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Even at an early age, Erin Meagher found herself drawn to the concept of entrepreneurship. She just wasn’t sure exactly where that interest would lead her, but one thing’s for sure – she had no idea it would involve coconut oil.
However, her journey to success began in a more traditional place – the classroom. After graduating from North Carolina State University with a degree in business education, Meagher started teaching 12th grade accounting and entrepreneurship classes to students who were only four years younger than her. As she worked to inspire them to dream big, they would often challenge her to do the same.
“They were always telling me how passionate I was and they’d say ‘shouldn’t you be doing this too?’” Meagher recalled. “But business is hard and I didn’t know what my thing was going to be yet.”
Then one day she was reading the newspaper and came across an article about coconut oil and its health benefits for the brain and heart, as well as for the metabolism. As someone who had always been very focused on living a healthy lifestyle, Meagher was intrigued. If coconut oil could help with all these problems, she wondered, why aren’t we using it?
“That kind of started my entrepreneurial journey,” she said. “I figured that if I failed, I could always go right back to teaching.”
And just like that, Beneficial Blends was born in December 2009 with the creation and launch of the company’s first product, organic coconut oil sold under the brand name Kelapo. And while Meagher never returned to the classroom again, her education in the world of business was just beginning. There were bank accounts and websites to set up, and she also had to find a supplier who could provide her with the ingredients she would need to make her products. Then there was the matter of finding a way to actually get retailers to carry them.
“I reached out to people in the natural food industry because I didn’t know what I was doing and I said ‘how do I sell it?’” she said.
They recommended she attend a trade show in Boston, and that advice turned out to be pivotal. Representatives from TJ Maxx were at the show and the retailer became Beneficial Brands’ first customer, picking up the 4,000 cases of product she’d already created.
After that, Meagher returned to the Tampa Bay area and began knocking on doors across central Florida. Gradually, she was able to get her coconut oil onto the shelves of about 100 nutrition and health food stores. She also reached out to a food distributor in Chicago who agreed to put her products into their distribution center, allowing her to be able to sell through natural retailers and wholesalers.
Beneficial Blends grew exponentially over the next several years. Meagher added new products to her catalog and hired more people to her team to help get those products into large retailers across the country including Publix and Meijer. As more stores began carrying her oils – and the public became more aware of their benefits – the momentum of Beneficial Blends continued to build.
“It was the right product at the right time,” she said.
In fact, her products were so right that she found herself frequently out of stock. Many of the co-packers she was using would regularly bump her production schedule back, which would lead to delays and frustration from distributors.
“I remember one was yelling at me and saying ‘are you shipping to our competition over us?’ thinking I was doing something to him and his company,” she said. “That’s when I realized it was a real problem and we needed to bring this in-house.”
Though Meagher was warned not to get into manufacturing because of the risk to her business, she didn’t really see any other choice.
“My co-packers were failing me and it was a prevalent problem with all of them,” she said. “Necessity forced me to open up a manufacturing facility in Tampa.”
Initially, Meagher envisioned she would only be manufacturing her own products and maybe a few mom and pop outfits from local farmers markets. But early on, she ended up getting contacted by two large companies who wanted her to co-pack their brands, and she’s been going strong ever since.
“Our volume started from day one,” she said.
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These days, Beneficial Blends has become a premier private label and co-packer for retailers and food services across the country. Their 50,000-square-foot facility in Tampa is FDA compliant, USDA Certified Organic, Kosher and maintains a SQF Level III certification, among other top-tier credentials. Meagher and her team regularly work as consultants for customers seeking to enter the market. Some want them to handle every aspect of the creative process while others want to be more involved. Either way, because Beneficial Blends is a smaller co-packer, Meagher can typically get their products to market more quickly than her larger counterparts, which is critical in the industry.
“A sense of urgency is one of our core values,” she said. “We need to be responsive to our customers and that’s how we win in co-packing.”
In addition to co-packing, Beneficial Blends has recently expanded into the CBD oils and extracts business, manufacturing a variety of CBD-infused ingestible and topical products. In December, the company launched its own CBD label, Chillax’n CBD, which includes liquids, topicals and aromatherapy products.
“I didn’t think we’d find ourselves in the CBD business, but our customers asked and this is something we can do and do it well,” Meagher said.
As far as what the future holds, Meagher said she will continue to work as a brand builder and a co-packer while seeking out new ways to push the envelope in the manufacturing business – and the opportunities are endless.
“We’re definitely not sitting still,” she said.