Photography by Jenna Noel
Whole Foods Market’s Jenny Brown loves her job. As program administrator for their Local Producer Loan (LPL) program, she plays a pivotal role in helping small local producers procure low-interest loans. The daughter of a serial entrepreneur, Brown grew up witnessing how much hard work her father put into his businesses; she knows firsthand how her program can change lives.
As with any loan process, certain criteria must be met by the applicants. With the LPL program, one strict consideration is product quality. Whole Foods Market maintains a very specific list of what is not allowed in a product line—no artificial colors, preservatives or flavors, for example. And companies must, of course, be local, which, by Whole Food Market’s definition, means within a seven-hour drive of a regional store.
“Applicants need to have a specific project they’re going to use the funds on that will help them grow business,” explains Brown. “It’s not for operating expenses, but it could be for purchasing equipment or livestock, or to get organic certification. Also, the company needs to be viable—the program doesn’t provide emergency funds.”
Of the $10 million earmarked for the program, $2.5 million have been granted since 2006, in amounts ranging from $1,000 to $100,000. In the Southwest region—Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas—six loans have been granted.
Dallas-area loan recipients include beef producers Wesley and Kelly Adams of Adams Blackland Prairie and Weldon and Ann Warren of Holy Cow Beef. Both ranches used their loans to purchase cattle. Philomena Aceto of Philomena Food Company spent hers on a convection oven and packaging, and pasta sauce maker Jim Blumetti, president of Blumetti’s Gourmet Foods, says his loan provided some much-needed growth fertilizer even in the wake of a tanking economy.
“We did everything we could to try to be the first in line for the program,” says Blumetti, whose company previously had spent nearly six years growing from one sauce to three. Blumetti needed to find a way to finance things like product testing and package design, as well as provide up-front samples and market new flavors. Thanks to the LPL program, Blumetti’s was able to double the number of sauces in the product line in just six short months.
Closer to home, Austin coffee roasters Travis Kizer, Joshua Bingaman and Troy Authement of Owl Tree Roasting bought a new roaster with their dough. Bingaman says the new equipment will allow them the capacity to roast beans for Whole Foods Market, and also allow other local businesses to customize exclusive, organic, fair trade blends to their liking.
Local confectioner Tracy Claros of The Sticky Toffee Pudding Company says she used her loan to develop two new flavors for her product line, both of which she was able to introduce last year at a food show in New York.
“I am really pleased,” says Claros. “So many small businesses start out bootstrapping, with no capital to speak of. A lot of us used credit cards when you could get low interest—that’s completely dried up. This program is a less stressful way of getting money, and it’s also quicker and easier than applying for a small business loan. Jenny has been super supportive—she really believes in the program.”
Of course the program benefits Whole Foods Market, too—they ultimately carry the loan recipients’ product lines. But Brown is quick to point out that there’s much more going on than simply lining shelves. “This benefits the community,” she says. “It’s a creative way to support local producers, and it’s great to be able to see some amazing success stories.”
For more information, and to apply for the Local Producer Loan program, visit wholefoodsmarket.com/values/local-loans-apply.php.