Made In Eastern Iowa: Steady Growth in Granola for O'Brien's

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CENTER POINT, Iowa (KCRG) Rick O'Brien understands the rolling visibility of the "GRANOLA" van.

O'Brien's Own Granola, in Center Point, has expanded into multiple buildings in Center Point and is now sold in stores across six Midwest states.

"I get teased a lot from friends who see me in the granola van, beating the streets, but I'm out working," said O'Brien, who owns O'Brien's Own, along with Belinda, his wife. "This is our testimony."

The white van, covered in a granola print on the side and with the custom "GRANOLA" plate cruises up and down Interstate 380 and the backroads of Eastern Iowa.

"All the local Hy-Vees and Fareways and smaller stores, I personally deliver to on Thursdays." said O'Brien. "We try to be a make-to-sell company at this point and it's really fresh."

The idea, the kernel if you will, came about five years ago when Rick was eating granola. Belinda said that she could make a better product.

"I tasted it that night and it was ten times better than the national brand I was eating and it blossomed from there," Rick admitted.

He insists the growth in granola for O'Brien's has come from the ingredients -- or the lack of -- within each package of the 15 total flavors. Discerning customers often are fine with paying more for top-flight ingredients.

"They’re willing to pay the price for the ingredients, for the relationship, for Iowans, for the Iowa-made products and they love Iowa-made products," said O'Brien. "A lot of the others, when they go big or grow, some of them switch from honey to light or brown sugar to lower the costs.. it drives their price points down at some of the stores so, on the shelf next to them, we’re a little higher but people will pay for those premium ingredients."

The increase in sales has been steady enough where O'Brien's now has two operations in Center Point. The coffee and ice cream shop is now in a retail store about a quarter-mile south of the original O'Brien's.

One element where O'Brien's visibility has increased has coincided with the popularity of the Downtown Farmers Market in Cedar Rapids. For those eight Saturday mornings a year, thousands are exposed to this product, made only 20 minutes away.

"It is the primary reason for our quick growth, a huge blessing," said O'Brien. "We do the Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmers Market and the Des Moines (market) now. We try and do other local, small farmers markets when we have the staffing in place."

Online sales are also emerging, although O'Brien said that is only about "one percent" of the company's sales.

"We're really ready to burst. A lot of it is folks sending bags to friends or relatives."