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April 8, 2013
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Umpqua Oats outgrows its roots in Roseburg

From two mothers in Garden Valley mixing oats, nuts and dried fruit at a kitchen table, Umpqua Oats has expanded into an international business.

Sheri Price, 41, and Mandy Holborow, 34, have seen their company grow in its first four years from making snacks for their soccer-playing kids to supplying coffee shops at every U.S. major airport.

Subsequently, the two women and co-owners Norm Price, Sheri’s husband, and Chris Holborow, Mandy’s ex-husband, were forced late last year to deal with the company’s growth and future.

For better production, travel and food service options, the owners decided to move the company.

Last November, the packaging of Umpqua Oats’ seven recipes of oatmeal was contracted out to Honeyville Food Products, a food manufacturer in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. The second part of the change will follow this summer when the owners and their families move and set up corporate offices in Henderson, a suburb of Las Vegas.

“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Sheri Price said. “Roseburg will always be home. We’ve had a ton of support from the community.

“When we started the company, it was great to sell locally,” she added. “The extra money was nice to pay the car payments. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d reach this point. We’ve grown to a multimillion dollar business.”

The seven oatmeal flavors, in 12-ounce cups, sell for between $3 and $3.50.

The owners explained the company’s production had reached a volume that needed a more high-tech production line to precisely measure the ingredients in Umpqua Oats cups.

In Roseburg, the company contracts with 10 to 15 part-time workers to mix and package the oats.

The company has seven full-time employees, including the four owners.

“Production needs are too big for us to handle here,” Mandy Holborow said.

Umpqua Oats’ marketplace has spread across the U.S. and Canada to coffee stands, grocery stores, hotel chains and Costcos in several regions. “We don’t take orders by the case anymore, everything is by the pallet. Honeyville has the capabilities of keeping up with the orders,” she said.

Umpqua Oats’ goal this year is to sell to more colleges and universities, hospitals, fitness centers and hospitality businesses.

Since Umpqua Oats was licensed in 2008, its sales have doubled every year.

“It’s kind of comical to think back, to think how we started out with Ziploc bags, sampling with family and friends,” Holborow said. “It’s definitely surreal.”

The owners said another reason for the move will be easy access to an airport to visit corporate customers and food shows. Las Vegas is a hub for air travel.

“We’re in the air every 10 days from California to New York and logistically for travel (Roseburg) is a hard place to be,” Sheri Price said.

Las Vegas was also attractive because it has more people with business experience in food production, and Umpqua Oats will need that labor pool to increase its management team.

Alex Campbell, executive director of the Partnership for Economic Development in Douglas County, said he understands the Roseburg area didn’t have the production facility that was needed.

“It’s a shame for the community to lose them, but on the other hand it’s a success for them,” Campbell said. “It would be great if they stayed, but the reality is they need to do what is best for their business. I understand that.

“It’s tough to make an argument that Roseburg, Ore., is the best place for corporation headquarters,” he added. “We don’t spend a lot of time recruiting corporate headquarters here because commercial air service and the labor force match make it a challenge.”

Fred DiCosola was named CEO of Umpqua Oats in late 2011. He has 37 years experience in food service. He compared the Umpqua Oats story to that of Starbucks, explaining that developing plain oatmeal into different flavors is like what Starbucks did with developing plain coffee into a multitude of flavors.

“It’s primarily a success story because they developed a very innovative product for the right market at the right time,” DiCosola said. “Oatmeal traditionally had been a rather unexciting, bland product, but they brought it to a higher level. Then they did a wonderful job of developing the market.”

DiCosola said the only options for the Umpqua Oats owners were to invest heavily and build their own production line or seek out an existing company known for its high quality and production.

“I’ve worked with a number of entrepreneurs over the last 35 years, and I’d say this is a particularly talented group of people,” he said. “For a young group of entrepreneurs with very little business experience, they’ve shown a high level of talent and ability.

“The company has tremendous potential to expand the Umpqua Oats brand into additional products,” he added.

Sheri Price said the ownership group has been very focused.

“I don’t think we look at it as, ‘Wow! Look how much we’ve grown,’ ” Price said. “We’re really not shocked, just tired.”

• News-Review business reporter Craig Reed can be reached by calling 541-957-4210 or by email at creed@nrtoday.com.

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The News-Review Updated Jun 4, 2013 12:22PM Published Apr 11, 2013 09:30AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.