Healthy Outlook on Chocolate Spurs Business

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Saturday, November 16, 2019, 7:32 am
Sarah Spohn

A selection of buttercup chocolate. (Photo courtesy of Oh Mi Organics)

Megen Hurst loved chocolate, but had to give it up when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She cut all processed sugars out of her diet and since then has been able to manage the chronic inflammatory disorder, but she still missed chocolate. She decided to try and whip up her own version of those infamous sweet treats now gone from her diet, in her own kitchen.

Along with her husband Brent, who grew up in East Lansing, the pair quickly found out their allergen-free chocolates could help a lot of people. They started Oh Mi Organics in St. Johns in 2015. Today, their products are found in an ever-growing list of Michigan and Ohio locations.

On Sunday, Oh Mi Organics is hosting a free chocolate sampling event in the East Lansing health foods grocery store, Foods for Living (2655 E. Grand River Ave) from 12-3 p.m. Flavors include their original chocolate, and the flavor-changing Neapolitan chocolate.

“We’re both foodies,” Megen said. “We love inventing new things at home, and trying different ways to make healthier versions of the junk food everyone craves.”

Brent refers to many of their concoctions, including their chocolate chip cookie dough hummus as “organic junk food – but no garbage, just high-octane fuels.”

For the duo, deciding to quit their day jobs, it wasn’t about a careful business decision, but rather, the decision to help other people. People who missed eating the things they loved, but refrained due to gluten, peanut, tree nut, soy allergies, or artificial sweetener sensitivities. Today, their products are in over 70 stores, and growing.

“The distribution footprint spans from the Soo Locks in the Upper Peninsula, to the northeastern territory of Ohio, and all over Michigan,” Brent said. “We did just connect with a much larger distributor, so it’s about to grow exponentially again.”

The St. Johns business has a familiar relationship with the East Lansing grocery store, Foods for Living.

“They’ve sold our chocolate since the beginning,” Brent said. “I’m a native of East Lansing … those guys have been huge advocates of our products and our company in general – they’re an incredibly awesome help.”

Foods for Living Store Director Rebecca Zader, has been at their current location since just a few months after they opened in 2002.

“The landscape of natural and health food has changed quite a bit since I’ve been here,” she said. “We’ve gone from being pretty much one of the two locally owned health food stores, with us and the East Lansing Food Co-Op, which closed a few years ago.”

Now, their competitors include Whole Foods, Fresh Thyme, Costco, and the Better Health Food Store in Frandor.

“It’s not easy being a locally owned store anymore, especially when you’re a specialty grocery store. I don’t hear the drive for local as much as I used to anymore. It was a hot topic for a period of time,” Zader said. “We’ve got a good core group of customers that I think that matters to, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily the mainstream mentality anymore.”

Megen and Brent Hurst

For Oh Mi Organics, supporting local farms and businesses is a necessity, who uses local maple syrup and mint oil from Livingston, local raw honey from Ithaca, and flavorings from Troy and Bay City.

Foods for Living also carriers a wide variety of Michigan-made products on their shelves, something Rebecca said is an advantage of their store, over a large corporation.

“We do the best that we can to have the most we can,” she said. “Given we also aren’t dealing with corporate headquarters that have to approve a product before it comes into the store, we can make the decision on the fly. We are a natural food store, so we do look for products that fall in line with being natural, no artificial sweeteners, colors or preservatives. As long as it falls into that category, and it’s a local product we all like and think would sell, we’re almost always willing to bring it in.”

For the husband-and-wife business duo, it’s important they remain visible, even as the CEOs of Oh Mi Organics. It’s likely that one or both will be at their headquarters any day of the week, behind the counter, or in the kitchen. For Megen, she’s especially excited to return to East Lansing for the tasting event, something they used to do regularly.

“We are super excited to come out to Foods for Living because Brent and I don’t get to go do events like this anymore,” Megen said. “Our retail location has become so busy now that we hardly get out of here. We used to, back in the day, when we first started, him and I were the ones out there doing samplings.”

Ultimately, it’s their ability to help which really sweetens the deal for the Oh Mi Organics business owners.

“We get a lot of good, positive reviews about the products, and we are able to connect a lot of people with things they miss due to food allergies,” Brent said. “We found out Megen wasn’t the only one.” © 2013-2020 East Lansing Info