AURI Connects: Fields of Innovation Innovator Profiles is a Q&A series with Minnesota entrepreneurs who have partnered with AURI to build capacity and successfully commercialize new crop and livestock opportunities, including new traits for existing crops.
Q&A with Katelyn Smude (Marketing Manager)
For those who may not be familiar, what should people know about Smude Sunflower Oil?
When Tom and Jenni Smude began their journey with Smude’s Sunflower Oil, they recruited everyone they knew to help build their dream. Much of their success can be attributed to being a family-oriented business, with most employees being family and friends. This is key for them because they are able to build strong connections with their employees.
What is your involvement with the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI)?
The team at AURI has helped us throughout the years with nutritional labeling, shelf-life trials, byproduct development (protein powder and sunflower meal), etc. AURI has been instrumental in turning ideas into marketable and desirable products
What are some of the reasons people might purchase your product(s)?
Smude’s Sunflower Oil aims to positively impact the world in so many ways! We’ve had an all-natural mission since the very beginning, and our sunflower oil is produced by cold pressing—which means no heat or chemicals while retaining all the wonderful flavor and nutritional value. Retaining that nutritional value means Smude’s Sunflower Oil is a heart-healthy cooking option. St. Cloud Hospital’s renowned Cardiac Care Unit gives samples of Smude’s Sunflower Oil to its patients in hopes of preventing future cardiac issues by guiding people to heart-healthy diet choices. As an additional part of our all-natural mission, we developed an innovative and chemical-free microwave popcorn that consists of three simple ingredients: popcorn, sunflower oil and salt. We take great pride in providing people with a delicious, healthy and convenient snacking option. We’re also very proud to be a zero-waste company, and we aim to use recycled and/or recyclable materials where we can, like our shipping boxes.
What are the challenges presented and opportunities offered?
Tom and Jenni started out as crop farmers, but two straight years of crop devastation tested both their faith and their finances. After extensive research into drought-tolerant crops, they took a gamble and planted sunflowers. Their original goal was to sell sunflower meal as animal feed and to sell sunflower oil in bulk by the semi-load. However, three months in, they faced another tough decision when the price for bulk oil dropped. Even though there wasn’t much sunflower oil on the retail market, they took another leap of faith into the retail business and hoped their big idea would take off. All their hard work began to show dividends when word started to spread about the delicious sunflower oil, and soon retailers came calling.
How do you see your business growing?
Even though Tom and Jenni are over a decade into their venture, it’s still really exciting to hear how many people love their products. They obviously look forward to continued growth and innovation and can’t wait to make their way into more and more homes. Their customers can continue to expect the delicious, quality and all-natural products they know and love—and Smude’s Sunflower Oil will continue to be available in more and more retail markets, whether it be traditional stores or online.
How can AURI’s readers and supporters purchase your products, connect with your business online and/or help your business thrive?
The best place is to visit our website at smudeoil.com. You can also connect with us on our social media channels — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest.
*This interview was edited for length and clarity.