The flight of Hummingbird

| Print |  Email
Linda Baker
Thursday, September 27, 2012

 

BY LINDA BAKER

09.27.12 Blog HummingbirdIn late August I paid a visit to Hummingbird Wholesale, a Eugene-based regional distributor of organic foods that recently relocated to a glamorous remodeled warehouse and office space. Today, of course, local and organic food products are staples available in a wide variety of grocery stores and restaurants, from Walmart and Whole Foods, to Burgerville and Bluehour restaurant in Portland’s Pearl District. But there was a time when whole grains and organic foods were niche products, enjoyed, and pioneered, strictly by the flowerchild set.

Hummingbird owners Julie and Charlie Tilt are there to remind you of an earlier era, even as their business benefits from contemporary, and mainstream, demand for natural foods. Longtime advocates of organic food, with experience in the organic gardening sector, the Tilts purchased Hummingbird nine years ago. The company’s history dates back to 1972. Today, business is booming. Hummingbird employs 30 and grossed about $4.1 million in 2011, up from $600,000 in 2003. Its new headquarters, a state of the art eco-friendly wood, glass, and brick structure, quadrupled the company’s square footage and helps define Hummingbird’s expanding role as landlord, small business incubator and regional player in today’s local and whole food revolution.

Economic returns aside, Charlie Tilt says the couple’s primary interest is “spiritualizing the business…which is what really excites us.”

He goes on to explain. “Spiritualizing the work by directing the opportunities afforded by being in this business towards improving the quality of life for the people — customers, vendors, co-workers, farmers — that we come into contact with gives us the passion and energy to do the work needed. We focus on the areas most critical to quality of life — a healthy environment, clean healthy food, and convivial relationships.”

More specifically, the Tilts rent out the building’s commercial kitchen to food start ups, lease extra office space to like-minded tenants, mostly natural health and wellness businesses, and support local farmers by negotiating contracts to purchase an entire crop — i.e., garbanzos, lentils, pumpkin seeds — on a section of land.

Located near downtown, the building itself, which the Tilts purchased and remodeled for about $4 million, is “a visible representation” of their values, says Charlie Tilt. The environmentally friendly features include use of recycled materials, solar water heating, rooftop solar panels, and a straw bale demonstration area.

The couple also gave the building a name: “Stellaria,” which means little star.
 “A little star can light up the whole sky,” Julie Tilt says. In 2007, the couple also gave the company its current name, Hummingbird, intended to invoke the bird’s “gentle versatility, sipping the nectar of the earth without harming the flower.” (The original name was Honey Heaven).

Back to the business side. Today, Hummingbird serves a network of food coops and natural food stores along the I-5 corridor from Seattle to San Francisco. The Tilts are now considering expanding into select mainstream supermarkets. They are also introducing a new label for their grocery line — organic almond butter, filbert butter, honey, trail mixes — and are expanding that line with select companies “that share our values,” Julie Tilt says. In the meantime, Hummingbird has racked up numerous growth awards, including the Regional Award of Merit for Economic Enhancement, and the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce Emerald Award for Growth.

About those values. As interest in natural foods explodes, an ever-expanding number of Oregon companies are moving into that market space, many touting value-added, triple-bottom-line business frameworks. Those second-generation businesses join Hummingbird, Springfield Creamery, Glory Bee Honey, and a number of other Eugene based natural food purveyors who were toiling away long before sustainable food and farming became all the rage.

The organic movement, and Hummingbird, has been in the making for more than 30 years, says Charlie Tilt. He doesn’t seem the type to claim success is the best revenge.

But his star is shining bright.

Linda Baker is the managing editor of Oregon Business.

 

More Articles

5 questions for Flywheel CEO Rakesh Mathur

The Latest
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
FW splashBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Portland is awash in rideshare options. We ask the head of Flywheel what sets his app apart.


Read more...

5 ways successful people kickstart the day

The Latest
Thursday, April 02, 2015
coffeethumbBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Are mornings the most productive part of the day?  We ask five successful executives how they get off to a good start.


Read more...

The best crisis is the one you avoid

Contributed Blogs
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
crisisthumbBY GARY CONKLING | GUEST BLOGGER

Avoiding a crisis is a great way to burnish your reputation, increase brand loyalty and become a market leader.


Read more...

The ancient fish that stops bullets

The Latest
Friday, May 08, 2015
hagfishthumbBY CHRIS NOBLE | PHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN

Hagfish may not have evolved much over the last 300 million years, but their protein-heavy slime promises advances in super-materials.


Read more...

Beneath the Surface

May 2015
Thursday, April 23, 2015
0515-goodhacker01 250pxwBY LINDA BAKER

On April 1 I attended a forum at the University of Portland on the sharing economy. The event featured panelists from Lyft and Airbnb, as well as Portland Mayor Charlie Hales. Asked about the impact of tech-driven sharing economy services. Hales said the new business models are reshaping the landscape. “But,” he added, “I don’t pretend to understand how a lot of this [technology] works.” 


Read more...

Much ado about data-driven organizations, for good reason

Contributed Blogs
Monday, April 13, 2015
bigdatathumbBY GRANT KIRBY | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

The mega-shift from technology-driven to data-driven organizations raises questions about Oregon’s workforce preparedness.


Read more...

Up in the Air

June 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
BY ANNIE ELLISON

Portland tech veteran Ben Berry is leaving his post as Portland’s chief technology officer for a full-time role producing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) aimed at first responders and the military. Berry’s AirShip Technologies Group is poised to be on the ground floor of an industry that will supply drones to as many as 100,000 police, fire and emergency agencies nationwide. He reveals the plan for takeoff.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS