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Food companies find new home, room to grow in River Falls

Three partners found a new home in River Falls for their respective businesses and a third company they formed together. Left to right: Damon Holter, Dave Merten, and Lu Holter stand inside their business space at the River Falls Industrial Center II, 265 Mound View Road, Suite 7. <i>Debbie Griffin photo</i>

The proprietors of Croix Valley Foods and SnappyDog Salsa moved their businesses to River Falls in January, making a new and bigger home inside Suite 7 of the remodeled building at 265 Mound View Road.

There, they'll continue producing a line of multiple sauces, salsas, marinades, meat rubs, Bloody Mary spices and more plus they have opened a third company together, Snappy Valley Foods.

The new business offers co-packing services and commercial kitchen rental to small producers who need facilities to make jellies, jams, sauces, marinades and similar products.

"Basically anything that can be canned," said co-owner Damon Holter, "we can make here in this facility."

Sorting the sauces

Holter and wife Lu own Croix Valley Foods and produce a variety of sauces, marinades, dry rubs and various spices.

They began the business two years ago and worked out of a 150-square-foot space inside Specialty Meats and Gourmet in Hudson. They say the space used to be a walk-in cooler.

Holter said, "We outgrew that facility really quickly."

He said he learned about the space being available in River Falls from St. Croix Economic Development Corporation Director Bill Rubin.

The companies began moving in during the fall, doing most of the work themselves to finish the space that includes an office, the commercial kitchen and a small showroom-sample area that accommodates all three companies.

Croix Valley Foods makes signature sauces: Original, competition barbeque, hot-n-spicy, honey-dijon barbecue and brat, garlic and herb and bold-n-spicy Bloody Mary seasoning.

Holter describes the sauces as "versatile," able to be used for marinades, cooking and dipping all kinds of foods and enhancing the flavor of beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, wild game, fish, tofu, ribs, burger and brats.

He explains his background in food service started 15 years ago when he helped with the family business in Hertel, Timberidge Roadhouse. They made a special steak sauce that people loved. Holter tried other jobs, including some in food service.

On the brink of professional change, one night Holter made a batch of the sauce for Lu, who didn't usually favor steak. As they ate it and enjoyed the meal, he says "the light bulb went off" prompting him to take a class and become licensed.

SnappyDog Salsa, owned by Dave Merten, makes a wide variety of sauces in mild, medium, hot and extra hot. The line also includes fruit salsas made with apple, blueberry, cranberry, raspberry and rhubarb.

Merten said about the unusual rhubarb, "It's actually my number one selling fruit flavor."

He began his business in 2008, mostly out of economic necessity. He owned the Valley Auto Sales Dealership in New Richmond, the access to which was eliminated when the new highway went in.

Before auto sales, Merten's background included food service, catering and a love of cooking, so it wasn't a stretch when his wife suggested that he take the family salsa recipe to market.

After starting at the St. Paul Farmer's Market, the company -- inadvertently named by his young son and with a logo designed by his daughter -- began growing.

Snappy Valley Foods is a company the two proprietors run together, offering their sauce- and rub-making commercial kitchen to small producers.

Holter and Merten met three years ago at Hot Air Affair in Hudson, soon becoming friends and seeing each other at the same events where they'd market their products.

The business owners agree that the growth of competition barbeque in recent years has fueled the companies' growth. All the products have won awards, and all the owners love to cook, compete and eat, going to many contests around the country.

Already the new co-packing and commercial-kitchen rental seems to be filling a niche, say the owners, as people approach them eager to make their own family recipes more widely available.

Examples of clients include people making a meat rub in Savage, Minn., a lady from River Falls who makes pepper jellies and salsa, and another client interested in producing Indian-influenced products.

Most co-packing companies demand high-volume distribution, but says Holter, "We can do it in a small fashion so that they're able to bring it to market. There's a need in this area for another distribution channel to allow the smaller producer to gain a foothold in the marketplace."

The three companies collectively employ the three owners and Holter's parents, as well as about 10 independent contractors and salespeople. The owners agree that they decided to build the new space together to not only make enough room for now but also have room for expansion in the future.

People can stop by the business to pick up products or find them at local and area stores and events. Learn more about the businesses online at their respective web sites: