It’s no surprise that there’s a steady market for trail snacks in our state –– Alaskans have been hitting the outdoors for ages and the need for fuel on the trail remains constant.
In Anchorage, several local business owners have been working hard to provide healthier food options on the trail, made in Alaska by Alaskans.
Four of those Anchorage-based small businesses are selling products like granola, portable coffee packs and dehydrated meals. Between using locally sourced ingredients and operating with a holistic approach, they cater to everyone from the casual hiker to the backcountry fiend.
Here are some of the local businesses making snacks suitable for your next outdoor adventure.
Megan Militello started making granola with bananas she harvested from a giant banana patch outside her home in Hawaii. Years later, and now in Anchorage, she uses locally sourced fruits and vegetables as she continues to grow her granola company, Elevated Oats.
Militello teamed up with friend and graphic designer Lacey Ernandes, whom she met in 2007 during their tour in Iraq with the Army working as air traffic controllers. This August, the duo will celebrate their company’s third anniversary.
“I wanted to help people become better people, and me and Lacey teamed up to really show people that you can live a better life and choose the things that lift you up and light you up,” Militello said. “We really try to bring the mental health aspect into our food because food is a huge part of the equation.”
Fruits and vegetables are highlighted as the second ingredient in their granola –– something Militello says sets her company apart from others on the market. Militello likes to play with bright colors and textures. In addition, the granola can be eaten in a variety of ways, she said, from snacking out of the bag to stirring in hot water to turn it into oatmeal.
Their newest test flavor is a pineapple habanero granola, and one of their staple flavors, Cranberry Cashew Chew, is flavored with beets.
On a recent morning at her small factory in South Anchorage, Militello and two employees worked on their next batch of toasted orange amaretto granola.
The granola made its rounds from the 60-quart mixer and into the oven –– both repurposed from a pizza shop.
Militello wants Elevated Oats to become a nationally recognized granola brand, although her current focus is on the Alaska market. Their granola is currently available for purchase online and can be found in over 100 locations throughout Alaska, including Walmart, Three Bears and Kaladi Brothers Coffee.
“It is the coolest thing I can possibly say I’ve ever done,” Militello said of her business. “I think because it’s from scratch … it wasn’t a franchise or something. It was literally an idea that energy was put into, not just by me but by so many people to make it into what it is.”
[Markets are all over Anchorage in the summer. Here’s when and where to find them.]
AK Coffee Co.
When it launched in 2018, AK Coffee Co. was producing small batches of coffee in a conex. For 3 1/2 years, owners Emily Rickman and her husband, Sawyer, and their business partner, Pascual Reig, would roast their coffee beans monthly and make local deliveries going door-to-door.
Now, the first bag of coffee they ever packaged sits on a shelf at their new warehouse in a business park in Anchorage’s Midtown neighborhood. Dated Dec. 21, 2017, the bag, parked next to their original roaster, is decorated with a hand-drawn logo, written prayer and their signatures.
AK Coffee Co. has grown steadily and shipped across the country to over 25 states, as far east as Pennsylvania and as far south as Florida. Rickman hopes that by the end of this year, they will have shipped to every state.
“Sitting here and just kind of thinking about where we started and where we are now, I think of those long days after work and just the memories that we’ve built,” Rickman said in a recent interview.
Something that sets AK Coffee Co. apart from other companies is that they use one farmer and one bean, Rickman said.
They purchase their coffee beans from Legacy Farms in Honduras and have since built a strong relationship, communicating about the farm’s growing season, harvests and employees.
They offer light, medium and dark roasts that are organic, low in acidity and have notes of toasted almond with a rich aftertaste and strong body.
The Rickmans and Reig still work full-time jobs outside their coffee business, and for Emily Rickman, she’s never considered herself a coffee snob. She found herself constantly playing outside in Alaska, and coffee helped fuel those adventures.
This inspired their newest product, AKC Bean Bags, something they’ve known they wanted to produce since their business started.
The pouch-like filters contain their medium roast coffee and are individually packaged. They’re designed to be easy to use in the outdoors by eliminating the need for a press and simplifying cleanup.
Rickman is encouraged by what she sees in Anchorage’s small-business environment and emerging innovators. Supporting Alaska’s small businesses is important, she says, along with “creating an environment of creativity and innovation for the next generation to come in to be able to dream dreams that are big, and to know what is possible.”
“Without Alaskans supporting small businesses, there’s going to be fewer around,” Rickman said. “If we’re not supporting them, who else is going to be?”
AK Coffee Co.’s products are available for purchase online and in Anchorage at The Hoarding Marmot, New Sagaya and Once in a Blue Moose. Alaska House of Coffee also provides French-pressed coffee and cold brew in their medium roast.
Kat’s Epic Trail Bites
Kat Hubble has been perfecting the flavors of her protein-packed oat snacks for nearly 15 years. She started with six flavors and has since developed more than 50, including some in a vegan line she released three years ago.
Her company, Kat’s Epic Trail Bites, was born after she visited her mom on a trip to the Lower 48, she said. Hubble suffered from low blood sugar, which meant she needed to eat every two hours, and junk food made her sick. That’s when her mom introduced her to homemade breakfast cookies.
Hubble liked the idea of a portable cookie and asked her mom for the recipe. From there, Hubble tweaked and experimented with the ingredients by adding more protein and removing the added sugar.
“So the recipe is pretty unrecognizable from the one my mom gave me, but it’s just the idea of having a cookie that you can eat for breakfast,” she said.
Hubble’s passion is to offer accessible food options for people with food sensitivity and other health needs.
“I’m one of these people that would be so sick all the time if I didn’t watch what I ate and wasn’t looking after myself,” she said. “There’s no one-size-fits-all diet for people.”
Hubble began commercially producing the chewy energy snacks through a grassroots, word-of-mouth effort in 2013 and throughout the years has transformed her product. Flavors include vanilla chai, Key lime pie and carrot cake.
Kaladi Brothers Coffee started selling her products “right out of the gate,” said Hubble, who frequented the shop and built a relationship with the baristas.
Hubble’s company operates with a small staff out of a commercial wholesale bakery in South Anchorage and sells to local coffee huts and shops, a few gyms and both New Sagaya locations. She also offers a bulk discount by appointment at her bakery.
Hubble hopes to continue expanding throughout the state after she homes in on a way to increase the shelf life of her products. In addition, Hubble wants to see her product in gas stations or set up a delivery system to further increase the accessibility of her product to Anchorage’s community members.
[At an East Anchorage restaurant, chicken, waffles and a business built on grit and community]
Heather Kelly’s business, Heather’s Choice, has grown exponentially since she started it in a small apartment in 2013.
“I think when I started the business … it all felt really innocent and like it was just really ruled by a sense of passion and excitement for making this food,” Kelly said.
Now, nine years later, Heather’s Choice packable snacks and dehydrated meals are distributed across the state and country. The business rebranded at the start of this year and introduced six new meals.
Kelly has previous experience and education in sports nutrition and eating psychology, and she’s translated that experience and passion directly into the food she and her staff create.
“We own every piece of our business right now,” Kelly said. “It’s coming from a team of people right here in Anchorage, and that feels just really unique and important to highlight.”
The dehydrated meals include dishes such as smoked sockeye salmon chowder and vegetable lentil soup. In addition, Heather’s Choice also sells Packaroons, coconut macaroons meant for people on-the-go, in a variety of flavors — include their latest, snickerdoodle.
Kelly and her staff focus on quality ingredients and avoid inflammatory fats, such as canola oil, that are found in a lot of packaged foods, she said. She also uses a local seafood processor in Ninilchik for her smoked salmon but says it’s difficult to consistently source local ingredients such as grass-fed beef and bison due to seasonality constraints, quantity of products and lack of infrastructure.
Kelly credits a portion of her success to the community and their investment in her product.
“All of this points back to just how relatively small Anchorage is and how quickly you can become connected to anybody in this town,” she said. “People are really, really willing and happy to lend a hand wherever they can.”
Last year, Kelly began a quarterly meetup with other women-owned outdoor businesses in Alaska to talk about the similar challenges they face, such as hiring, growth and marketing.
Members of the group include local food businesses as well as outdoor clothing companies such as FisheWear, founded by Linda Leary, and Jen Loofbourrow’s company, Alpine Fit.
Kelly is “really wanting to build something here in Alaska that matters,” she said. “There’s been so much chatter among diversifying the economy … but it takes people to actually do it (and we’re) trying our best to be leaders.”
Heather’s Choice is available for local pickup from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays at 625 W. 59th Ave., Unit J.
The Hoarding Marmot, REI, Natural Pantry, Three Bears, Barney’s Sports Chalet, Big Ray’s, Alaska Mill & Feed and Sportsman’s Warehouse also stock Heather’s Choice products, in addition to Amazon. Online orders can be placed on the Heather’s Choice website, as well, and shipped to locations in the United States and Canada.