Less than two years after her soups hit the shelves of Whole Foods, Kelly Strong’s business has become a hive of activity.
And it all started with bees.
Nearly a decade ago — after going through a divorce and leaving her career in the software industry — Strong started making homemade granola based on her mother’s recipe.
“I guess it was me reinventing myself,” she said.
The recipe included honey, so Strong decided she would hive her own colony of Italian bees and apply for an agricultural license for them. In search of a name for the license application, Strong thought back to the night she hived the bees at her home in Woodland Park.
“It was just after the sun went down and the moon had started to rise,” she said. “And it was the second full moon of the month — a blue moon.”
She began to sell the granola, complete with honey from her “Blue Moon Bees,” to the Mountain Naturals organic grocery store in Woodland Park. Next thing she knew, she was selling out and getting contracts to sell the product at hotels, schools and hospitals.
“It just kind of blew up,” she said.
With that growth came Strong’s exploration of different food items, including the soups and pestos she had made for her children as they were growing up. In 2010, she started Blue Moon Goodness to begin capitalizing on those motherly recipes by selling the same soups and pestos to local restaurants.
A little more than two years ago, Strong was working in the co-op kitchen where she prepares her foods when she had a game-changing idea: to make her soups shelf-stable for grocery stores and other retailers.
“I was making my soups next to someone making salsa and just had a light-bulb moment,” she said. “The pH balance was already so close, so I just did a little tweaking.”
She jarred up her first batch in October 2014 and started “knocking on doors,” using the sales skills she developed during her career in the tech industry.
“My mom always said my two greatest skills were cooking and selling,” she said. “So that’s what I did.”
In February 2015, Strong saw her soups on the shelf for the first time after landing a contract to sell Blue Moon Goodness at area Whole Foods stores.
“It felt really good to see it on the shelves,” she said. “It was exciting, and it still is.”
Following her Whole Foods debut, Strong began landing contracts left and right with companies including Natural Grocers, Kroger (parent company of King Soopers and City Market) and Safeway. Now, 16-ounce and 26-ounce jars of her Tomato Fennel, Moroccan Vegetable and Vegan Green Chile soups are available at more than 200 stores nationally.
“I would say it’s my dynamic personality, but it must just be the soup,” she said. “There is a demand for local food … and the grocery chains are quick to respond to the demands of their customers.”
That demand is part of the reason Strong’s soups are all vegan and gluten-free, and made with as many organic Colorado products as possible. The soups also have varying degrees of North African flair, which Strong attributes to years spent living in Morocco when she was married.
“It’s still an artisanal product — just made in a bigger kettle,” she said. “I use real ingredients, and the flavor profile is strong, not wimpy. It also has a good shelf presence — a pretty label. You can tell it’s not from a big company.”
Strong is now looking to the future and considering the possibility of expanding her business into other, more soup-friendly markets.
“We want to reach further into places like Canada, because it’s cold up there, and they eat more soup,” she said. “Go figure!”
Part of that growth will undoubtedly include hiring employees, as the Blue Moon Goodness team is currently a one-woman show (although Strong hires contract workers to help her with cooking and packaging).
“I love to cook, but I think I have to find the balance — I have to be out there selling,” she said. “I don’t need to be here for everything now. The responsibility of cooking is starting to fall off my shoulders a little bit.”
Strong also said she wants to experiment with new products, but for now, she plans to focus on maintaining her growing soup enterprise.
“Maybe,” she said, “I’ll wait ’til a blue moon.”
[su_box title=”Blue Moon Goodness” box_color=”#005ac3″]Established: 2010