In Edible-Alpha® podcast #101, FFI’s Brad Rostowfske interviews Bree Breckel and Eric Weninger of B&E’s Trees, a certified-organic maple farm near Viroqua, Wisconsin. Along with tapping trees, the couple makes a value-added product, B&E’s Trees Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup, and is launching a new consumer-facing brand, Embark Maple.
When Bree and Eric bought their 184-acre farm in 2011, their main goal was to live off the grid while doing fulfilling physical work outdoors. If they could make and sell enough maple syrup to pay the mortgage, they’d be happy. But when their first go at it, in 2012, happened to be the worst maple syrup season on record in Wisconsin, they realized they needed a value-added component. So in 2013, they began collaborating with local Central Waters Brewing, which provides B&E’s Trees with bourbon barrels to age their syrup in for two years, then uses the maple-soaked barrels to age its Maple Barrel Stout.
As their business took off, Bree and Eric realized they wanted to remain a family-sized farm and keep doing the physical labor they loved. So, with about 5,000 taps in their trees, they stepped up their partnerships with other local farmers, businesses, and retailers to add more resilience to their supply chain and business model.
When the COVID-19 pandemic sidelined their usual travel and events plans, Bree and Eric pivoted into another value-added project. Years prior, Eric had the genius idea of offering maple syrup in resealable, packable pouches for adventure races and endurance events. Suddenly having more bandwidth, the two set to work creating the product and building a brand around it: Embark Maple Energy. In doing so they created two separate-but-intertwined business models that are running as two separate entities: B&E Tress remains the farm name and all of their products, including their bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup, is branded as Embark. Business structure aside, the team is now focused on bringing the Embark brand, and its new adventure packs, to life.
As such, Bree and Eric attended several races to hand out prototypes, network, and build brand awareness for Embark. Revenue from their Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup has carried the business through these hiccups during a pandemic launch period, underscoring the benefits of a diversified business model.
As for funding, Bree and Eric had received a value-added producer grant (VAPG) to propel their brand-building efforts just before the pandemic hit. They had to pivot their spending of that money, which actually proved beneficial by helping them streamline their marketing and communications.
Wrapping up, Bree and Eric discuss navigating their finances through a year where things didn’t go as planned. They share a few lessons they’ve learned while scaling their business and offer advice for other farmers exploring adding value to their farm and launching consumer-facing brands.