Aurora Products Inc. (Aurora) is on a mission to prove with its Aurora Natural product line that not all packaged dried fruit and nut products are created equal. Aurora was founded in 1998 with a goal of producing only the highest quality products possible, which the team achieves by setting strict quality controls and encouraging a corporate culture of creativity. The Aurora team believes that the health of the community, the planet and its business are all interconnected so only all natural and organic products will ever bear the company’s logo.
“We’re a family-run company and are still growing simply because we take a lot of pride in what we do and we look to work with people who are just as passionate as we are,” asserts Stephanie Blackwell, president, CEO and founder of Aurora.
Aurora is based out of two separate facilities in Stratford, Conn. One of the facilities is used for packaging all natural products, whereas the second location is primarily dedicated to processing and packaging organic items. The total space occupied by Aurora is approximately 77,000 square feet, with an additional 100,000-square foot facility being built.
Aurora takes food safety very seriously, which is why the company has been awarded SQF Level 2000 Level 2 certification by the Safe Quality Foods Institute. SQF leads the global food industry in food safety and quality management certification, and Aurora’s certification serves as a testament to the company’s HACCP food safety system, which must adhere to benchmarks set by the Global Food Safety Initiative.
Aurora currently produces over 250 products under the Aurora Natural brand, including dried fruit, nuts, trail mix, granola and ancillary products such as wasabi peas, veggie chips and sesame sticks. The company only roasts its nuts in all natural or organic oil, depending on the item. In addition, Aurora offers dry roasted nuts, allowing the natural flavors and aromas of the nuts and seeds to be enhanced without any added extra oils.
Trail mix may be standard fare for many snack companies, but to Aurora the mix is about being creative. All of the company’s trail mixes contain top-quality nuts and dried fruits without sulfites or food colorings; all of the ingredients are either all-natural or organic. One of Aurora’s most popular mixes is the Cranberry Health Mix, containing plump dried cranberries, almonds, pepitas and other delicious ingredients.
Popular granola flavors include Vanilla Crunch, Cranberry Vanilla and Honey & Nuts. For those who simply can’t choose, Aurora also sells two “grail” mixes, Caribbean Crunch and Forest Bounty, which combine the crunch of granola with high-energy trail mix..
The company’s appetite for innovation isn’t limited to product development, as Blackwell has always prioritized personality and energy in finding the right employees. “We look for dynamic, passionate employees rather than focus on book-learned education, because our business is built upon keeping a creative edge in the market place,” expands Blackwell. “For example, our head buyer used to work as the manager of a toy store, but I could tell he was just going to be brilliant. I hired him 13 years ago and today he travels throughout the world looking for nut and fruit farms and managing 80 percent of our purchasing. He’s fantastic.”
Aurora began color-coding products very early on. The company was one of the first to provide complete plan-o-grams to display its products in the produce section of supermarkets. A yellow label was used for raw nuts, green for salted nuts, red for dried fruits, blue for trail mixes and so on. “The idea was to package each of our snacks in clear containers with color-coded labels for easy identification,” explains Blackwell.
The Aurora difference has everything to do with the team’s attention to health and the environment. Preservatives are entirely left out of every Aurora Natural product, and there are no artificial colorings. In addition, the company’s packaging utilizes recyclable plastic and corrugated material. Though many other companies may use recyclable plastic in packaging, Aurora Naturals doesn’t only use material that is simply recyclable. The team utilizes materials that have been partially recycled from previous use. But the team doesn’t stop there; oils used in roasting nuts are reused as biofuel for transportation needs.
Staying the Course
“Aurora was not always as professionally run as it is now,” says Blackwell. Then again, when Blackwell started the company it was just a one-woman operation armed with a heck of a lot of passion, a kitchen table and a postal scale. “My children spent much of their free time helping me to pack product; hopefully child labor laws did not apply to them,” chuckles Blackwell. “They were such a big help.”
Today Blackwell is adamant about giving credit to those who have helped shape the growth of the company. “We have used many of our suppliers since day one, from the company who supplies our corrugated cardboard to our insurance agent and our plastics supplier,” she says.
Aurora enjoys many longstanding relationships with both customers and suppliers, and the team is proud to continue forming long-term alliances with suppliers who share those same values.
Aurora will be gearing up for further growth within the next few years as the company’s salad fixins, flavored nuts and granola lines gain popularity and encourage more consumers to enjoy healthy snacks.
The company recently finalized the acquisition of 12 acres of land in nearby Orange, Conn., and began building a 100,000-square foot facility to accommodate future growth. “The new site can accommodate up to 180,000 square feet of space,” explains Blackwell.
Behind the scenes the company is always developing new products, but the details are strictly limited to those on a need-to-know basis, protecting Aurora’s creative edge. Whatever products come out of the team’s imagination will allow Aurora Products Inc. to continue putting quality and nutrition first, cementing Aurora Natural’s reputation as a leader in healthy, hearty and wholesome natural foods.