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Spotlight: Bremer Produce

By Kayla Sosa

In 2015, Ross Bremer and his brothers started a family business selling unwanted produce from local commercial farms that’s still good but not qualified to go to a grocery store – because it’s too small or a funny shape.

“I guess we started out of just seeing food waste, specifically at farms,” Bremer said. “We just saw this large amount of waste and were like, ‘This is too good to throw away.’”

“Grade 1” produce is “what’s fit to go to your retailers,” Bremer said. At their local roadside stands, you’ll see mostly “Grade 2” produce, which might be too big, too small or have a small scratch on it. Farms would otherwise throw this food away, until the Bremers came in to make a profit off of it.

“Nutritional value is still the exact same, but it might have a blemish in the appearance of that product,” Bremer said.

Squash – summer and winter – is the main vegetable they sell in West Michigan and others that have a relatively long shelf life, like pumpkins, potatoes, gourds and zucchini.

Bremer’s brother is a manager at a farm, so they really got an inside look at the process of separating produce. Now, they are partnered with a few farms in the area and know where to go to find the rejected veggies.

Not just any random person can go to a farm and ask for their rejected produce. Because Bremer and his brothers have an established business and take truckloads of produce, they end up doing a favor for the farms rather than making more work.

“There’s this disconnect between perfect product going out and then there’s also some stuff that’s clearly not fit and it should not be sold and should not be eaten,” he said. “But there’s this middle ground where it’s like, this is still good.”

“When we walk into, say, Meijer or Walmart, we want to be impressed. We see all these colorful vegetables and it’s like, it’s great but it’s not super practical.”

Right now, the main stand for Bremer Produce can be found on the corner of 48th Street and Baldwin Avenue in Hudsonville. What’s unique about farming in Michigan, though, are the seasons, so the peak months for selling produce are July through November.

“Early July, there’d be fresh cut flowers, maybe zucchini, tomatoes,” Bremer said. “And then we transition into your typical fall produce to pumpkins, squash, your Indian corn, your gourds.”

Bremer’s grandpa used to own a farm, so the knowledge runs in the family.

“My dad grew up on a farm,” he said. “Since me and my siblings were really little we grew pumpkins, like five acres just for fun. It started with a couple plants, and then it ramped up and now we’re growing consistently five acres. We’re familiar with squash, pumpkins and everything and had roadside stands since I was a baby. But then it took it next level once we started partnering with farms … that grow hundreds of acres of these things, that realistically we could never grow on our own.”

“It’s a unique partnership, for sure, of us being familiar with the farming industry but us not necessarily farming it all ourselves.”

Bremer is a student at Grand Valley State University majoring in Finance and International Business and minoring in Spanish. Recently, he won first place in the GVSU Idea Pitch Competition hosted by CEO, an entrepreneurial student club. As the produce season comes to a close, Bremer said he doesn’t want to spend his newly won prize money on just anything, yet.

“I don’t want to just spend it to spend it,” he said. “I can talk to my brother and we’re thinking of just a practical, cool way to be thankful to Grand Valley and the CEO club and use it in a cool way.”

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Five entrepreneurs win prize money at first MVE Pitch Competition

By Kayla Sosa

 

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Five entrepreneurs with military background or connection took home prize money at the first showcase and final pitch competition for the Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur Lab.

Produced through the Grand Valley State University Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, this free, community cohort program began in August. For nine weeks, the group met once a week to learn about how to start a business and all the aspects that go into it. They each had an idea or had already started a small business and work with the final pitch in sight.

On November 26, thirteen business ideas and plans were presented to a panel of judges at the DeVos Center on GVSU’s downtown campus. From a bakery to meditation therapy, the ideas ranged across the board. Each presenter also had a showcase table outside the auditorium explaining more in depth their idea. Each attendee got five tokens when they arrived and could use those to vote towards any of the ideas. At the end, winners were chosen by both audience vote and judge vote.

The first place award for $5,000 went to Andrew Weiss of Battle Brothers Shaving Co.

“I am extremely humbled to have won,” Weiss said, following the event. “There are so many excellent businesses that were presented. To be chosen, is very humbling. It’s also validating for me as an entrepreneur, because we’ve been working really hard for three years, but this helps me gain confidence that I’m heading in the right direction.”

With the money, Weiss plans to start manufacturing his razors locally in Jenison, starting with a few prototypes. Additionally, he wants to get some photography and videography done for marketing the product.

“It will be this product that I think is going to be the catalyst that brings me to my end goal of a subscription razor, of soaps, shampoos, combs; anything a guy needs in the bathroom that wants to be associated with our brand,” Weiss said. “I want to hopefully provide that some day.”

Second place, for $3,000, went to Trey Sumner of ACES, who also won one of the community choice picks, winning another $1,000.

Olympia Nelson, of Mobile Curbside Cuts & Styles took third place, winning $2,000. Also in third place, Zaneta Adams and Henrietta Hadley with WINC also took home $2,000. The other community choice award of $1,000 went to Bill Richards, with Helping Veterans Cope Through Arts & Music.

Julie Cowie, program manager, was so proud to see the progress all of the participants made over the nine-week program. She said it was a combination of the course curriculum, guest speakers, mentors and pitch practices that contributed to their development.

“The participants really came a long way with their pitches,” Cowie said. “I was so impressed.”

The next cohort begins in January. Cowie said now, especially after this pitch competition, the community can really see the talent that lies within the veteran community in West Michigan.

“I think the community has had its eyes opened and now they see that this program is happening,” she said. “The camaraderie was strong and the support was strong and there was a low attrition rate, a lot of completers.”

Go to www.gvsu.edu/mve/ to learn more about the program and stay tuned to sign up for the next cohort, beginning in January.

0 comments on “Malamiah Juice Bar, Royal Jelly Foods take home funds in Business Bootcamp Pitch Competition”

Malamiah Juice Bar, Royal Jelly Foods take home funds in Business Bootcamp Pitch Competition

By Kayla Sosa

In September, owners of Malamiah Juice Bar and Royal Jelly Foods participated in the Grand Rapids Business Boot Camp Pitch Competition. This endeavor is lead by Michigan Good Food Fund, a “thirty million dollar loan fund created to provide financing and business assistance to good food enterprises that increase healthy food access and spur economic opportunity in underserved communities across the state,” according to Jean Chorazyczewski, program director of Fair Food Network, a business parter of MGFF.

MGFF logoChorazyczewski said both of the winners of the competition – Malamiah Juice Bar, first place, and Royal Jelly Foods, second – support the mission behind Good Food Fund.

“They are increasing access to healthy food, creating opportunities for jobs, and spurring the local food economy,” Chorazyczewski said.

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Malamiah Juice Bar owner Jermale Eddie and manager Rebekah Wicker.

The first place winner – Malamiah Juice Bar – took home $7,500 in prize money. Owner Jermale Eddie said the funds will allow them to continue and expand their business, which has been open for five years now. Originally having joined to learn from the Business Boot camp program, winning the pitch competition was an added bonus.

“Of course all startups are in need of financial capital to grow,” Eddie said. “We also recognize that each of the judges and those in the crowd may have resources that may be beneficial to the growth of our business and mission. The pitch winnings will allow us to take a greater risk in expanding our business, which simply equates to getting our products into the hand and bodies of more people.”

After being introduced to the art and health benefits of juicing, Eddie and his wife ended up starting a business and eventually both quitting their day jobs to run the business. They are proud to serve West Michigan “good” and healthy food.

“We take fresh fruits and vegetables and make them into juices or smoothies,” Eddie said. “Our juices and green smoothies have no added sugar. Some of our other smoothies may have agave or a vanilla yogurt added it to it. Basically our goal is to make you the freshest, best tasting beverage or smoothie bowl with little to no processing. Essentially raw juices and smoothies.”

Eddie said they don’t use the phrase “clean food” because it implies a form of privilege.

“If one is eating ‘clean food,’ then others are eating ‘dirty foods’ and that just is not the case,” Eddie said. “In fact we could all use an element of healthiness when preparing our foods and beverages.”

You can find the juice bar inside the Downtown Market, 435 Ionia SW. Additionally, Eddie said they have taught classes and workshops teaching people how to make these smoothies themselves, as well as peanut butter, almond butter and almond milk.

“We exist to elevate community health through healthy products, local partnerships and youth employment,” Eddie said of their mission. “We simply strive to love people and do good in our community.”

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The women of Royal Jelly Foods. 

Similarly, Royal Jelly Foods is bringing “good food” to the West Michigan community.

In 2017, Alita Kelly and Kiara McClenton started Royal Jelly Foods catering company, and brought on Jenny Bongiorno and Kelsey Hakeem this year.

“Our mission is to celebrate the human connection through food,” Bongiorno said. “We envision a food culture that pays homage to the land it was grown from by taking just what is needed and using ingredients to the fullest extent.  We envision the people that picked, transported and cared for our food will be honored and treated with utmost respect and humility. Lastly, we envision a just food system that feeds all people well.”

Bongiorno and Hakeem specialize in food growing, and hope to help the business eventually expand beyond catering.

“We are farmers and passionate food lovers who started catering because we loved sharing our food with others and suddenly found ourselves running a business,” Bongiorno said.

“Royal Jelly is an socially and environmentally-minded company delivering farm-fresh food through their catering services. Both are sourcing their ingredients locally, which supports local and regional farmers in a positive way.”

Bongiorno said Royal Jelly will use the funds – $2,500 – to pay for some consulting and legal services in order to shape the business the way they want to.