Sprout! out to help grow local food businesses

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. - Eating tater-tots at Rennie's Landing near the University of Oregon campus, 4 graduate students in business noticed how the generic ketchup brought down the flavor of the tots.

They started reminiscing on how they'd had different flavored ketchups on various trips out of the country - and the idea for some fun-flavored ketchup was born.

The commercial kitchen at Sprout! helped the business get off the ground. "There's just everything you could need that we used to forget and have to send someone out to the store," said Shannon Oliver, co-owner of Red Duck Ketchup.

And the weekly farmers market gives them a place to sell their product.

"We've got the marketplace on Fridays, and literally right downstairs from our office," Oliver said. "So we sell out of the classic ketchup, we just run up the stairs and get some."

The office offers other benefits.

"We are able to just learn and talk to other food businesses and learn about what's worked for them and what hasn't and collaborate and kind of share information," Oliver said. "It's just been huge for us to be in this space that's immersed in food and food startups."

The Sprout! organization works to help the local food economy grow.

The NEDCO-back group does that 3 ways:

  • Holding a farmer's market every Friday afternoon all year long
  • Having a commercial kitchen people can rent it by the hour to make food they can then turn around and sell
  • Offering business consulting and office spaces in a business incubator.

Micah Elconin calls Sprout! a regional food hub that's designed to support the food growth of the local area.

They work with businesses at all levels, from those just starting out with an idea to those looking for investors.

Building one business sends ripples across the local economy.

"When we help get a food business off the ground, they have to buy a product from a farmer and hire a graphic designer and often times they use those local other businesses to make their business grow," Elconin said. "So we find that it's one of the most effective ways to create impact across the region with the assets and capacity that we have."