How a woman-owned Keene business is taking its plant-based probiotics and fermented foods nationwide
By Holly Riddle
When Cori Deans was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, she looked to her diet for a solution for her symptoms.
“I got rid of all the foods that weren’t real, that you couldn’t see their origins from the earth, as well as anything that had sugar in it, and I started eating probiotics derived from the earth,” she says. An adjustment in diet and a switch of mindset, she says, “totally changed” her life. “Even though I’ll always have Crohn’s disease, I don’t have symptoms. I’m not on medication. It’s great.”
But in changing her diet, Deans discovered a void in the marketplace. When looking for fermented foods, she could never quite find exactly what she was looking for, flavor-wise, or that provided the health benefits she was after.
“I started taking my weekly CSA from Juniper Hill Farm and fermenting,” she says. “I was working with what was in season and grown locally at the exact same time, and what I discovered was, if it grows together, it goes together. So most of my recipes are designed around things that you can get locally, as well as things that you can get at the exact same time through local farmers.”
Deans’ fermentation experiments quickly exploded into an all-out obsession. “It didn’t take long before I had a lot of fermented products that my family and my friends were enjoying, but then I had way too much,” she laughs. “It didn’t take me long to think ‘I see a niche in the market. I know that there’s nothing else out there that’s filling this exact space, at least locally.’ I had a good relationship with specialty markets and local health food stores because I would shop at them. Maybe they’d be interested in selling this as a local product.”
Small Town Cultures
Deans founded Small Town Cultures and reached out to local retailers in 2017 with her line of probiotic-rich ferments, ready to eat straight from the jar or to add to recipes — and it didn’t take long for her to find success. Within a month, she says, the business became her full-time job, partially thanks to happenstance. When a regional distributor stumbled upon her products at a tasting at a local store, they reached out to her about carrying her line. Today, Small Town Cultures can be found in about 300 retail locations.
However, Deans’ good fortune didn’t end there. Most recently, Whole Foods reached out to Deans after discovering Small Town Cultures online. The health food chain is bringing the brand into its flagship location and 40 other stores in the Southwest, as of this summer.
Currently, Deans has a team of about eight people helping to churn out each jar of fermented foods out of a kitchen in Keene and, just like Dean’s original ferments, each glass jar is filled with small-batch product that’s raw, unpasteurized, gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO and keto-friendly.
What makes Small Town Cultures such a success? Deans says it all comes down to the ease of use. While many people are familiar with the health benefits of fermented foods — including increased immunity and gut health — not everyone knows how to incorporate fermented foods into their diets.
“I realized what was selling best were my single-ingredient ferments, because people could easily incorporate them into their diets,” she explains. “Our products are really easy to use. I think people should be eating fermented foods at least daily, if not with every meal, so I’m trying to help facilitate that.” Dean’s favorite ferments include the sliced jalapeños — “They’re good on everything. You don’t even have to think about it,” she says — and the kimchi. “We use the kimchi a lot. We do kimchi pancakes… It’s really bright and really flavorful. It’s a crowd pleaser.”
Looking to the future, Deans hopes to expand into more grocery store chains where fermented foods aren’t as widely represented, so that more people can begin incorporating fermented foods into their diets in the easiest ways possible. “I think the real goal is to be in more local supermarket chains… I think that’s where we’re going to actually make a difference in having people try fermented foods for the first time and enjoy them.”
Products can be purchased online, or you can find retail distributors on the Small Town Cultures website, www.smalltowncultures.com.
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