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Red Monkey Foods President Jeff Brinkhoff, right, strategizes with Chief Financial Officer Ken Edstrom.
Red Monkey Foods President Jeff Brinkhoff, right, strategizes with Chief Financial Officer Ken Edstrom.

2011 Dynamic Dozen No. 4: Red Monkey Foods

Posted online
Who says a company with a playful name can’t manage some serious business?

In the last three years, Mount Vernon-based Red Monkey Foods has more than doubled its gross sales, posting 2010 revenues of $6.3 million, up 143 percent from 2008.

The company produces spices, rubs, spice grinders and other food products under Brinkhoff  & Monoson Inc. Its lineup includes private-label seasonings for Target, Safeway and Cost Plus World Market, as well as a Red Monkey brand launched in 2004.

Founder and President Jeff Brinkhoff says the business was launched as a way to fight what he calls flavor fatigue and to create products aimed at getting people excited about food preperation.

“We wanted to address trends and be a little bit more fun because that is what cooking is all about,” Brinkhoff says.

The launch of the Red Monkey brand shifted the company’s focus off of private Label seasoning and opened the door for expanding into spice combinations that are off the beaten path. Brinkhoff attributes the company’s growth to its ability to stand out in an otherwise bland market sector.

“A lot of the big elephants like McCormick were doing conventional (spices), but nobody was really doing gourmet and private label or ancillary items like your grinders, your seasonings, your sea salts. So, we started focusing on that,” he says.

In the beginning, Brinkhoff was hard at work getting investors to believe in Red Monkey, but as the business has grown, backers such as Quest Capital Alliance in Springfield have helped the company meet its cash flow needs.

“In the spice category, it takes a while to get your name established, so we spent three to four years gaining that trust with the retailers,” Brinkhoff says.  

He says the company’s 40,000-square-foot production and warehouse facility was made possible by $500,000 in venture capital secured during the company’s early years.

Brinkhoff said the company recently broke into the black, and now, he is focused on continuing growth to pay back those investors. His strategy, he notes, is to develop a cult following through unique product offerings, social media marketing and a concentrated focus on customer service.

He envisions the Red Monkey brand as one being on par with Durham, N.C.-based Burt's Bees or Austin, Texas-based Sweet Leaf Tea.

With top sellers Mango Habanera Rub, Savory Steak Rub, BBQ Spice Rub Cajun Spice Rub, and Roasted Raspberry Chipotle, Brinkhoff says the 42-member staff is always experimenting with new flavor combinations, including regional blends for rubs or one-of-a-kind ingredients that chefs won't find anywhere else.

The company's Sugar Twister line comprises three natural sugar blends that can be used for coffee or baked goods: Cinnamon Swirl, Raspberry Riptide and Vanilla Vortex.

Online sales at www.redmonkeyfoods.com haven't been notable in the site's less-than-one-year history, but Brinkhoff says Internet sales growth will be a key part of the company's overall strategy to grab the attention of new customers. Through Monkey Vision, a chef-hosted video diary on the site, Red Monkey promotes its products and shares cooking insights. The company also is using its Facebook page to market its goods to 8,000 followers.

The fact that the down economy has been tough for many restaurants actually leads to more customer potential for Red Monkey, as people have rediscovered a love for home cooking in recent years. Brinkhoff expects Red Monkey to sell about 6 million spice units this year, up from about 4 million in 2010.

"More people are staying at home because cooking is a cheap alternative," Brinkhoff says. "And if they can purchase a private Label brand of gourmet cinnamon for $4 versus a major label for $5, why not try something new?"

Click here for the complete 2011 Dynamic Dozen overview.[[In-content Ad]]

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