NEW MILFORD – In most large supermarket chains and small independent grocery stores, health-conscious shoppers can easily find a plethora of certified organic and natural food options that line the shelves.
What they might not think about past the checkout counter is where the ingredients come from and how they get into some of the most recognizable name brands and private label foods.
One company that’s making a positive impact in the natural foods market is Mountain High Organics.
Joanne Fellin – a Wolcott native and entrepreneur with a professional background in the food industry – began the company in 1999, inside a tiny room in her New Milford home.
Ever since, the company has experienced much success. They buy certified organic grains, seeds, rice, legumes, beans, dried fruit and nuts directly from North American farmers who practice sustainable agriculture values. They source from abroad only if the raw ingredients can’t be found in the U.S.
The company then cleans, processes and packages the ingredients, which are sold – in bulk – to private clients that are major manufacturers, distributors and retailers in the natural foods industry.
Headquartered in New Milford’s historic district, inside a large Victorian home at 9 South Main St., this privately held, multimillion-dollar company – with a national and international presence – has experienced 20% to 25% growth each year, since its founding.
Today, Joanne Fellin co-owns Mountain High Organics with her husband Gary Fellin, who also comes from the food industry and was in management for 20 years before he began overseeing the warehousing and accounting functions of the business.
On Tuesday, they announced plans to build, from the ground-up, a state-of-the-art “dream” distribution center on Route 7, at 266 Kent Rd.
“We looked at other places to buy or lease in the area and chose New Milford because of its easy road access, it has low neighborhood impact and it’s in the limits of the town of New Milford. We’re really excited about it. We live here and have our corporate office here, too. Eventually, we hope to move all New Milford employees to this location as well,” Joanne Fellin said.
This will be their fourth distribution center. The others are strategically located in East Hartford, CT, Omaha, NE and Millbank, SD.
The brand-new facility in New Milford will sit on a 5.4-acre site where the sprawling Hank’s Used Furniture & Antiques store once stood for 30 years. It was purchased by the Fellins in January.
The main 5,992 square foot building on the property was recently demolished by New Milford-based M & O Construction, and the two smaller outbuildings will remain.
In its place will be a 27,000 square foot, high-tech cold storage distribution and fulfillment center.
George Cote, who has 30 years of warehouse operations management experience and manages the East Hartford building, will be the warehouse manager of the new facility, which should open by January of 2019.
“It’s going to be big. We will have the capacity to hold three million+ pounds of product. In other words, it will hold over 1,200 wooden pallets. That’s 2,000 to 2,500 pounds per pallet,” said Cote.
“The product never stays long enough for the building to be called a warehouse. Pallet in, pallet out is what we say. This is going to be high-tech all the way and it will help us to better handle current and future projected growth of our certified organic product,” he added.
The new facility will also have a state-of-the-art refrigeration system with high-speed cooler doors, a computerized inventory system, and three bays for loading and unloading trucks.
Although they’re still in the early stages, the owners are in the process of hiring an architect and contractor, preferably local. The next step will be to submit plans to the town.
Both Gary Fellin and Cote have discussed at length what they envision the interior will be like. Although there are no sketches, Joanne Fellin said the exterior will be aesthetically pleasing, too.
“We are very pleased that Mountain High Organics has chosen New Milford to expand their business. With our quality of life, and our commitment to our townspeople and business community, we were a natural fit for a high-quality company such as Mountain High Organics. We look forward to their continued growth and success,” stated Mayor Pete Bass.
As for the future, the Fellins have big plans for taking their company to the next level.
Overall, Mountain High Organics will continue to expand their reach in the U.S. and Canada, and overseas. They currently sell product in the U.S. Virgin Islands, parts of the E.U. and Japan.
“Our plan is to also expand into the dot.com world and get into the fulfillment centers,” said Joanne Fellin.
Still in its infancy stage, the company has also developed their own certified-organic and gluten free product lines.
Under the Beveri Nutrition label, the company packages milled flaxseed with chia seed, organic golden flaxseed – fine milled, dried fruit and nuts, grain mixes and rice blends.
These products can be found in many vitamin shops and online through Amazon, Puritan’s Pride and Swanson Health Products.
Tresomega Nutrition offers a variety of gluten free, quinoa pasta and amaranth rice options, which can be bought online through Amazon, Walmart and Sam’s Club.
Both brands offer the company’s organic, award-winning coconut oil.
Many of these products can also be found in local test markets like at the Northville Market, Bantam Market, and in many small IGAs through their distributor, Bozzuto’s Distribution, headquartered in Cheshire.
Mountain High Organics’ core management team consists of close family and friends and the owners plan to hire more employees locally as the business continues to grow.
Joanne Fellin emphasized her company’s philosophy and culture. She credits God for their success and for what their future holds. “Everything we do is centered around trying to uphold the standards of Christian values and we do stand on God’s principles,” she said.
Did You Know?
Organic sales in the U.S. totaled a new record of $49.4 billion in 2017, up 6.4% from the previous year, according to the Organic Trade Association.
The organic food market hit $45.2 billion in sales, also breaking through to a new record for an increase of 6.4%, while sales of organic non-food products rose 7.4% to $4.2 billion.
A shorter, edited version of this feature originally appeared online and on the Business front page in the May 29, 2018 edition of Republican-American, a regional daily newspaper in 36 towns and cities in Litchfield County and Greater Waterbury, Connecticut.
Article and Photos by Alicia Sakal / Logo: Contributed