Seattle Elderberry Story: The Evolution of Partnership and Growth (Part 4)
Welcome to the final installment of the Seattle Elderberry story! In Part 1, we looked at how founder Holly Cooper launched Seattle Elderberry from a home kitchen and quickly pivoted to using contract manufacturers. Part 2 focused on 2018-2019 which were huge growth years for the company and Holly got to visit Poland to meet her elderberry farmers! Part 3 takes us back in time to 2020 when the coronavirus turned everyones’ lives upside down. While Seattle Elderberry experienced exponential growth, it was also abundantly clear that the business was lacking in many ways which led to numerous hurdles and challenges. All the while, through ups and downs, Seattle Elderberry persevered and thrived! We left off at the end of 2021, where founder Holly’s family was feeling unsure about their future in Seattle and what that might mean for the business as a whole.
Friends, it has been a joy to share some high-level memories from the past few years. In today’s edition of the Seattle Elderberry story, we’re bringing you up to date with the BIGGEST shift that the business has ever endured! At the end of 2021, my family was considering whether or not Seattle was the right place for us. Housing was expensive. Covid had changed a lot about the city, and we were commuting a solid 30 minutes each way to our kids’ school. It just started feeling like we couldn’t quite make Seattle fit into our family plans, so we started to consider moving to different cities. We initially did try to stay near Seattle by looking at other suburbs, but the housing prices were just astronomical. Plus, the grey and rainy days were really starting to wear on me and I was just ready for a bit of sunshine! We ended up exploring North Carolina (where I have a sister), Colorado (where my husband has a sister) and Arizona (where we knew a few friends who had relocated from Washington). We spent months researching, talking to schools and planning trips to visit each of these places. As we were vetting where to go next, I was also in a pickle about what to do with my “4th baby”: the business.
Things in business world were running pretty smoothly. I had 2 solid kitchens that I was contracting, and my employees could have manned the ship without my presence. But I knew managing a business remotely could only work for so long, and I anticipated that I wouldn’t have the bandwidth to be a present mom for my kids AND try to move a business at the same time. So, I started to pen the “Seattle Elderberry Closing Plan”. And honestly, I had it all figured out. In spring of 2022, we had decided that we were moving to Arizona, but we didn’t quite know WHEN (we were waiting on space to open up at the school we liked). I was thinking I’d run the business remotely through the “last” busy season of fall/winter 2022, and plan to sell through all of our inventory and eventually close the doors to the business in 2023.
But then I sent one email that changed everything. You see, my mother-in-law, who moved to Maine in 2021, had stumbled upon a wonderful farm producing hemp products near her home. I have used CBD and hemp products for numerous years to help with aches and pains and my emotional well-being and she sent me some Schoppee Farm products as a gift. I LOVED the products from Schoppee Farm and asked if she had the contact info for the owners! I e-mailed Ben, one of the owners of Schopee Farm on my mother-in-law's recommendation and we got to know each other and our relative businesses over email. I had a fairly extensive network of business connections in Seattle and beyond, but I was astonished to see the similarities between Ben’s business, Schoppee Farm, and Seattle Elderberry. Ben has a background in biochemistry and through various life experiences, has found hemp to be an incredible asset to human health. And the farm that Ben runs is SO special. He is the 8th generation to live and work on the land that his family owns. The land was once a dairy farm that closed in the 60’s. Ben and his brothers grew up on the farm, but no one had done much to the land other than let local sheep graze the land. When Ben and Allie decided to leave corporate America to return home, they knew the farm would be a special part of their journey. The way that Schoppee Farm approached farming, product formulation, recyclable packaging and their exceptionally high standards for their end product were SO in alignment with Seattle Elderberry. I eventually connected with Ben’s wife, Allie, who is a masterful designer and photographer. It was clear to see that this was a power couple whose passion, focus and commitment was incredible to witness.
Ben and I conversed via email for the better part of a year, and we had started to share some of the ups and downs of business and how it intermingled with our personal lives. Towards the end of 2021, I had finally come to terms with closing down the Seattle Elderberry business, but I hadn’t quite told anyone yet. I half-jokingly asked in an email if he wanted to talk about partnering (I really didn’t want to close the business) and he said “let’s talk about this”. We went through a lot together- from talking what partnership meant to outlining our strengths and weaknesses to sharing recipes, financials and the lot. In June of 2022, just weeks before my family was moving to Arizona, Ben, Allie and I signed documents to become official business partners.
But what does “partnering” really mean? Fortunately, partnerships can look however they need to! My biggest pain points with running Seattle Elderberry were: Production, Supply Ordering/Storage and Business Planning. Additionally, I was well aware of the capacity to grow with the limitations of our contract kitchens in the Seattle area. We decided to move all of our operations (production of our products and shipping) over to Ben’s farm in Maine AND Ben would take over as Business Manager while I got to live in my sweet spot of marketing, training, communicating and being the “face” of the brand. I’m much more of a creative, “fly by the seat of my pants” person, and Ben has an incredible amount of logic and organizational skills. And again, at the foundation of our respective businesses, we had passions and missions and operations that were so well aligned, we were very hopeful that this partnership would be a success. Let me tell you what though, moving a family of 5 to a new state WHILE moving a business and ALL of it’s materials and assets ACROSS THE COUNTRY was not a small feat. My Seattle Elderberry team was incredible. Just a few days after we loaded up the remaining Seattle Elderberry inventory and ingredients, my kids and I flew down to Arizona to get settled before the school year began.
Our first year of partnership was full of transition. From the customer’s standpoint- we tried to keep everything as similar as possible. Behind the scenes, we were learning to communicate across time zones while also pushing to get some BIG things accomplished. One of our early accomplishments as partners was to get ALL Seattle Elderberry products USDA Organic Certified. Since the beginning of Seattle Elderberry, we have always used ONLY organic ingredients. A USDA Organics Certification was impossible to achieve when we were in Seattle because not only the ingredients have to be certified, but the kitchens/production space also has to adhere to some strict organics standards. I was so thrilled to announce our USDA Organics Certification in November 2022, just a few short months after our partnership.
My family also visited Maine in October 2022 and it was so great to finally meet Ben and Allie (and their adorable daughter) and the rest of the Schoppee Farm team IN PERSON! We shared meals, got cooking in the kitchen and realized just how drastic our height differences were. The trip was wonderful and it gave us some good time together to dream and brainstorm for what was next! On that visit, we decided that we wanted to launch a collaborative product from both businesses. We eventually landed on a Sweet Sleep tincture combining the antioxidant power of elderberry with the calming & relaxing powers of hemp. This one was tricky for us to roll out because the purchasing had to happen on the Schoppee Farms website due to banking regulations surrounding hemp-containing products but it’s still on there and it’s FREAKING AWESOME!
Another big milestone for us was launching our organic elderberry gummies! If you remember from the 2nd part of our story, I REALLY wanted to make the organic elderberry gummies of my dreams. And since we now had our own kitchens to play in, we got to work researching other gummy brands and working on our own formulation. And our loyal customers got to be a part of the process as well! We sent out a few surveys asking folks what they wanted in an elderberry gummy and then we made it happen! Our Organic Elderberry Gummies are 5-10x more potent than other elderberry gummies on the market AND they are made WITH our very own elderberry syrup. We use a LOT of elderberries to make each of our products and we didn’t want to substitute in commercial extracts or powders. If it ‘aint broke, don’t fix it! The Organic Elderberry Gummies are still my most favorite product to date because they are DELICIOUS but also pack in an effective dose of antioxidants!
In spring of 2023, we launched our new “Allergy Defense” products: a syrup and gummies. The formula for our Allergy Defense products is the exact same ratio of elderberry, nettle and elderflower that are present in our well-loved Seasonal Support products. We decided we needed a pre-made syrup and since we were making the Allergy Defense Syrup, it too just a tiny bit of extra work to also launch the Allergy Defense Gummies. I have seasonal allergies myself, which is why I made the Seasonal Support products in 2019. The combination of antioxidant-rich elderberries plus nettle and elderflower works SO QUICKLY to relieve allergy symptoms! We knew that folks loved our syrups AND folks were loving our Elderberry Gummies so it made sense to bring these 2 new Allergy Defense products to our lineup!
In the past 1.5 years of partnership, we have been able to accomplish SO MUCH MORE than I would have been able to on my own. We’ve got a LOT of things planned for 2024, and we can’t wait to share more with you! We’ll be diving deeper into farming practices, our commitment to sustainability and exceptionally high-quality products. I’m also hoping to make it to Maine again this summer with my family, and hopefully we’ll get a few photos with some of the newest members of the Seattle Elderberry family! Ben and his wife Allie welcomed their second daughter at the end of 2023, and our business manager Ciara welcomed her first son in January! Our hearts and hands are overflowing, and we’re all grateful to be on mission to bring effective, organic immune & allergy products to you and your family.