"When we launched the online store, it was timely. And I think we're getting great feedback on that. We started in the beginning of April and we've just been adding more products as we've grown into that business. We're going to look for ways to be able to reach more people and offer more choices, more flexibility with our customers through our online store. I think that's really an important part of the business, and that's growing, and I'm excited that we can reach new customers that way."
Erik Van Horn is the owner of Outside the Breadbox — a family-owned, gluten-free bakery in Colorado Springs — committed to quality cooking and clean ingredients. The bakery is open for locals to purchase fresh bread, cookies, pies, and more, but their nut, soy, allergy, and dairy-free products can also be found in grocery stores across Colorado and the southwest (AK, CO, LA, NM, OK, TX, and WY).
In this episode, Erik provides a unique perspective on COVID-19’s impacts on the kitchen, including the implementation of strict standards of care and the addition of new customer-centric services, like online shopping and curbside pickup.
Get a look inside an essential food manufacturing business in this conversation and learn why Erik expects a pandemic to lead to healthier food choices. For more COS in COVID stories, visit our full library of interviews.
Joe: Hi there. I’m Joe, president and founder of Keyhole Marketing.
Shannon: And I’m Shannon Jirik. I work for Keyhole as the assistant brand manager.
Joe: And this is Metaphorically Speaking, a podcast that explores the mysterious side of marketing.
Shannon: Hi, thank you for joining us on this episode of Metaphorically Speaking. We are continuing our mini series that we’re calling Cause and COVID, and chatting with Eric Van Horn from Outside the Bread Box in Colorado Springs.
Joe: Yeah, this was a cool interview for me personally. My wife Lindsay loves this brand, and it’s really kind of necessary for her health. She’s on a gluten free, soy free, dairy free diet, and so when she found this brand locally, she…
Shannon: It’s a gold mine.
Joe: Yeah, it was. We had a great one back in Indiana, and it was nice to find something more comparable and actually better because it actually has a bigger product line. We can get pizza dough, some cookies, actually Graham crackers, as well.
Shannon: Oh, is that like a staple in your diet?
Joe: No, it’s not, but it’s just one of those extra treats where when you’re on these kind of gluten free, you’re like, “Oh my gosh, graham crackers? That’s awesome.”
Shannon: Graham crackers!
Joe: So it was cool to just hear their story, and it’s also cool from an interesting perspective because they’re both, they sell to grocery stores and they sell to consumers like Lindsay and our family. So they mostly sell to grocery stores, but it’s kind of interesting to hear how business continue to operate during this timeframe. They were fortunately considered essential being a food provider and able to continue to sell and supply grocery stores, but it was also interesting to hear how they adjusted, from a consumer standpoint, how they created an online store and had to make some adjustments inside their bakery for people who were coming to get retail products and made some adjustments for CDC compliancy, but still, even just how they were able to quickly adjust with the online operation and get that thing going so quickly.
Shannon: The food world was already so careful about germs and what have you. So adding COVID on top of that definitely caused an increase in their safety procedures and all, but it is interesting to note, you mentioned the online store. He talked about maybe doing something like that down the line. It was kind of in their thought, in their mind, but when COVID happened, he’s like, “Okay, we got to get on it now.”
Joe: Yeah. And that’s what’s so interesting about these conversations is there’s, sometimes, people just need that little bit of push. Obviously, this is kind of a big push, but there’s some of those ideas that people, we all have our hesitations of, “Well, I don’t want to move forward on that yet, or I think we’re okay with where we are.” And then when push comes to shove in some of these situations, you’re just like, “Okay, let’s just make this thing happen.”
I think that’s been the most interesting thing about these stories is how they just make things happen out of necessity sometimes, and I think it will be interesting in the long run. Like, how does this change people’s perspectives on new ideas? Are they more open to explore those or are they still hesitant until things become necessary? So we’ll see.
Shannon: Yeah. Well, thank you, Eric, for just sharing your story with us and we hope you guys enjoy the conversation.
Joe: Well, thanks again so much for joining me. Can you maybe just start with just a kind of quick rundown, quick synopsis about Outside the Breadbox? How long have you guys been a business? What exactly do you offer? Who do you serve? Those types of things.
Erik: Sure. Yes. So Outside the Breadbox is a gluten-free bakery in Colorado Springs, and we bake a line of a hundred percent gluten free, nut free, soy free products, including bread, bagels, rolls, pizza crusts pies, topped pizzas, cookies. So we have a pretty good line of baked goods that we make all made in the bakery here in Colorado Springs and delivered and distributed to customers across Colorado and also to several states in the Western U.S.
Joe: Okay. And that’s both consumers and commercial businesses?
Erik: So most of what we sell is to grocery stores, but we also have food service customers, restaurants, and we sell direct to consumers, too, both through e-commerce and through our retail outlet.
Joe: Yeah, I know. We’ve been here about a year and it’s been a blessing to find your business. My wife certainly depends on your products for her health and leaving Indiana, we had a good local provider there, so it was great to find you when we did. Where was the idea born out of? Why do you exist in the first place? Where did that come from?
Erik: So I am not the original owner of Outside the Breadbox. The founders of the business have a daughter with celiac disease, and back in, roughly around 2000, 2002, really had a challenge finding baked goods for her. At the time, there was not really any commercial bakeries in Colorado that were baking gluten-free, and so they started baking for the family. The family went gluten-free, and then they were asked to bring some food to a celiac group.
So they brought some of their gluten-free bread, and it was a hit. So they started selling and the business grew from there, mostly through word of mouth. Fast forward to 2017. I got involved. I bought the business, and as I got involved, I basically wanted to keep the really high quality of the products. Outside the Breadbox has a great reputation, locally, and the products made are something that consumers know and enjoy, and they know the brand. We’ve been working to spread that brand to new places, kind of what the number of different means.
Joe: How was Outside the Breadbox affected, kind of immediately impacted by COVID? Was there any shutdown period? Were you able to continue to stay in operation the whole time? What was the immediate response?
Erik: We were very fortunate that we were able to stay in operation continuously through the shutdown as an essential food manufacturing business. We were able to keep working, and that’s only one part of the puzzle because, of course, our employees have to stay healthy, and we were very fortunate there, too. So we’ve been able to operate continuously through the shutdown.
Joe: That’s good. Were there any sort of… I imagine as a food service business you’re already a pretty sanitary place, but were there any sort of CDC compliant adjustments you had to make in order to continue to operate?
Erik: Absolutely. The retail outlet in the bakery is right in the bakery building, and because it’s a retail establishment, we had to make some pretty drastic changes there, essentially limiting number of customers. So, it’s basically one customer at a time in the retail area. We really did encourage curbside, and also we offer shipping through our e-Commerce site.
So we were encouraging those different avenues just to give customers some additional choices, but we did have those requirements within retail. And then all of our staff, we already had good food safety practices, but we have added use of masks a hundred percent of the time inside the baking area, and we have some additional testing. Colorado Department of Public Health requires food manufacturers to do symptom monitoring for all employees. So, every day at the beginning of the shift, we fill out a form that we don’t have any symptoms of COVID. And if we do, we have to stay away from work for seven days.
Joe: Oh, every day you have to fill out one of those?
Joe: Interesting. You talked about the online store retail, people were able to make purchases through that. Is that a new offering or was that available prior to COVID?
Erik: We were only offering shipping through emails or phone calls that we would get from customers. So the website online store, that is new as of April. So that was something that we had plans, and we were starting to work on it, but when the shutdown happened, we really accelerated getting that up and running because we knew that was going to be important.
Joe: For sure. Yeah. How would you grade your overall business health today? Where do you stand several months in to COVID and some of those adjustments you’ve made?
Erik: Again, we’ve been very fortunate. We’ve just been steadily growing the business prior to COVID and right early on in the shutdown, I think we saw a pretty good increase in sales temporarily because I think it was a lot of people were going out and getting the food they need, because they knew that they were going to be going into the shutdown and staying at home, but since then, it’s leveled off. It’s been stable, and we’ve just been real fortunate there.
We’ve had some challenges with supplies and certain things, obviously, the masks and gloves, and those are things that we had been using even before COVID, and they’ve just gotten a lot harder to find, but they haven’t had any disruption to the business because we’re just putting the extra work in to get out there and find those things that we need to keep running.
Joe: Yeah. Have you had any supply chain issues with the products and ingredients that you use in your baked goods?
Erik: In addition to those things that were COVID related? We did have some of the other materials that I think it was… Basically, what I’d say is that we were warned that there would be some shortages, but we increased our stock levels in the bakery, and by doing a little bit of planning ahead of time, we were able to avoid having any stock outs that interrupted our production.
Joe: Yeah, that’s great. I’m not even sure if you’re able to track this other than maybe anecdotally, but have you seen any uptick in interest in your products just as a way just to sustain their overall health? We’re thinking about this from a COVID standpoint. How do we keep our bodies healthy to protect ourselves from some things? Have you seen or can you track any sales, upgrades to people making some adjustments in their diet as a way to keep their health strong?
Erik: It’s maybe a little bit hard to tell because one of the things that we had been seeing since the beginning of the year, and really it’s… One of the great aspects of Outside of the Breadbox is that we have very allergen friendly foods, and we have some of our foods that are vegan foods, so things like our own bread and our bagels, and we have a couple other things that we sell that are 100% plant based.
There’s been some really good buzz around that. We’ve seen some really good growth in interest in those products. And yeah, it’s a little hard to tell if that is COVID-related or not, but I think there’s been a general trend toward people eating more healthy, and we’re lucky to be here in Colorado where people are thinking healthy eating all the time. I think that’s, that’s growing and spreading and more people are doing it. So it’s good for us.
Joe: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. I know that’s one thing that with my wife’s health challenge’s diet has definitely been a focus of our family’s decisions to keep our health strong. I know that some of those conversations on my end have been leaning that direction with family and friends as they’ve been trying to look at new ways to keep healthy.
Just one last question. What do you see as the future? I mean, what are some maybe longterm shifts or adjustments that you might see to your business either operationally or how you serve your customers going forward? Are there some longterm changes you anticipate coming out of this pandemic for your business?
Erik: I think one of the biggest ones is, when we launched the online store, it was timely, and I think we’re getting great feedback on that. We’ve started at the beginning of April, and we’ve just been adding more products as we’ve grown into that business. I think that’s going to continue. We’re going to look for ways to be able to reach more people and offer more choices, more flexibility with our customers through our online store because I think that’s really an important part of the business, and it’s growing. I’m excited that we can reach new customers that way.
I think in addition, one of the things that we’re looking ahead with is just providing more information to consumers because the plant-based trend is probably going to continue, I think. It’s not going to even level off anytime soon. So we offer some really good products for people that need to eat gluten-free that are looking for a very allergen friendly product, and I think we can really offer some things that we just need to get the message out.
Joe: Yeah. Yeah. That’s awesome. Well, it’s so great to hear just how your businesses continue to stay strong and as you guys have been flexible with all the changes and just a lot of the outlook for your business, and again, thanks so much from a personal standpoint on what you offer and serving the community well.
Shannon: You’ve been listening to the “COS and COVID” miniseries on the Metaphorically Speaking Podcast. At Keyhole Marketing, we tell big stories for small businesses.
If you’re in the Colorado Springs area and struggling to tell your story in this season, we’d love to come alongside you and help you with your content, branding, SEO, social media, or photography needs.
Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if we can help.