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  • Rising Sun Farms performs well through recession

    Phoenix company has grown its brand over past 5 years
  • PHOENIX — You won't catch Elizabeth Fujas admiring her company's performance — at least not for long.
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  • PHOENIX — You won't catch Elizabeth Fujas admiring her company's performance — at least not for long.
    The founding matriarch of Rising Sun Farms remains the driving force, discovering new ways to expand her brand and creating new products for sale from Canada to Panama and beyond.
    The maker of organic cheese tortas, party tortas, pestos and DipnSpreads made Inc. Magazine's list of the 5,000 fastest-growing U.S. companies for the fifth-straight year and was No. 36 in Oregon. "There's been a lot of economic fallout affecting this business," admitted Fujas. "The marketplace has changed so very much in the last 30 years."
    When the financial world shook to its foundations five years ago, causing many businesses large and small to stumble — and some to crumble — Rising Sun Farms kept its footing. The company claimed sales of $3.7 million in 2009 and grew revenue 77 percent over a three-year period to $6.5 million in 2012, ranking at 3,776 on Inc.'s list. The company has grown to nearly 40 employees, an all-time high.
    "There are a lot of drivers," Fujas said. "I think a lot more people are eating at home, and I think restaurants are feeling the pain because more people are eating at home, holding their celebrations at home, and going to grocers more."
    Rising Sun Farms long has been synonymous with cheese tortas, but the DipnSpreads have given the bottom line a boost. "They're thick enough for sandwiches and thin enough to dip with a chip," Fujas said. "It's one of the few all-natural dips that have a nice, long shelf life that are really good."
    She developed the snack and party DipnSpreads in early 2011 after visiting a local grocer.
    "I went to the store to find a dip, and everything there had lots of stuff I couldn't pronounce," Fujas said. "Just as an experiment, I bought them all. After tasting them, I knew there was an opportunity for something that tasted great."
    Over the next four to five months, she worked on a flavor-group profile that would please a wide range of palates.
    "We introduced six flavors, and then I had a request for one of our larger (client) companies to have an all-natural bacon flavor," she said.
    But making the right product and flavors is just part of the battle. "It used to be you'd bring out products and they were put on the shelves," Fujas said. "It takes more time to get the energy behind it now. There is limited shelf space everywhere, and you have to figure out what makes your product more salable than everyone else's."
    Brand awareness is important, she said, but competing with corporate marketing machines is no easy task.
    "There is only so much room in the refrigerator case at the grocery store. If you want your product in there, somebody has to make sure yours sells. They have to take something out to make room for your product."
    Fujas said tortas account for 25 percent to 30 percent of the company's sales, pesto sauce and dips contribute about 20 percent each. Another 20 percent comes from wholesale customers that repackage large batches into store-brand containers. "We like to keep things somewhat balanced," Fujas said. "If something doesn't make it, then the whole team doesn't go down."
    The company has a major presence on the East and West coasts but more recently advanced its Midwest marketing through a Chicago distributor. Trader Joe's has been a customer for a decade, and Costco carries two-packs of 9.5-ounce tortas and 20-ounce torta and dips, depending on the region and time of the year.
    Rising Sun Farms recently earned Safe Quality Food certification, completing a more than two-year process.
    "Retailers want to make sure the products they are buying are safe for their customers," Fujas said. "We can certify our production and suppliers, and pay attention to safety controls."
    Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness.
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