Keene’s Small Town Cultures sees big-time growth
KEENE — Small Town Cultures, a Keene-based company specializing in raw, fermented probiotic foods, is quickly gaining more national recognition and reach.
Cori Deans, a Lake Placid native, Keene resident and owner of Small Town Cultures, is no stranger to business success. Small Town Cultures was picked up by Whole Foods in the last couple of years after the national chain found Deans’ company on Google and reached out to her via email. She thought the email was spam, but by the end of last year, her fermented products were lining shelves in Whole Foods stores across the country. A few months ago, Deans said the Fresh Market supermarkets also started carrying Small Town Cultures at their 159 locations from Saratoga to Florida. Now, Deans is preparing to move her manufacturing from a small facility on her residential property in Keene to a 4,000-square-foot warehouse in Plattsburgh so she can keep up with the demand.
Deans said Small Town Cultures has “gone from selling cases to pallets.” With the new location, Deans said, she’ll be able to expand her business and her manufacturing capabilities. She’s also doubled her staff — who all have stock in the business — since this time last year, and her new place will have some office space. Deans said her team is excited about the new space because it’s set up for food production in a way that will allow Small Town Cultures to continue to “scale.”
“That’s just really a huge deal for us,” she said, “and we’ve been working for a really, really long time to get there.”
Deans’ homegrown success has drawn national attention. In the last month alone, Small Town Cultures was featured by the Small Business Administration and by Forbes magazine as one of several “new foods to try this summer from thoughtful brands.”
Deans was hoping to snag the old Bowlwinkles bowling alley in Lake Placid while it was on the real estate market last year to expand her production and open a storefront there, but the deal didn’t work out. She said the new facility in Plattsburgh is better for her company anyway, because the warehouse doesn’t require renovations and is already set up for the level of production Small Town Cultures needs.
Deans said the Small Town Cultures team is preparing to pitch to KeHE, a large national distributor that she said is “perfect” for her category of products. But, for now, Deans said she’s trying to put the breaks on acquiring new chain retailers since the Bowlwinkles deal fell through — you can’t promise a product that you can’t deliver, she said. Still, Small Town Cultures is expanding with a documented quickness. Deans said she talked to a data analyst this week who said her sales are up 300%, and her store count is up even more than that.
“We’re always running before we walk, and it just keeps happening,” Deans told the Enterprise this past fall. And on Thursday, she said it still feels that way.
“We are rapidly growing, even with my foot firmly on the brake,” she said with a laugh on Thursday.
Deans said that Whole Foods has continued to be a good partner for Small Town Cultures, and the grocery store recently expanded her line to another location unprompted — usually, a company has to submit their product line to a retailer’s category review to be considered for expansion.
What makes Small Town Cultures unique is that Deans’ products are mission-based. Deans started fermenting foods for herself several years ago to cope with the painful symptoms of Crohn’s disease. Raw, fermented vegetables and fruits are packed with probiotics that can improve digestive and gut health, and Deans said she wanted to try resetting her gut biome. After only one month of eating fermented foods, Deans said she no longer needed her medication to manage the pain she’d been feeling because the pain was gone. She wanted to share that healing feeling with others experiencing autoimmune-related issues, and people have responded. She said she gets a lot of messages on Small Town Cultures’ social media from people who have benefited from eating her fermented foods.
“I hear a lot when I tell my story that everybody’s got a story,” she said. “It seems like everybody has some sort of autoimmune issue or knows someone who does. So having something that’s a tool you can use to help take control of those types of symptoms is super beneficial.”
Deans’ belief in her products makes her passionate about getting the word out about the health benefits they can provide. She said she wants Small Town Cultures to be available where the everyday family shops, and she hopes that the affordability of her flavor-packed products, which are sold in sleek glass jars, adds to their appeal.
“We want to kind of increase accessibility as well as the appeal,” she said. “If something’s really amazing but you can’t afford it or you can’t find it at the place you shop, that does you no good. You’re not going to get any benefit from that. And if something is where you shop but it doesn’t appeal to you, you’re still not going to get the benefits.”
Deans said it’s easy to incorporate Small Town Cultures’ products into your diet and reap the benefits. Small Town Cultures’ fermented red onions, jalapenos or turmeric kimchi can easily be added to a burger or as a topping for nachos. Deans also provided a recipe for charcuterie skewers, where Small Town Cultures products like fermented baby carrots and dilly beans are skewered alongside charcuterie classics like olives, mozzarella balls and salami.
Deans added that benefiting from her products doesn’t necessarily require a complete diet change.
“You don’t have to eat perfectly,” she said. “But you can adopt some healthy decisions and they can help.”