Don’t ever worry about runny mac-and-cheese or scaldingly dull ramen noodles again. If Bird Creek entrepreneur Heather Kelly has her way, her wholesome and healthful line of dehydrated meals will be a staple in adventurers’ backpacks across the world.
Heather’s Choice is the 27-year-old’s line of products that are gluten, dairy and soy free, making them ideal for anyone with allergies. But they are still packed with delicious flavor and nutritious ingredients, Kelly says. She uses only high-quality proteins and relies on her background in evolutionary sports nutrition to create meals that are nutritionally balanced.
“When I’m making meals at home, I’m using the best ingredients I can, like farmer’s market vegetables and berries picked from our yard,” Kelly says. “For Heather’s Choice, we are working with wonderful producers like Tilgner’s Specialized Smoked Seafood Products and The Honest Bison to source sustainable proteins for our meals and snacks.
“I’m looking forward to developing more of these working relationships with a wide range of food purveyors across the country.”
Kelly, the Alaska-born-and-raised entrepreneur behind the brand, began dehydrating meals for herself as a boat captain on rafting trips down the Colorado River. After years of experimenting in her kitchen at home, she decided to share her meals with the public.
“When I first started dehydrating food, I was mostly dehydrating leftovers from some of my favorite dinner meals,” she says. “My mom makes an incredible marinara sauce, with zucchini and mushrooms and onions and herbs and grass-fed beef, so a lot of times I would dehydrate that with spaghetti squash for a hearty, delicious meal at camp.”
These days, some of Kelly’s favorites are her coconut packaroons, which come in flavors such as cocoa espresso to rosemary sage.
“I enjoy having those on the trail or as a desert,” she says.
She also hopes to grow the business. Initially launched in August 2014, the brand has already met some great success. Heather’s Choice meals and snacks have sold out online and traveled to Everest, New Zealand, South America, across the entire United States, deep into Canada and all over Alaska. Last month, Kelly launched a Kickstarter campaign that she hopes will enable her to expand even further. With new funds raised, the company will be able to increase its production and introduce its perfected packaging.
“I can’t wait to someday release Heather’s Leathers, which will be a really fun line of fruit leathers, such as pumpkin pie and bing cherry vanilla,” she says. “Oh! And Heather’s Little Helper Snack Packs are going to be awesome as well.”
While Kelly’s business began in a kitchen in Anchorage, already it has burst at the seams. With demand growing nationally, she has started using kitchens in locations such as Colorado as well, where she spends part of her time. Her concept for the business is in line with her attitudes about food in general. Consumers are best served by shopping locally and being aware of sustainable eating practices. Her Smoked Sockeye Salmon Chowder is made in state, for example, because everyone knows the best salmon comes from Alaska. But her Elk Shepherd’s Pie comes from Colorado, where elk are prevalent – “It simply just doesn’t make sense to ship fresh (or even frozen) ingredients all the way up here, only to dehydrate them and ship them back down to the states,” she says.
“My vision with Heather’s Choice is to partner with food producers across the country (or ideally, around the world) to dehydrate food close to where it is grown or raised, and then to ship that to our customers,” Kelly adds. “I’m over-the-top excited to source as many Alaskan ingredients as possible, and to branch out to find healthy, sustainable sources of food for our meals elsewhere as well.”
As of late November, the Heather’s Choice Kickstarter campaign had raised nearly $16,000 of its $48,000 goal, and most of the contributors are people she knows. The campaign continues through Dec. 21, at which time, Kelly said she hopes to be celebrating reaching her goal successfully.
“I feel that Alaska is the perfect place to be starting Heather’s Choice,” she says. “While we have the obstacles of shipping, ingredient availability and kitchen space, there is no lack of support and enthusiasm. … Alaska still feels like a small world, and you can feel very connected in the community very quickly. Having worked with the Boardroom and 1 Million Cups and the Alaska Small Business Development Center, there is no doubt in my mind that there are plenty of people here in Anchorage who are eager and willing to help support a small business idea.”