Sustainability at Scale

Posted by Lillian on Oct 15th 2018

When I was teaching, October was a very hard month. It seemed to last forever, parent-teacher-conferences loomed, and the initial buzz of the school year had sort of worn off. Now that I’ve, er, pivoted, October is looking to be my very favorite month of the year. I’m sitting here in my home office looking at changing leaves in the backyard, I’m debating whether or not to indulge my worst tendencies and go get a pumpkin spice latte, and I’ve been in cozy socks for days (not the same pair). PLUS. TrailFork made it through its first big season—indeed, through its first YEAR in operation!—and we’re coming up on a very welcome seasonal slow-down.* October marks the beginning of a few months of reflection and planning instead of GOGOGOing, and I’m super ready for that.

So what happened in our first year in business? Holy f*&^%. Maybe most significantly, we skipped a few growth milestones and went straight for frying the big fish: in September we debuted our retail line in 10 different REI stores, which meant late nights slapping labels on pouches and doing battle with our heat sealers. We hired some new folks, launched this here new website, and generally just tried to keep our heads above water.

The question moving into next year is going to be: How do we stick to our vision of building a sustainable company at a much larger scale? When we talk about sustainability, we’re thinking beyond our compostable packages. We’re talking about growing at a rate that makes sense for us as a company, being wary of how our product is made and shipped, and doing right by our employees. To that end, here are a few of the things we’re planning on working on this fall and winter:

  • Manufacturing. We’ve outgrown our shared commercial kitchen space, and we’re not prepared to handle all of our retail production in-house. So, like many other small food brands, we’re looking to outsource our production to a more efficient manufacturing company. Making sure that we live up to our original vision will mean working closely with that company to ensure that our own labor and environmental standards are met in manufacturing our product.
  • HR. To this point I, Lillian, have been TrailFork’s only salaried employee. As we move into 2019, we’ll be expanding our payroll, and with that, expanding the amount of money we spend on benefits and otherwise taking care of the people who make this thing possible. When budgeting for payroll, I am committing here and now! to wrapping the cost of health insurance and a retirement plan into the cost of having employees. I.e. if we can’t get our employees health insurance (or an allowance to pay for insurance), we don’t get to have employees.
  • Employee Ownership. This has long been part of our plan, but we haven’t really been in a position to execute on the plan until now: in 2019 we’ll be offering small equity shares to all TrailFork employees. The people who work for us make TrailFork happen, and by all rights they own a piece of the pie.
  • Marketing. This year we want to make good on our pledge to use our marketing leverage, small though it may be, to further environmental causes—and specifically those relating to public lands. Cristyn and I will be putting together a strategy this month, but for now, expect to see a bit more soapboxing from our corner of the room.

Thanks for getting us through our first year in operation, TrailForkers. We hope you’ll stay tuned for year 2 as we try to scale sustainably!