LONGMONT — Loree Mulay and her husband Ward Weisman started selling sausages at the Fourth of July festival in Crested Butte 28 years ago as a way to make some quick cash.
After taking an entire day and a few cases of beer, the young couple was able to convert her Nana’s recipe into 400 sausage links to be sold at the barbecue.
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They sold out in four hours.
The duo might be feeling a sense of deja vu over that gangbusters reception: Mulay’s Sausage, now a full-fledged business, is available in King Soopers stores wherever they exist.
The producer of all-natural and antibiotic free sausage has gained the attention of King Soopers parent company Kroger, which is also adding Mulay’s to its City Market stores. After about two weeks on shelves, Mulay’s is already getting additional orders.
Mulay’s has been expanding quickly: The brand is available in all Natural Grocers stores and on the East Coast has sold to Ahold, parent company to Stop and Shop. In fact, Mulay’s can be found in stores across 40 states.
But Loree Mulay still has to hustle to get her company, which started taking off in 2013, into stores.
“I was in Boston and wanted to meet this retailer who was impossible to get an appointment with,” Mulay told BizWest while sitting at the large circular table in her Longmont kitchen. “But I heard on certain days you could just walk in. So at 7:30 a.m., I showed up and signed my name up.”
Mulay said she surprisingly was seen quickly, but that the meeting didn’t get any easier.
“He said he needed more sausage like he needed a hole in his head,” Mulay said. “I explained that ours are different, they’re gluten-free and paleo. And he said no one knows what paleo is, and if I could find someone in the office who knew paleo he would order everything I had. So I said I would be right back.”
After a few misses, Mulay said she found two employees who did know the paleo diet — food that was available to Paleolithic humans like meats, nuts and vegetables without grains, dairy, sugar and processed items. She brought the employees to explain what it was to their boss, and he made the order.
It’s not the first time Mulay had to convince someone to see her. Back when the brand was starting, she said she sat in the Natural Grocers’ offices for two hours before someone would see her. Even then, it wasn’t a sale. But Loree Mulay said she got a great critique on what she had to do to make her product attractive to Natural Grocers. A year later, when she came back, the chain bought everything. Now Mulay’s is in all 134 stores.
“We’ve had to fight for our businesses’ success,” Mulay said. “We have to have a very good product and be very stubborn.”
For their part, Mulay’s has worked to deliver a product that stands up to what they’re selling: the pork is responsibly raised and processed in Temple Grandin-designed plants. They are without nitrates, sugar, antibiotics, gluten, soy or any additives beyond pork, water and spices.
Mulay’s line includes flavors like hot Italian, mild Italian, killer hot Italian, breakfast, bratwurst and chorizo.
The company has also surrounded itself with people who want to help. Mulay said mentors who know the industry have helped them think through their business.
“We learned that we have to control every aspect of our business,” she said. “We had always trusted people to operate on our best interest but ultimately I have to be the one responsible. Since we started thinking like that, our margins more than doubled.”
With that, the company was able to hire its first sales employees and a marketing firm to help get the name out.
Another benefit has been a change in thinking for the meat industry. As groceries become more health-focused and stores and brands add options like organic, local and additive-free, the meat industry has lagged behind, Mulay said. And for it, grocers have suffered: About 24 percent of supermarket shoppers switch to specialty markets or butcher shops for their meat and poultry, reports the Food Marketing Institute.
But now, grocery brands are starting to get it. Kroger recently launched its Simple Truth brand, a line of natural and organic food from the grocery giant itself.
That shift in thinking for supermarkets will be a direct benefit to brands like Mulay’s, which plans to continue its momentum.
“We’re ready to take the East Coast by storm,” said Loree Mulay. “In the next two months we expect to have a presence in the Northeast. We’ve got some interest from Costco. We plan to build up our Pacific Northwest Market.”
And to keep up with that growth, Mulay’s has been hiring. Sheri Merz, who previously worked for Natural Grocers and Safeway-Albertson’s, has been brought on as vice president of sales for Rocky Mountain Region East.
Over the past two years, Mulay’s has seen 45 percent growth — and that was before adding King Soopers and Stop and Shop to its retailers. Mulay and Weisman are also the full owners of the brand, but is getting some funding from the Colorado Enterprise Fund. Mulay’s is a certified woman-owned small business as well.
For Loree Mulay, it’s important that her company and products remain what it started as: authentic to her family’s 100-year-old recipe.
“You can have an awesome product but not everyone has the story or brand,” she said. “Even down to our packaging, that’s actually the Mulay family crest that dates back to 1326. There’s nothing fake about this.”