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Jeff Brinkhoff, president of Mount Vernon-based Red Monkey Foods, is capitalizing on the company's own label after finding success in the private label sector.
Jeff Brinkhoff, president of Mount Vernon-based Red Monkey Foods, is capitalizing on the company's own label after finding success in the private label sector.

Business Spotlight: Seriously Spicy

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Jeff Brinkhoff doesn’t let his company’s laid-back name fool anyone. The Red Monkey Foods president is serious about spices.

The Mount Vernon-based company produces spices, rubs, spice grinders, mills and other food products under the umbrella of Brinkhoff & Monoson Inc. In its eight years, Red Monkey Foods has become a national leader in the spice industry, producing private label seasonings for Target, Safeway, Supervalu and Cost Plus World Market.

Red Monkey spices are available locally at Price Cutter stores or at www.redmonkeyfoods.com.

With 2009 revenues of $4 million and 2010 revenues on pace for $8 million, the company has come a long way from its beginnings in a 900-square-foot dairy barn on Brinkhoff’s family farm in Golden City to its 40,000-square-foot warehouse and production plant.

Brinkhoff remembers working with health care professionals during several years in pharmaceutical sales to help keep what he does in context.

“We’re not saving lives, we’re not curing disease, we’re just giving people something to put on their chicken,” he says.

More than salt and pepper
Since founding the company in 2002, Brinkhoff admits he had much to learn about the spice business. He started with the desire to grow, process and sell spices.

“That led into about a yearlong discovery of the spice industry,” Brinkhoff says. “We realized there were a lot of avenues of the spice category that were not being tended to.”

Despite early success in selling private label spices to four large retail stores, he still believed an underserved area existed.

“No one was offering gourmet and/or organic,” Brinkhoff says. “We saw that opportunity.”
Brinkhoff says two major players dominate the industry – McCormick and ACH Food, which produces
Tone’s Spices, making it difficult to break into the market.

“Nobody was ready to pull the trigger on private label organic (spices),” Brinkhoff says. “We finally got Safeway. It was and still remains very successful.”

The Monkey is born
From Brinkhoff’s vision for a private label line of spices, the Red Monkey brand was launched in 2004. Brinkhoff says the Red Monkey concept took several years to materialize and ended in a “focus directly on providing seasonings that are a bit sexier than your common seasonings. Private label has been our focus. As of late, our new focus is on the Red Monkey brand.”

Brinkhoff says the company’s startup capital didn’t match its vision for Red Monkey.

“We were millions and millions short of being able to successfully create a brand in this category,” Brinkhoff says. “Quest Capital Alliance took a chance on us.”

Springfield-based Quest Capital, a group of private equity funds, was the primary investor for the first five years of Red Monkey but is no longer a backer.

Steven Fox, Quest general manager, says his company’s decision to invest about $500,000 in Red Monkey in 2004 was based on the nature of the business and Brinkhoff’s leadership.

“We look for niche businesses and felt like the organic angle was in a high-growth phase. They kind of found a niche there that was underserved,” Fox says. “It was a combination of that and management. Jeff was very committed and very diligent about it.”

Quest’s financial investment spurred the development of the Red Monkey brand, which now receives financial support from undisclosed private investors.

Future with a kick
Red Monkey’s top-selling spices are Mango Habanera Rub, Savory Steak Rub, BBQ Spice Rub, Cajun Spice Rub and Roasted Raspberry Chipotle.

Brinkhoff says the future of Red Monkey is to become what he calls a “cult brand” similar to Durham, N.C.-based Burt’s Bees and Austin, Texas-based Sweet Leaf Tea.

“We’re not looking to be in every supermarket,” Brinkhoff says.

Creating a marketing department with a heavy Web site development emphasis is in the works. Brinkhoff hopes to redesign the Red Monkey Web site with more interaction and culinary entertainment.

“We want to make cooking fun. Cooking should be a source of entertainment and not seen as a daily pain in the ass to get substance in kids’ bellies before bed,” Brinkhoff says. “Obviously, this is a direct attempt to come back to revenue.”

City officials are pleased to have Red Monkey in their yard.

“They have a presence nationally,” says John Rice, Mount Vernon city administrator. “It’s a good public relations thing to have Red Monkey, home office Mount Vernon, Missouri.”[[In-content Ad]]

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