“In 2007, Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge bought a farm in upstate New York in Sharon Springs … and six months later the stock market and everything crashed and they both lost their jobs,” leaving them with a $1 million mortgage that they could no longer afford to pay, Warren Zeiser, a consultant for the company, told FoodNavigator-USA at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City.
At the same time, he said, a neighbor who lost his farm, like so many others in the late 2000s, asked if the couple could take care of his goats on their farm.
Unwilling to turn their backs on a neighbor in need, the duo took in the goats and with the classic American attitude of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge began making goat’s milk soap and cheese, which became the foundation of Beekman 1802.
Through a series of calculated moves and good luck, the men generated national attention for their brand by competing on and winning the Amazing Race and starring in a hit television reality show on the Cooking Channel.
“The company has just exploded,” with sales made primarily through Beekman 1802’s “mercantile store in Sharon Springs on the farm,” online and through the home shopping channel Evine, Zeiser said.
With their feet solidly under them, Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge now offer a helping hand to neighbors and other local artisans who make small batch, gourmet specialty foods by bringing their products under the Beekman 1802 label and teaching the creators how to scale up production and navigate distribution.
“We are contracting with local artisans who might sell 100 jars a year, and now can sell 5,000 jars a year,” Zeiser said, adding that the partnerships have “literally saved the town. Sharon Springs has 450 people in the town and nothing going on. It used to be a huge tourist area, and now is nothing. But because of the popularity of ‘The Fabulous Beeman Boys’ television show, more tourism is starting to come back, business started to grow and it blew up.”
More than just jams and jellies
Through these local collaborations, Beekman 1802 was able to launch at the Summer Fancy Food Show a new line of Perfect Pairings Cheese Condiments, which includes a fig and elderberry-based Blaak Drizzle, Roasted Garlic Drizzle, Pink Champagne Jelly, several other jams, two creamed honeys and a bruschetta made from on-brand tomato called the Mortgage Lifter.
The Mortgage Lifter is a giant, juicy tomato created by an out-of-work entrepreneur during the depression who bred and sold so many of the tomato plants during the depression that he was able to pay off his mortgage in four years despite the financial insecurity of the period, Zeiser said.
“We taught a farmer how to grow these tomatoes for us,” and in doing so gave him a second chance and financial stability during the recession, Zeiser said, adding that “Everything Beekman does is try to give back.”
On that note, he explained, the company also gives 25% of the profits from its line of gourmet tomato sauces, some of which are made from the Mortgage Lifter. The line includes a Spicy Tomato, Regular, Garden Vegetable and Vino Red Wine sauce that sold $1 million at retail last year, Zeiser said.
Becoming part of the Beekman brand
The success of Beekman 1802 attracts many entrepreneurs who want to sell their specialty products under the label, but Zeiser says the company carefully controls its image and as such upwards of 95% of the products pitched to it don’t make the cut.
“What we want are products that are unique and tell the Beekman story,” meaning they are local, small batch products, have no artificial ingredients and are authentic, Zeiser said.
They also need to be cost efficient, or willing to make changes to production without compromising quality in order to keep the price point down, he added. “If you come to me with a $5 price tag, we have to mark it up, the distributor has to mark t up, the retailer is going to mark it up and will never sell because it is too expensive. So you have to good efficiencies,” said Zeiser.
Looking forward, Beekman 1802 is hoping to take the leap this year from primarily selling online and in its mercantile store to selling in brick and mortar stores, Zeiser said. It also hopes to branch out into better-for-you snacks and specialty beverages, he added.
But whatever happens, Zeiser says the company will not abandon its mission of helping its neighbors or its premise of providing natural, healthy food, beauty and home products.