PULLMAN — When the coronavirus pandemic caused a disruption in grocery store supply chains earlier this year, Palouse Brand co-owner Sara Mader made a promise to continue providing farm-grown food to families.
That promise paid off.
The Pullman-based, family-owned company, which sells and ships bags of non-GMO lentils, garbanzo beans, flour, dried peas, wheat berries and other goods via Amazon, saw an unprecedented surge in sales at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a 400% spike in year-over-year growth, Mader said.
When the pandemic first took hold, there was "such a broken supply chain and so much demand that we would send about six weeks' worth of inventory to Amazon fulfillment centers and it would be completely sold out in four hours," she said. "We couldn't get trucks there fast enough."
White wheat berries were a top seller for the company — which processes more than 10,000 orders a week — in part because of the possibility that bakers could shut down if they didn't figure out a way to mill the wheat, she said.
The company hired more than 50 employees, began shipping items directly to consumers in addition to processing orders through Amazon, and expanded into a second warehouse to meet the demand for its products during the pandemic, Mader said.
Palouse Brand also is offering in-person pickup service for the community, which has been supportive, Mader said.
"The company was small pre-COVID-19, and the pandemic shined a spotlight on us. It's fun to hear the community respond and kind of rally behind us now because they know we're here," Mader said, adding the company has brought many jobs to the area during the pandemic.
The Mader family has been farming in the Palouse for five generations.
The family added a cleaning plant, Palouse Trading, to its operation in 2001. The cleaning plant is used to transform raw food product into food-grade edible product.
After graduating from Washington State University with a bachelor's degree in business management in 2000, Mader moved to California where she worked in human resources for national hotel chains and was a regional sales manager for Taleo, a cloud-based talent management software vendor that was subsequently acquired by Oracle in 2012.
Mader moved to Pullman and married Kevin Mader in 2008.
The couple started a family and soon thereafter, revived the Palouse Brand division of Palouse Trading in 2011.
"We thought, 'We have this brand, this vintage-looking brand that looks just like our farm. Why don't we revive the brand?' " Sara Mader said. "It had been out of circulation for a while and instead of doing huge, commercial-size bags, let's deliver it to customers and let's tell them about us. Let's let them have a conversation with us and ask about their food and our farming practices."
Palouse Brand oversees all aspects of planting, cleaning and packaging its products. Kevin Mader, along with the farming crew, plants seeds, harvests the crops and delivers the product to the company's cleaning facility.
The Palouse Trading team cleans and packages the products. Each bag is tagged with a code that allows consumers to trace to the field their product originated from via smartphone.
Palouse Brand recently gained recognition from Amazon for its exponential growth.
The company was featured last week at Amazon Accelerate, a three-day virtual summit for small- and medium-sized businesses selling on Amazon's website.
Sara Mader was among five business owners who shared how they built their companies to exceed more than $1 million in annual sales on Amazon Launchpad.
Palouse Brand aims to continue growing and adapting its farming practices based on consumer requests.
Last month, it launched a new brand, Clear Creek, that allows the company to partner with farmers to sell and deliver their locally sourced products to customers.
"We are going to provide farmers a more innovative approach to get their goods in consumer hands," said Sara Mader, adding farmers interested in a partnership can fill out a form at clearcreekfarmer.com. "We'll be able to package it in our Clear Creek brand and deliver it to Amazon consumers. That's the really exciting part — when you can take some of your success and share it with others."