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Rogue Valley specialty food firm rides product development up Inc. 5000 list

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PHOENIX — There was a time when Rising Sun Farms founder Elizabeth Fujas chased customers. It was a grueling process for a specialty food company.

Now the customers are coming to Rising Sun Farms. So much so that the maker of cheese tortas, spreads and other delights has more than doubled revenue over a three-year period. That growth trend ranked Rising Sun No. 2,817 on the Inc. 5000 2018 chart released this month.

“We’ve changed our business from providing product to product development all the way to commercialization,” Fujas said. “If somebody is looking for a particular product, we can provide a couple of ideas, or if they’re very specific, we can make it for them.”

Rising Sun Farms has been on a steady growth trajectory for the past decade. Although the Phoenix-area specialty food company has been on the list seven times, this is easily the biggest one-year climb. The 33-year-old firm with 37 employees recorded 2017 revenue of $10.3 million, a 146 percent jump.

Rising Sun debuted on the Inc. 5000 in 2008 at No. 4,996. It reached as high as No. 3,418 in 2012.

“We used to do a lot of trade shows, and you always felt like you were on a fishing trip and wondering if the big one was coming down the stream,” Fujas said. “After a while, you know where the fish are, establish relationships and cast your lure to see if there are any bites.”

Once a regular at the Fancy Food Shows in New York and San Francisco, Rising Sun hasn’t been to a trade show in eight years, she said.

“It takes an enormous effort to set up a booth, staff it and provide materials,” Fujas said. “We found the results were hard to track. If someone said send samples at the show, when you got back they’d say, ‘What does your company do again?’ And they would want to know who you are and where you’re from.”

Grocery store consolidation further deteriorated the chance of success, she said. With Amazon buying Whole Foods, Fred Meyer rolling into Kroger Co., and Albertsons and Safeway merging, marketing opportunities declined.

“Now, if you are selling through stores, it’s very expensive,” she said. “You have to do promotions, ads and gimmes. You have to pay for slotting, plus provide one or two free cases for every store. If it doesn’t sell, you have to come and pick it up.”

While it’s common for start-ups to build a brand with the intent of finding a financial suitor, Fujas has no interest in selling the company she launched in 1985.

Instead of aiming to put Rising Sun Farms on the shelves, the company is now a resource for other brands, turning ideas into reality.

“There are customers out there that need solutions to their needs,” she said. “So what we have focused on is food service. We have a wonderful product development team that can come up with ideas as well as focus on what their needs are.”

Among the clients are sandwich makers.

“After a while, they like to change to a new sandwich or a new spread on their sandwich,” Fujas said. “So we go to product development and make the product for the customer, and hopefully their customer will say this is great.”

The Inc. 5000 produced collective revenue of more than $1.2 billion in 2017 and three-year revenue growth rates that top out at 75,661 percent.

There were 44 Oregon companies on the magazine’s list. Two were in Josephine County: Rentec Direct at No. 4,193, and Kingsview Asset Management at No. 4,609.

Nathan Miller heads up Grants Pass software developer Rentec, which grew revenue 82 percent to $2.8 million. The company offers web-based management for landlords and property managers designed for 25 to 5,000 units. Rentec Direct has 10 employees and was No. 2,727 a year ago.

Josh Lewis leads Kingsview Asset Management of Grants Pass, a financial and asset management and consulting firm that posted 69 percent revenue growth to $6.9 million. The 10-year-old company has 17 employees.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneElizabeth Fujas