A dilemma: Imagine that you own a small business making batches of an original product in your commercial kitchen. You want to sell it in retail outlets, but when you go to package it, the processor demands a minimum order of 100,000 units. Your maximum is 500. What can you do?
Enter Tanikka Watford, an Olympia entrepreneur with a background in produce distribution and sustainable food practices.
Her business is Deep Roots Foods, and she’s in the process of building out an 8,000-square-foot facility in Tumwater for small batch processing and packaging.
“We require 200 units and 90-day contracts, and we can warehouse your products,” she said. “We’ll help you with any packaging or changes you need.”
While the facility is being built, Watford acts as consultant for small food brands, including farmers with extra crops and her sister, Tish Watford — the inventor of a superfood popcorn named “Sneaky’s.”
“Tanikka has helped me to think more long-term about processing in large volume,” said Tish. “She’s helped me put together plans for what it would take to hand the whole process over to someone else. I’m simplifying my steps and thinking about how I would do this on a larger scale.”
Witnessing Tish’s challenges in bringing Sneaky’s to market actually prompted Watford to start Deep Roots. Originally, she planned to create a produce distribution company.
“I came here three years ago from the East Coast,” she said. “Everyone told me there would be all this great local food and I would love the farmers’ markets.” Both were true, but when as to distribution, she ran into a wall.
“I discovered that store owners had a 10 percent quota for local food on their shelves,” she said. “But in actuality they were hovering around three percent. My sister got a contract with Whole Foods and started doing research on co-packers.”
Several companies Watford contacted were blatantly rude and dismissive, she said, demanding huge orders and maintaining the right to change original recipes to be more cost-effective.
“When someone like Tish gets too many orders, she can’t do it,” said Watford. “Well, I thought, ‘Maybe I should become a co-packer.’”
Since starting her business, she’s been in conversation with several Canadian companies.
“In Canada, they have some smaller batch co-packing groups, but this is the first time they’ve seen it in the States,” Watford said. “They’re quite interested. Because we’ll be in a foreign trade zone, it allows us to import and export without tariffs and taxes.”
She’s also been working on larger contracts for when the facility is operational.
“We want to source ingredients locally,” she said. “When Starbucks needs that pumpkin spice for their lattes, we can help our local economy by fulfilling a contract with them.”
She’s certainly got the experience and connections to fall back on: Watford, originally from Maryland, also lived in North Carolina, where she owned a produce distribution company before co-starting with her sister a nonprofit called Healthy Solutions. It helped farmers connect to local communities’ markets and promoted smaller kitchen production work for low-income women. She has also worked with the White House on the Let’s Move! Initiative and with the United Nations to address the decreasing number of farmers of color.
As for her growth plan, she’s banking on taking her time, making the right small moves and growing organically.
“We’re doing baby steps, ordering equipment,” she said. “Right now, it’s about trying to configure our space and put together a list of people who are interested in our services.”
Her sister believes that Watford’s venture will make a significant impact for small business owners like her.
“Knowing that there’s some sustainability for a small process eases my mind,” Tish said. “I may not be a national brand, but I could be a regional brand without pulling all of my hair out through using a small process. A lot of people just want to be in our region of Washington and Oregon, and not have their business take over their lives. Using her services will help a lot of those people.”
Watford believes that Deep Roots Foods can help make a shift in the local food industry.
“Deep Roots Foods is dedicated to GMO-free and nut-free small batch food processing, and co-packer that not only inspires local food economy, but brings access to large and local markets for local food businesses,” she said. “This could really impact our community.”