Original, wholesome and local. All three comprise OWL Food, but it is the latter owner Allison Wright is deeply committed to.
“I want my OWL energy bars to be produced locally. It is very important they have that ‘Made in Vermont’ brand,” Wright says as she points to the label of an energy bar. “I feel Vermont works very hard to support small businesses through education and promotion.”
Wright speaks from experience. When she started OWL Food, she received assistance through the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, Vermont Small Business Development Center and SCORE. VtSBDC and SCORE are Small Business Administration resource partners providing counseling services and management assistance, free of charge in most instances to start or grow a business.
Growing up in Shelburne, Wright’s mother made her homemade granola bars. As she got older, Allison came up with her own recipe for energy bars and began making them for herself. She would take them with her everywhere she went whether it was skiing, hiking or a breakfast on the go. Friends would often comment that she should sell her energy bars.
In 2011, Wright decided to do just that. She set up shop in her mother’s licensed home kitchen in Shelburne. A short while later her husband’s job took them to Massachusetts, yet she was still committed to Vermont, so she found a spot at the Cotton Mill in Brattleboro where her company is still located.
Her energy bars contain dates, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, raw honey and more.
“I am a firm believer in ‘you are what you eat’ so I wanted to add quality, healthy ingredients for the heart, muscles, stomach, and mind,” said Wright. “I wanted to provide people with something made locally, not just something they picked up absentmindedly at a store.”
In that first year she managed to sell 262 cases of energy bars. Each successive year she managed to more than double her sales. By 2014 Wright sold more than 2,500 cases. Today, OWL has a full time employee, Caitlin Drennen, sells in 50 states and supplies more than 150 stores throughout the northeast.
For her efforts, Wright has been named the 2015 Vermont Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the Small Business Administration.
The annual award is presented to business owners under 35 who have had success in sales, profits, increasing jobs, having innovative business methods and demonstrating entrepreneurial potential necessary for economic growth.
“Allison exemplifies our efforts to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Southern Vermont,” said Adam Grinold, BDCC Executive Director. “She is very deserving of this award.”
Wright has hopes to expand OWL Food by hiring more employees and adding a second shift.
“Each year I have added more and more responsibility, yet I am remaining realistic in my goals so I can sustain my growth. I may never get to the size of Clif Bar, but I will always make a high quality energy bar while creating jobs and crafting a product that aligns with the mission of a small Vermont specialty food business.”