Pellets offer promise
'Waste is a terrible thing to waste,' entrepreneur says
By ERICK PETERSON
For the Capital Press
Many agricultural producers are throwing money away or setting fire to it, according to Kennewick, Wash., resident Milt Geffen.
Producers in the Yakima Valley in particular are tending their fruits and hops, looking to become wealthy from the region's booming wine and beer markets. Meanwhile, many are overlooking the waste that they create.
Grape pumice fills their bins, and they burn pruned branches by the truckload.
"Waste is a terrible thing to waste," Geffen said.
Geffen started Milt's Original Gourmet BBQ Pellets using the waste. His company collects wood and fruit waste and processes it into pellets for barbecuing.
Nearly every ingredient in his pellets originates in the United States. The only exception is the rosemary used in certain blends, because he has yet to find a domestic supplier. Even the bags are made in the United States.
The production of pellets is done in Grandview, Wash. This places Geffen near Welches, Smucker's and Tree Top, as these corporations have nearby production centers.
It also puts him close to the area's many wineries, whose discarded grape waste adds to his collection of ingredients.
"I've always been the kind of guy who looks for things that other guys aren't doing, and then do it," he said.
In the case of Milt's BBQ Pellets, Geffen saw a way to make use of unused waste products.
His first batch of unused products came as the result of a trade.
He frequently passed a mound of cherry wood near his home as he walked his dog. He approached the owner of this wood, and he traded his Harley- Davidson motorcycle for it. This was in 2009.
With experimentation, he discovered ways to create a unique product to compete against other pellets on the market.
He said that other pellet manufacturers typically use sawdust, making their pellets from hardwoods and wood oils.
Also, he prides himself for not using artificial binders, only steam and water.
This led to him eventually patenting his process and materials and producing his pellets under his Milt's label.
Last year, he sold 100 tons of pellets, and he hopes to build upon this number. He now has marketing reps throughout the country, and he is searching for new investors.
"I've got the energy of a 20-year-old. With my last dying breath, I'm going to succeed," he said.
The word of one salesperson bodes well for Milt's. Troy Olsen, who does outside sales for Associated Energy Systems, said that he has been impressed by retailer response.
Signed to sell Milt's BBQ pellets throughout the states of California, Washington, Idaho, Colorado and Montana, AES started bringing the product to market in September. Olsen said that he is already seeing reorders from retailers, which is surprising for winter, when few people are barbequing.
"Whenever you're bringing product to market, you hope that it sells right away," Olsen said. And, fortunate for Geffen, the pellets are doing well, according to Olsen.
Milt's Original Gourmet BBQ Pellets: miltsgourmetbbqpellets.com