In podcast #83, recorded at Edible-Alpha® Live!, Tera interviews Galen Saturley of Breadtopia, a virtual baking-education hub and seller of grains, flours and baking equipment based in Fairfield, Iowa. What started as a passion project for Galen’s mom and stepdad in 2006 is now a booming e-commerce business with an engaged national community, which have only grown stronger through the COVID-19 pandemic.
From the start, Breadtopia’s main mission has been to ensure that “baking perfect bread at home is available to everyone.” Founders Eric and Denyce created a content-driven website, featuring recipes, how-to videos and interviews, and funded it through sales of baking equipment, sourdough starters and organic wheat and rye flours. This was back in e-commerce’s infancy, so they learned as they went while milling grains to order and packaging products in their garage.
As interest in Breadtopia mounted and sales grew, the mom-and-pop operation had to scale. They rented a bigger workspace space in Fairfield, brought on a few employees and expanded into ancient grains and other flour types. Before long, they needed even more space. Once Galen joined the business in 2012, he helped upgrade the milling operation and streamline inventory, and the company settled into 15% to 30% year-on-year growth
When Galen first met Tera in 2018, he shared their designs for a new 8,000-square-foot facility. Tera suggested they go even bigger, which proved sage advice. When a 40,000-square-foot space downtown became available last October, Breadtopia found its new home. Amidst its busiest season ever, the team moved everything over, figured out operations and got ready for a stellar 2020. Little did they know, COVID-19 was right around the corner.
In early March, as the nation locked down and everyone started baking bread, average daily orders surged from 125 to 600, sending the team scrambling. To continue meeting loyal customers’ expectations while also serving the influx of new ones, the company went from eight employees to 30. As grains and flours became nearly impossible to find at grocery stores, Breadtopia’s sales kept climbing. The company’s close relationships with small farmers and plentiful backstock allowed it to come through when few other retailers could.
Galen said the team didn’t relax until June, when orders leveled off. Thanks to the heady sales of last spring, they began transforming HQ into a literal breadtopia—complete with a bakery, education center, retail shop and commercial kitchens—a few years ahead of schedule.
Tera and Galen also talked about online sales strategies, including Breadtopia’s experiences with Amazon, and the company’s next project: working with farmers and grain organization to build a sustainable local food system.
Be sure to catch this podcast for the whole Breadtopia story and e-commerce lessons for food and farm businesses of all sizes!