be less of a particular product. We don’t offer strawberry jam in the winter because you can’t get fresh strawberries then. It gives people something to look forward to when the product is made fresh.”
Thoughts on marketing LunaGrown Jam
One of the larger challenges for small-scale food processing is of course marketing your product. To meet the financial numbers of major chain stores is almost impossible, so we search out niche markets. Wineries, cheese shops, local eateries. While social media can be helpful, the reality is, very few people are going to purchase a food product they have never heard of. Word of mouth and a good camera goes a long way, as do good manners in public appearances.
A positive connection with your customer base is so very important and often overlooked in the food industry, whether serving, selling, creating, or growing the food product. There is a great deal of trust involved and it should be held in high regard.
LunaGrown took the concept of marketing back to the 1950s with a cookbook titled ‘Beyond the Bread’ dedicated to the incorporation of their product in numerous dishes. This project took three years to complete and was initially designed to be a five-page giveaway. As projects go, it grew to include dishes utilizing jam from cocktails of the 1920s, gravies and stir-fry, cheese pairings, and more. With enticing images by photographer Kasha Bialas. This publication is a clear representation of how the company approaches a place in the home and the traditions that bring us close.
Founder Christopher Wilson notes: “The product might taste wonderful and meet the customer’s nutrition requirements, the labeling might be pleasing to the eye. What brings a certain level of devotion, we believe, to our product are the unexpected touches, the follow-through. Finding a way to let the customer know they matter, to the business but also to the world. LunaGrown’s approach searches for ways to let the consumer know they are more, that they are important, and they are valued. Not just to us, but to every life they touch, human and non-human.”
In understanding that a business is more than just the creation or selling of products, that if done correctly, it has the ability to change someone’s outlook. We can approach consumer interaction in a better way. LunaGrown, ‘it begins with a memory’ is their goal to create a moment that stays with people into the future.
Challenges and the future
The onset of the Covid-19 crisis put Luna as well as other companies in a challenging position. Glass shortages caused LunaGrown to redesign their entire line quickly. The quintessential ‘find a way to make this work’ or go out of business was real. Many local competitors did go out of business, unfortunately. Industry requirements changed quickly. In order to stay compliant with licensing and federal guidelines for food safety, updating processing procedures and company policy was a daily task. No to mention the uncertainty of ingredient availability, such as sugar, pectin, and citric acid. With a flexible attitude, LunaGrown adjusted and continues to thrive in the small-scale market.
The current market growth for jams and jellies in the US is on average 3.60% with an expected increase in small-batch, natural and organic producers through 2027 to reach close to 10 billion. One of the challenges facing the larger manufacturers is the availability of specific fruits given the current political climate. Fruit of course is a commodity and as mentioned is reliant on the weather and other variables. Considering we are a global economy and many of our fruits come from out of the US for example Raspberries and Blackberries are imported from Mexico as well as Russia, in addition to the weather, political activities can affect the availability of these fruits. Understanding this gives us insight into the availability of our favorite jams.
Small growers and producers will have the upper hand in their ability to provide consumer favorites when larger manufacturers fall short of specific fruits. We are grateful to have the ability to work around this challenge.
Gone, but not forgotten are the days when jams and jellies were part of the government staple of food items provided in the 1920s war rations, later transitioning onto the shelves of grocers across the states and abroad. Today’s consumers are better educated, they know what they are looking for and they know what is of value to their lifestyle. Most food choices are made consciously and have reasons behind those decisions, whether that be nutritional value, price, taste, or in fact the memory that food will bring them. LunaGrown understands there are many facets that go into choosing products and services and strive to exceed customer expectations.
The best Jam advice
From founder Christopher Wilson: “The best advice LunaGrown was ever given ‘Give it time to become what it’s meant to be.’ In retrospect, I’m not sure if that meant the fruit trees or the business, but either way, it’s held true. There is no real overnight success. It takes time, planning, losses, and successes, in the end, you have an amazing story with some great people you met along the way.
Have a business plan, you can change it as you go, and you likely will, but have it just the same. Set your goals and strive to meet them, if you fall short, celebrate anyway and make adjustments. There is no blueprint that matches every business. This is art! Paint your version of a masterpiece.
The biggest cause for failure in any business is fear. We start by facing that and getting it out of the way. What’s the worst that can happen?
The second cause for failure is mismanaging money, if you’re not good at it, start with a great bookkeeper and good accountant, they will be invaluable to your success.
Finally, ‘turn over in employees is the fault of the management’ well usually. Your employees represent you and your vision, on the job and off, if they have a bad day due to a work incident, it will inadvertently be discussed when not at work. Startup companies need all the positives they can get. Employees need to know they are valued, they matter. A bad manager can destroy a team with minimal effort. Make good choices to succeed, and thank everyone from the mop salesman to the banker, they make you too.”