New flavors in the outdoors: Avon startup receives $250,000 state grant
Avon startup Oso Adventure Meals, which makes freeze-dried authentic Mexican cuisine, receives $250,000 state grant
Avon startup Oso Adventure Meals was awarded a $250,000 Advanced Industries Grant last week to support the development of the freeze-dried meal company, which specializes in bringing authentic Mexican cuisine to the outdoor food industry.
The Advanced Industries grant program distributes state funding to promote the growth of local businesses using innovative technologies that will be created or manufactured in Colorado. In this grant cycle, 40 companies were selected out of 98 applicants, for a total distribution of $9,524,777 for research and development and the commercializing of existing disruptive technologies.
Rama Haris, a senior manager for the state’s Advanced Industries accelerator programs, said in a press release that the advanced industries are key drivers of the Colorado economy, accounting for nearly a third of the state’s total wage earnings, sales revenue and exports.
“These 40 recipients represent the future of those industries,” Haris said. “By supporting their development, we are boosting Colorado’s strong economy and supporting the development of technologies that can change the world for the better.”
Oso Adventure Meals was awarded the maximum amount of funding available for an Early-Stage Capital and Retention Grant to help the company expand production and bring its existing technology and recipes to market.
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Diversifying the outdoors through food
Oso Adventure Meals was founded in 2021 by friends Dom Barrera and Felipe Vieyra. The two came up with the concept on a backpacking trip in 2020, when they pulled out bags of freeze-dried beef stroganoff for dinner and began wishing for the meals of their childhood out in the wilderness.
“Over cooking the meals and eating them, we were reminiscing about our Abuelita’s home cooking, and that’s when the idea came to us: wouldn’t it be cool to have some posole here in the backcountry, some huevos rancheros,” Barrera said.
When they returned from the trip and began looking at the adventure meals available on the market, they noticed that the lack of diversity in the backpacking and outdoor community was directly reflected in the food options. Barrera and Vieyra are both of Mexican descent, and the meals and flavors that they craved on the trail — posole, huevos rancheros, enchiladas — simply did not exist in freeze-dried form.
Noticing this gap, the lightbulb went off, and they set out to bring the meals to market themselves. They brought their grandmothers’ authentic home recipes to a food scientist and designed an approach to retain all of the spice and flavor of a home-cooked meal in a freeze-dried package. They said that the process required them to pursue innovative techniques because many of the ingredients that they needed to match the recipes had never been freeze-dried before.
“It was really hard to find culturally authentic ingredients,” Barrera said. “For example, hominy, which is a traditional, staple Mexican ingredient, we couldn’t find any major outdoor retail companies that provided freeze-dried hominy. With our food scientists, we needed to figure out: How do we prepare this in a way that’s traditional and that can be served in the right way.”
Once they found a freeze-drying process that successfully brought the traditional recipes to life, they pitched their business idea on Kickstarter in February 2021 and raised over $21,000 from 265 backers to start the company. Their message about increasing representation in the outdoors through food resonated with hundreds of people, and exactly one year later they were able to fund an initial production run and get Oso Adventure Meals off the ground.
“That really showed us that there is appetite to disrupt the space, and there is appetite for culturally relevant, delicious tasting food in the outdoor space,” Vieyra said. “It was very validating and great to see our community support us.”
Sustainable food with a social impact
With this substantial funding boost from the state, Vieyra and Barrera are ready to take the company to the next level. Right now, Oso Adventure Meals sources ingredients from around the country and combines them in Colorado before distributing, but the ultimate goal is to make all of their meals in-state, in-house.
Having a local manufacturing operation will also enable the company to source ingredients directly from local farms and create the most sustainable life cycle possible for their products.
“We very much want to be a Colorado company and invest in our local economy and hire folks and work with local farms to source ingredients,” Vieyra said. “Our whole goal is we want to be able to have as much impact as we can here in the state of Colorado, and that is better for the environment: less transportation, less packaging, saves time, energy and resources.”
Beyond increasing representation in the outdoors, the founders also want to increase access for people of color and bring down the barriers, financial and otherwise, that prevent people from being able to enjoy time in nature.
Barrera grew up in the Five Points neighborhood in Denver and said that being introduced to outdoor activities likely saved his life.
“My environment was always involved with gangs and police officers and honestly, if it wasn’t for folks like my uncle who showed me outdoor activities like fishing and hiking and camping, I don’t think I would be here today,” Barrera said. “There is just such a beautiful benefit of being outdoors in the wilderness. It provides a therapeutic experience, but it also brings creativity. I just hope that through my experience and through our brand that we can really make a positive impact.”
Vieyra came to Colorado as an undocumented immigrant whose parents worked long hours at meat packing plants. He said that they would go as a family to national parks, or have picnics by the river, and that valuable time enabled them to connect and created many of his fondest childhood memories.
“When I think of the outdoors, it was a place of comfort and a place of opportunity to eat together as a family, given all the things that my parents would do,” Vieyra said.
Today, being outdoors is integral to the lives of both men, and they want to ensure that more people of color and low-income communities can experience the benefits that they did. In order to accomplish this goal, 1% of every Oso Adventure Meal sold goes toward the nonprofit organization Ski Noir 5280, an inclusive ski club in Colorado that reduces barriers to getting on the mountain through transportation, education and community.
Oso Adventure Meals sells four meal varieties on its website. Meals are currently sold out, but can be pre-ordered and are being restocked shortly thanks to production expansion funded by the Advanced Industries Grant. For more information about Oso Adventure Meals and to pre-order meals, visit OsoMeals.com.