How I Started a $41K/Month Ancient Grains Business Selling Freekeh

Hello! Who are you and what food business did you start?

My name is Troy DeSmet, and I am the founder of Freekeh Foods. I’ve been working in the Organic Foods Industry for over 20 years and after I crossed over from the conventional food industry, haven’t looked back since. As a part of the solution to food production, the work has given me purpose and feels good when I know that what I’m feeding people is healthy for them and our planet.

Freekeh is fire roasted green wheat. Freekeh is named after the process of rubbing fire roasted wheat to separate the kernel from the chaff. 

Freekeh is harvested in early spring when the wheat is young and still green in the fields. As an early harvest crop, Freekeh may have played an important role in feeding early communities. 

Since the cradle of civilization whole grains have been at the center of communities. Freekeh has been featured in recipes dating all the way back to 2300 BC which is why Freekeh is considered an ancient grain.

Troy DeSmet, Founder of Freekeh Foods

My career in Agriculture began out of high school when I began working for conventional grain elevators as a manual laborer, the work was tough and physical and carried me through college. 

Upon graduating from college, the first salaried position was as a conventional grain trader. Newly married and with two small children and one on the way, I felt compelled or called to work for the purpose of healing our Earth. Environmental justice was in the forefront of my mind; and I considered the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and Environmental law. 

My life changed one day as I was riding my motorcycle to work, beating my mind on what to do next, when I nearly hit the car stopped in front of me at a red light. Peering down at the license plate, the message struck, the license plate read FLTR IT. 

Immediately realizing the meaning of the message, I let go of the ideas. That same day my boss gave me an article on the Organic Industry, and without hesitation knew it was my next chapter. 

In 1997 the Organic Industry accounted for less than 1% of the food industry, which I took to mean there was a 99% opportunity for growth, and it was in line with my heart. Within 3 months I was moving across the country to begin working in a community of like-minded people that had purpose, a mission, and began to work for a cause I am passionate about.

We provide and share our product, Freekeh, to retailers, food service, for private label as well as distributors. Our joy is providing Freekeh to our clients that believe in and support a healthy food system and who enjoy serving delicious food that people can feel good about eating.

As a young business man who spent his entire life working for material gain, success, and position, my life changed in 2012 when I experienced near death by an Aortic Dissection & Aneurysm. The impact of the life threatening situation and subsequent recovery caused me to reflect on my life and my purpose. 

At Freekeh Foods, the proceeds of our sales go to our employees, paying the Organic and Transitioning farmers a price that support their growth and family farms, and to expand operations and awareness of Freekeh as a potential solution for the impending water crisis.

An example of Freekeh being used as breakfast similar to oatmeal.

What are your ballpark monthly or annual revenue numbers?

We anticipate our numbers will continue to increase. Revenues have grown from $20,000 annually to over $500,000 annually with Freekeh Foods. 

As we continue to share information with our customers and educate them regarding the benefits for family farms, the benefits for the soil, and for human consumption we anticipate continued sustainable growth. 

We are proud to supply our Freekeh, both Non-GMO and Organic with our partners who provide all of our cleaning and packaging needs in their 100% solar powered facility.

Protein-rich grains from farm to table.

What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

My background was working with Organic Farmers and Grain Elevators as an agent that would buy and supply large retailers and flour mills with Organic Wheat and Durum, so my database of farmers, processors, and customers across North America had been built from the previous 20 years of working in the Organic Foods Industry.

That said, Freekeh Foods is the painstaking result of many people selflessly coming together to be a part of a solution. Our Freekeh has been developed from the efforts of many, as well as the blood (I’m personally terrible around heavy equipment!), sweat (California summers are hot!), and tears (I’ve cried real tears in the wheat fields after missing a crop) of those who take great care in what they do. 

There is no one person that can take credit for this product, it is the culmination of the efforts of everyone that have been associated with Freekeh Foods from it’s inception.

Developing Freekeh and our company has been our greatest challenge. The highs and lows, as I’m sure you understand, can be emotionally draining and also exhilarating. The process of making Freekeh has been our greatest challenge. 

Different types of bowls can be used as a meal.

Timing is everything, and our approach demands our attention in every detail. The variables involved in seed selection, planting, irrigation and harvesting are just the beginning. We are involved every step of the way, and are literally managing our operations from seed selection and planting to delivering what we regard as the highest quality Freekeh in the world.

Our first crop was missed due to timing, so learning that when it’s time to make Freekeh, it doesn’t wait. Our second through twelfth production efforts were also failures, the equipment required is unique, expensive, and requires specific knowledge. 

Finally, lucky number 13, we made our first batch and at 3 am on a Saturday morning we had succeeded. Those that were still awake, took great delight in popping the warm sweet kernels into our mouths and savored the satisfaction and delicious product we had created. Over the past several years we have refined the process and though our production season can be tough, we’re typically in bed by 9.

Take us through the process of developing, testing, and producing your first product.

Originally, we were asked to import Conventional Freekeh from a foreign supplier for a bulk bin program at a national supermarket chain. We imported the two containers and the customer purchased one, leaving us with the second container that the customer did not take at a later date. Realizing the customer was not going to take the second container, and

Understanding it was because the customer didn’t know what it was, how to cook it, or what it tasted like, our mission began.

We developed a retail product and launched nationally, within 6 months of our startup we had landed in over 2,500 grocery stores. The problem was the product wasn’t Organic, and so we set out to grow and make an Organic Freekeh. We were led by events and people to arrive at the process and purchased the equipment and set out to make our first batch of Organic Freekeh.

Organic whole Freekeh can be purchased by the bag through Freekeh Foods.

Describe the process of launching the business.

From infancy, Freekeh Foods has been personally financed, as well as financed through our partners at Davis Drier in Firebaugh, CA. We have used the proceeds from the sale of a previous company to finance equipment costs, and all activities related to the growing, cleaning, packaging, and distribution.

Our initial efforts focused on our retail product and we achieved widespread distribution. It wasn’t long before we realized that retail was not our strength, so we set out to be a manufacturer and wholesale distributor to support those whose strength is in retail and those who have the skills to reach the customer directly. 

We support those who are able to share our product with their customers. Our job is to manufacture the highest quality product in the world, and develop materials that support your business.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

After redirecting my career in 2010, I’ve simplified business and have found that business is really pretty simple. 

At Freekeh Foods, business is making and keeping promises, providing a product you believe in, and taking every step along the way to ensure our customers are treated as we would want to be. 

It is understanding what your customer needs are, sometimes reading in between the lines, and over delivering. The words are easy and simple, the proof is in the service. The numbers are not what drive us, our relationships with our customers does that.

We have worked with print media through ad agencies, website development, Google, Facebook, Instagram, self-published a cookbook, contracted with a publisher for another, and promoted our Freekeh through celebrity infomercials. One of our greatest challenges is growing awareness for our product, and we continue to strive to expand awareness.

Thai Red Curry Shrimp is an dish that utilizes freekeh.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Today we are distributing our Freekeh products throughout North America and the World. We continue to innovate with our relationships across the country, and offer Freekeh products in many ways. 

We are excited to be able to offer our Rolled Freekeh this coming 4th quarter. Our Freekeh Flour program is beginning to grow and we anticipate many new developments as bakers learn about the functionality of Freekeh Flour. 

We offer various packaging and shipment options, and are vigilant with our protocols and procedures to ensure our customers receive the highest quality product.

I am excited about our future, and believe Freekeh is a product that will be vital for our future as the next 50 years promise to challenge all grains heavily dependent on water.

We are in the process of expanding operations and partnerships in other areas in the world, as we know the agronomic benefits for farmers are enormous, and know that our technology will enable others throughout the world to enjoy the delicious flavor and nutrient profile of a life sustaining grain. 

Our mission is to share Freekeh with the world, to support our customers with service that exceeds expectations, and to strive for economic transparency and fairness so that all parties experience a win.

Freekah tacos!

Through starting the ancient grains business, have you learned anything particularly helpful?

I’ve learned that there is no such thing as failure, and that sometimes when you win you really lose, and vice versa. 

I’ve learned that getting too high or too low is emotionally draining, so taking care of my being every day with meditation and bodywork is essential to my well being and makes me easier to work with. 

That going to work to prove yourself is not the answer, rather working for the satisfaction of my relationship with myself, others, and our Earth is far more enriching and enjoyable. 

Money is like a cat, the more you chase it, the faster it runs away from you. My experience is that money is the product of healthy relationships with ourselves and our customers, and that true happiness lies in our connections.

Throughout my career I’ve worked with Professional and Executive Coaches, and have studied, practiced, and received certifications in various healing, coaching and personal growth modalities. 

Meatloaf with Freekah and Spinach.

I’ve learned a great deal throughout my career, and have a passion for helping others achieve their greatest dreams and becoming their best. 

I’m a Certified Life Transformation Coach with certifications in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and the Human Validation Process Models, as well as am a Reiki Master. 

The impacts of the training I received and now provide have enabled us to take the original company from just over $6 million annually in 2012 to over $30 million of revenue in 2013. I employ my gifts, tools and skills to help others, and offer my services through a coaching practice. 

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

The greatest tool for my business is Professional Coaching, hands down. The greatest athletes worldwide work with coaches that support them, guide them, counsel them, and challenge them to be their best. 

Working with a coach who possesses the experience, skills, and who supports me unconditionally inspires me to live each day to it’s best.

What have been the most influential books in your journey?

As I’ve stated above, the best resource has been coaching and the daily practices that have been incorporated that provide balance; physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. My daily routine involves journaling, and because I know we create our realities through our

Perspectives, beliefs, and consciousness, each day I write. If you are a writer or like to journal, the book “Your Handwriting Can Change Your Life” by Vimala Rogers is excellent, it changed mine. Consciously changing our neural pathways through handwriting to create greater awareness has been challenging, rewarding, and continue to lead to a more conscious life.

It always amazes me how business can disregard our internal belief systems, the beliefs we hold about ourselves. 

Rather, we set goals, assign milestones, achieve numbers, review Balance Sheets and Income Statements and are hit with deadline after deadline. The hamster wheel continues to spin faster and faster. 

Freekeh breakfast parfait.

The greatest growth I’ve ever experienced in business didn’t come about through a strategy I employed through a business book, but rather through reflection, contemplation, and release of a particular belief I had been holding for 35 years. 

Within 1 week of letting go of this belief our original company went from tracking sales revenue for the year of $4 million to what would result in revenues exceeding $20 million for the year.  The revenue was sustainable, manageable, and grew each subsequent year. I’d recommend reading, “Healing The Shame That Binds You” by John Bradshaw.

Do you have any tips for other food entrepreneurs?

Start at your kitchen table or in your garage. Test your product on your friends, neighbors, and family first and if they like it begin offering the product to local purveyors.

Go slow and grow sustainably, maintain ownership. The process of providing food is greater than the almighty dollar, it’s about communing with others and sharing in the feast.

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About Support Staff

Brett Lindenberg is the founder of Food Truck Empire and Food Empire Pro. Brett's mission is help to entrepreneurs start and grow profitable food businesses. Since 2014, Brett has interviewed over 100 entrepreneurs on the Food Empire Pro podcast and written hundreds of blog posts on all aspects of food business. Brett has been quoted in media outlets like Entrepreneur Magazine, CNBC, and The Washington Post.