Saturday June 03, 2006
GRACE LEONG - Daily Herald
It's been hailed as one of nature's superfoods. Said to be high in nutritional content, wheatgrass juice, which is made from sprouted wheat berries, is believed to have the ability to cleanse the body, neutralize toxins, slow the aging process and even purportedly prevent cancer. But to the uninitiated taste bud, it can be hard to swallow at first.
Wheatgrass, which is 10 to 14 days of grown grass, is said to be high in chlorophyll, which in chemical composition closely resembles that of hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen in the bloodstream.
"Because wheatgrass is a living food, taking one ounce of wheatgrass juice daily is like having a supershot of vegetables," said Kaitlin Moller, founder of Wheatgrasskits.com in Springville.
But getting it down the hatch is another matter because the smell of freshly pulped grass juice can be daunting. "Just hold your nose and take it in one gulp," Moller says.
How it started
The love of wheatgrass runs in Moller's family. She was inspired to start her own company because her mother, KK Fowlkes, started a home-based business, Western Wheatgrass, in Holloday in the early '90s. Fowlkes used to grow wheatgrass and deliver it to local healthfood stores, juice bars and spas in Utah. But she sold the business in 1994 after moving to Israel.
With less than $5,000 in start-up financing, Moller began selling grow-it-yourself wheatgrass kit supplies out of her garage in Mapleton in 2000, making less than $150,000 in her first year of operation. The need for more space for inventory, packaging and an office soon prompted her move to a 1,300-square-foot location in Springville. The business, which hopes to make between $1.3 million and $1.5 million in sales this year, placed fourth in Brigham Young University's student entrepreneurship competition in 2002. Moller is now considering expanding her business to a 6,000-square-foot building in Springville.
Moller attributed her company's strong sales growth to her brother, Parker Garlitz, whose online marketing strategies yielded dividends. "We had experimented with selling the wheatgrass kits through the classifieds in healthfood magazines," she said. "But we couldn't reach the volume of customers we wanted. We also did a direct mail catalog to existing customers. But that didn't do much either."
Things changed when Garlitz began marketing the kits on the Internet through Orem-based Web hosting solutions provider iMergent Inc. "Without the Internet, we probably wouldn't even have a business," Moller said. "The cost of magazine advertising was even more than what we made in sales in our first year. But on the Internet, we can reach our target market more easily and faster. And my brother is experienced in that area."
"I started by selling printer supplies through iMergent's Stores Online in 1999," said Garlitz, a business management graduate of BYU. "They taught us marketing strategies like how to do paid-search marketing, or sponsored listings. That means I pay the company whenever someone visits my Web site, wheatgrasskits.com. We usually get 2,000 hits on average per day."
The company is on paid and unpaid listings on Google, E-Bay and Amazon.com, and also advertises through a free monthly online newsletter to its 25,000 subscribers. "We advertise on comparison shopping engines like dealtime.com and frugal.com. We also do live directories, which is a Web site that our site is linked to that allows visitors to browse by topic," Garlitz said.
Not only does marketing online keep overhead costs lower, the Internet also helps get the word out about wheatgrass, Moller said. "Not many people know the health benefits of wheatgrass. And we need to use caution when we make claims about those benefits because the Food and Drug Administration isn't superfriendly to the raw foods industry. We can't make those health claims without going through drug trials. So we cite reports from authors of healthfood books, people who've written about the benefits of wheatgrass, and also add testimonials from our customers," she said.
Today Moller sells more than 150 products, including wheatgrass, barley grass, mushroom and soykits, herb and sprouting kits, juicers, smoothie makers, blenders, wheatgrass and barley seeds, healthfood books, gardening supplies and even live earthworms for composting purposes.
But the company is looking at growing its family of products to include gardening kits that can grow salad greens, herbs, sprouts, and even mushrooms year-round. "For the mushroom kits, we would provide the spores of shitake, maitaki and oyster, the growing substrate, or sawdust, a humidity tent which would provide the right moist climate for growth and growing instructions," Moller said.
"It's completely organic and more fun because you're growing it yourself. We're also expanding into flower garden starter kits, and working on our fourth Web site, flowergardenkits.com."
Internet Kits Inc. doing business as Wheatgrasskits.com
Founded in September 2000
Owners: Kaitlin Moller and brother, Parker Garlitz
Industry: Online retailer of wheatgrass and barley grass kits, herb, soymilk kits, juicers, blenders, composting supplies, and healthfood books
Retail costs: Wheatgrass kit, which costs $29.95, includes a book about wheatgrass, trays, soil, seed, growing instructions, and minerals for the soil. The barleygrass kit retails for $21.95, while the mushroom kits cost between $20 and $30. The soykits cost between $60 and $100.
Location: Corporate headquarters at 64 W. 600 North, Suite 2, Springville.
Start-up costs: Under $5,000
Work Force: Seven employees