Purity Seeds LLC
Purity Seeds LLC is a Raymond, South Dakota business owned by Wanda and Gene Bethke. The company is engaged in manufacturing and marketing baking mixes made from flax seeds as well as packaged whole and ground flax seed.
Flax belongs to the class of ‘super ingredients’ which have natural characteristics with beneficial health attributes. Flax owes its reputation primarily to three components:
- Omega-3 essential fatty acids, "good" fats that have been shown to have heart-healthy effects.
- Lignans, which have both plant estrogen and antioxidant qualities.
- Fiber, both the soluble and insoluble types.
Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for human health but the body cannot make them; they are obtained through food. Omega-3 fatty acids occur naturally in some types of fish, nut oils and certain plants such as flax.
All of the flax used in the Bethkes’ product line is grown and processed on their farm. The newly developed baking mixes are available in several varieties, including chocolate chip cookie, sugar cookie, granola bar, and buttermilk pancake. All are whole grain products with no additives. Additional information can be found on the company’s website at http://www.purityseedsusa.com.
For years, Wanda and her husband Gene have lived and worked on their eastern South Dakota farm which has been owned and operated by the Bethke family since the 1930s. The Bethkes have enjoyed success raising commodity crops such as corn, wheat, rye, millet, sunflower, and beans. After investigating the many health benefits of the crop, the pair decided to expand into golden flax production. In 2006 they began growing, processing and selling flax seed in addition to their other crops and, in any given year, have 80 to 120 acres devoted to flax production. Wanda felt America has a strong history of growing flax, but few people are growing it in large quantities today.
The Bethkes began selling their flax through craft fairs, farmers markets, and on Ebay. Wanda noticed many of her customers were interested in ways to incorporate flax seed into their diet without baking from scratch. With this in mind, she realized they could make further use of the product by selling healthy baking mixes made with flax.
Initially, Wanda conducted her own research and development. She created her own recipes and gave samples to her church group and other friends, who would then provide feedback which she used to further refine the products. This was more than anecdotal; Wanda established her own careful process for sensory evaluation using numbered lots and double-blinds.
Interested in learning more about starting a food business, Wanda attended a “From Recipe to Reality” seminar held in Spirit Lake, IA in the Winter of 2006. “From Recipe to Reality” seminars are a component of the nationally recognized Food Entrepreneur Assistance Program (FEAP), part of the Nebraska MEP - University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Food Processing Center. The seminars are conducted by Jill Gifford, the manager of FEAP, who has been providing business development assistance to entrepreneurs for over 15 years, and Bethany Jackson, technical services manager for FEAP since 2001. In regards to the seminar, Wanda stated, “The seminar was very educational. It covered a lot of topics from beginning a business to marketing the product. The main thing I took away from the seminar was that it will not be easy. There are so many products on the market it is hard to make yours stand out.” This is the seminar’s intent; to give a realistic overview of all the issues involved in starting a food business with topics including market research, product development, pricing, food safety, and legal concerns.
Wanda subsequently entered Phase 2 of the FEAP program 6 months later. Phase 2, titled “From Product to Profit”, consists of tailored, one-on-one assistance provided by a team of technical and business development specialists at The Nebraska MEP - Food Processing Center. Types of assistance given to Purity Seeds included labeling review and print-ready proof, product development, promotional assistance, and price determination.
Bethany Jackson provided nutritional labeling for Wanda’s products. Nutritional labeling is the process of analyzing a client’s product to determine the nutrient content and inputting the data into a nutrition facts panel as required by the Food and Drug Administration. These services are part of The Food Processing Center’s comprehensive label review service to insure a product’s compliance with all FDA packaging regulations. With the benefit of a professional’s understanding of regulations involved, the elements addressed with this service include ingredient statements, nutrition panel type sizes, formats, and the placement of required text elements on the label.
Bethany also provided product development assistance. Though Wanda’s product was almost perfected, Bethany helped to convert the formula and process to industrial form; thereby allowing for scaled-up (e.g. mass) production. She also assisted in sourcing wholesale ingredients for the final product formulation and in finding a contract manufacturer for large-scale production of Wanda’s product.
Assistance was also provided in creating promotional materials, including development of a sales letter, press release, and the product specifications sheet. These product ‘specs’ have been incorporated into the company’s publicity brochure.
The Bethkes have been selling flax since 2007 under the Purity Seeds label. The baking mix product line has been in stores since March 2009 and is marketed under the Purity Kitchen brand. The baking mixes are currently sold in about 20 grocery and gift stores across North and South Dakota. Purity Seeds’ flax products are available at their website, http://www.purityseedsusa.com, and their Ebay store, http://stores.ebay.com/Purity-Seeds.
Bethke is further able to derive an income through by-product utilization. Flax deemed unsuitable for human consumption, lower grade products, sweepings, and the like, are sold as craft-seed flax. This by-product is used for animal seed and cold/heat packs using flax.
Bethke has invested heavily in her business. On the farm, she has built a small production facility which includes a packaging area, office, kitchen, break room, and bathroom. She has also acquired forklifts, a grinder, several sizes of packaging machines, a convection oven, and assorted equipment to provision the production facility. The total amount invested in the facility was $225,000. The company currently employs Wanda, who manages sales and demonstrations; Gene, who operates heavy machinery such as packaging equipment and forklifts; and their son, Anthony, who assists with packaging, labeling, and clean-up. After initial processing at their production facility, the Bethkes send flax on to their co-packer in Omaha, NE, where it is processed into Purity Kitchen baking mixes.
Though no specific plans have been made, Bethke is considering expanding her product line. This would possibly include oatmeal raisin and peanut butter cookie mixes. Her current best selling item is the granola bar mix and she is considering offering new varieties such as mixes including raisins, sunflower seeds, or peanuts.
Purity Seeds was recently awarded a 2009 Value-Added Producer Grant from USDA Rural Development valued at $89,425. These working capital funds will allow Bethke to undertake marketing activities and hire additional personnel to grow the business and expand into new markets.
Three part-time employees will be hired using these grant funds. The first, a part-time packager and janitor, will be hired immediately. The next two, a bookkeeper and a sales/distribution assistant, will be brought on board within the next six months.
Funds are also being used to target new grocery store accounts in new geographic areas. Bethke heavily relies on product demonstrations (e.g. sampling) at grocery stores to attract new clients. With funds now defraying her costs for mileage and lodging, she is greatly expanding her range. She currently has product demos scheduled for Minnesota, Colorado, Nebraska, and Iowa.
Purity Seeds and Purity Kitchen grossed $12,000 from flax sales in 2009. Bethke expects, with the assistance of the value-added producer grant, to double that in 2010.
“I first became involved with the Nebraska MEP - University of Nebraska-Lincoln Food Processing Center when attending an entrepreneur seminar in Iowa. It was an excellent seminar highlighting every step of starting a food business to the marketing of the product. I was impressed that they were not trying to drum up business for themselves but presented a very realistic scenario of operating a food business. They stressed the importance of business plans and knowing the competition of the product you were developing. With the many food products on the shelf, it is tough to get a new one started so (you) need to know how to make yours stand out.
Once I signed on with The Food Processing Center they assisted in giving (me) a list of co-packers and design artists in the area that I could contact. They were in contact with my co-packer to get ingredient contents in order to do the nutrition facts and ingredient panel. When I received my packet of information from them, all the information needed for my packaging was included along with the regulations about where everything needed to be placed and the size of print. This was extremely helpful so that the package would follow all the guidelines. Since I developed a flax product, we thought it could possibly have a health claim on the packaging. Bethany did the research to determine if any health claims could be put on the package and if so how it should be stated. All of these packaging details would have taken me a considerable amount of time and I still may not have had them right.
Jill Gifford assisted in the writing of the story on the package, the news release and introduction letter to prospective stores. I am not a good writer, so it was a relief to have someone else take my ideas and put them into writing for me. Along with the developing of a food product, there are the many regulations established by FDA. I was delighted that I could put my attention to developing the product and leaving Jill and Bethany to make sure that all the regulations were being followed.”
Wanda Bethke, Owner