Sponsored by Oregon Business

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

Announcing the date of the 100 Best Green Workplaces in Oregon event

News
Friday, March 20, 2015
OBM-100-best-Green-logo-2015-250pxwBY OB STAFF

Join us to celebrate and network with Oregon’s best green workplaces!


Read more...

5 questions for inDinero CEO Jessica Mah

The Latest
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
jessicathumbBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

inDinero, a business that manages back-office accounting for startups and smaller companies, recently announced it would relocate its headquarters from San Francisco to Portland. We talked to CEO Jessica Mah about what drew her to Portland and how she plans to disrupt the traditional CPA model.


Read more...

Get on the bus!

April 2015
Thursday, March 19, 2015
BY APRIL STREETER

How the private sector can ride the next transit revolution.


Read more...

Party Like It’s 1999

Contributed Blogs
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
pets-com-sock-puppetBY JASON NORRIS, CFA | OB GUEST BLOGGER

Pets.com, GeoCities, eToys, and WorldCom … blasts-from-the-past that all signify the late 1990s Internet bubble. Yet we believe the dynamics of the market, specifically in technology stocks, are much different today than it was during the late 1990s.


Read more...

Letting Go

April 2015
Friday, March 27, 2015
BY AMY MILSHTEIN

As baby boomers sell their businesses, too many forget the all-important succession plan.


Read more...

Game On

March 2015
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR

The big news at Oregon Business is we’re getting a ping pong table. After reading the descriptions of the 2015 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon, a disproportionate number of which feature table tennis in the office, I decided it was time to bring our own workplace into the 21st century. It was a tough call, but it’s lonely at the top, and someone has to make the hard decisions.


Read more...

Beyond Bodegas

April 2015
Friday, March 27, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Five years in the making, the Portland Mercado — the city’s first Latino public market — will celebrate its grand opening April 11. A $3.5 million public-private partnership spearheaded by Hacienda CDC, the market will house 15 to 20 businesses in the food, retail and service sectors. It has some big-name funders, including the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and JPMorgan Chase. The project goals are equally ambitious: to improve cross-cultural understanding, alleviate poverty and spur community economic development. 


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