A Richland company continues to grow in local investments less than a year
after churning out its first nutrition bars made from hemp.
Humming Hemp’s Hilary Kelsay, chief executive officer, called it a
“snowball effect” since inking a national distribution deal within weeks of
launching Hummingbars at an industry expo in California last year.
“The bars are plant-based, high in protein and low in sugar because it’s
only sweetened by the honey,” Kelsay said. She refers to the honey as “our
secret sauce” for the success of the bars, which are also gluten-free.
Kelsay’s husband is a beekeeper and together they also run Humble Honey
Co., though their honey is not used in the bars.
The nutrition bars are found locally at Fred Meyer, Albertsons and Safeway
stores. National distribution of the five flavors of bars began in November.
Humming Hemp also sells hemp hearts, hemp oil and hemp protein powder.
Kelsay said it’s an uphill battle to inform consumers about the health
benefits of hemp products.
“If you’re not already familiar with them, you might be hesitant to pick
up a bag of hemp hearts and start eating them. So we said, ‘We need to
innovate. We need to tell the world about this American super food and how they
should be eating it,’ ” she said.
Kelsay points to the naturally-high protein content in hemp, as well as
its richness in healthy omega fatty acids, vitamin E, calcium and iron.
Misconceptions arise from its status as a cannabis plant. It’s not the same
plant that produces marijuana.
“Hemp is for everyone. I’m the perfect example of that: a young mom, three
kids. I eat it, my kids eat it,” Kelsay said. “Whether you’re conservative or
liberal, a professional athlete or a couch potato, hemp is for you. We’re just
trying to accelerate that messaging. You don’t have to be a millennial male
who’s into CBD (cannabidiol). We try to break down those false anecdotes about
what hemp is.”
Kelsay first got into hemp at a trade show representing her family’s honey
company in 2017.
She recognized a similar chutzpah in the hemp growers that she shared with
her husband, Brett. She said hemp growers had “gone out on a limb to start
cultivating hemp with no federal crop insurance.”
Brett had previously worked in the financial industry underwriting
agriculture loans. This experience, combined with childhood years on a farm,
inspired Brett to begin beekeeping as a hobby, and eventually turn it into a
fulltime profession with the launch of Humble Honey Co.
The couple were already finding success with their business when Kelsay
decided she wanted to do more.
“(Hemp farmers) just embodied this real entrepreneurial spirit. They
believed in hemp as a textile, as a food source, medicinal and CBD. They
believed it could be the next American cash crop,” she said.
Kelsay quickly began to believe it, too, building on a preexisting passion
that food is medicine. “We believe that everything we put in our bodies has an
impact, so why wouldn’t we take this to market?”
She felt there was great historical timing for hemp products due to the
2018 Farm Bill legalizing the cultivation of hemp, combined with the recent
hype around the legalization of recreational marijuana and CBD.
“Hemp is named the No. 1 food trend for 2020,” Kelsay said. She was also a
regular consumer of food bars, something she describes as a “common,
trustworthy and convenient product” embraced by American consumers.
Through the Fuse coworking space in Richland’s Parkway, Kelsay formed a
local team to build the Hummingbar product while she designed the flavor
profile in her own kitchen.
“We have a great ecosystem of entrepreneurs who were able to come
alongside me to get started,” she said.
The effort took most of 2018 while she worked toward a goal of creating
the most powerful food bar on the market, using high quality
ingredients. “We don’t want to just package up any hemp and take it to market.
We are an American hemp food company. We partner with small- and medium-sized
American hemp farmers,” she said.
The farms are mostly found in states along the northern
border of Canada, including Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota. Crop rotation
allows hemp to be grown without herbicides or pesticides, yet there is still an
effort to make it organic. The process takes at least three years for the soil
As the Hummingbar line grew, Kelsay’s husband bowed out of
the effort since the couple are also raising three small children. “We decided
to stay married and not run another business together,” said Kelsay.
Efforts to launch the brand have resulted in $1.3 million
in investments, mostly from local sources and all from within Washington. The
team has recently transitioned to bringing on those experienced in operating a
product and a brand, now that Hummingbar has moved out of the launch stage.
Fewer than 10 employees are part of that team.
Kelsay said the food bar industry is a $7 billion market
and projected to climb to $9 billion. “If you do the math, and we had just 1
percent of that market share,” Kelsay suggested, seeing a future for hemp as a
Current Hummingbar flavors include honey and cinnamon;
almond and chocolate; and lavender, pistachio and blueberry, among others. Five
more flavors are planned. Kelsay describes the bars as “soft, chewy and
delicious.” They sell for about $2.29 to $2.69 apiece, depending on location.
The name for the bars comes from the idea that the nutrients inside will keep
you humming throughout the day.
“It’s really what hemp can do for you, it’s that powerful
nutrition,” she said. “We believe in delicious nutrition that doesn’t have to
Extensive promotional activity is planned for the
remainder of the year to make more consumers aware of the product and its
health benefits. It’s a challenge Kelsay embraces.
“How do you take this American-grown super food that’s
superior to all others and put it in different forms that Americans will love
and want to consume on a daily basis? It’s the super food greater than all
others and nobody knows about it, or if they do, it’s likely a misconception,”
Hummingbars can be food in the nutrition bar aisle of
grocery stores, alongside other national brands such as Larabar, Clif and Luna.
Humming Hemp: thehumminggroup.com; Facebook; Instagram.
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