Ever since he has a teenager, Austin Kelly has been in love with the food industry, says the CEO of Willamette Valley Pie Company, a family- and farmer-owned dessert and pie maker based in Oregon.

“I’ve always worked in food,” Austin says. “My first job when I was 15 was actually out harvesting cherries in a cherry orchard that would eventually go into other products like pies. So that’s how I originally got started, got connected with another local farm, and was just fascinated by the industry behind the food. It’s not something that people generally talk about when you’re going to school. I mean, all you hear about is tech and finance and maybe marketing or apparel, but no one talks about food. And yet it’s this trillion-dollar industry that all of us interact with.”

There’s much more to the pie business than picking berries and baking pastries. Wild swings in the weather can affect harvests, for starters.

“There were a lot of moving pieces to it,” Austin says. “Last year, we had a really large heatwave hit the Pacific Northwest, and it wiped out half of the berry crop. And so it was really difficult to source. Berries had a big impact on our blackberries and raspberries here in the Pacific Northwest. And so, we do partner with growers in other regions and try to create contingency plans to mitigate those things as much as we can. But there’s a lot of moving factors when you factor in the weather and harvest.”

Still, the “purpose” of Willamette Pie drives the company to push through the challenges.

“We live in a culture that’s really fast-paced, and everything’s moving quickly,” Austin says. “To be able to produce and sell and share a product with people that encourage them to pause for a minute and just enjoy. Life is a special thing, and we’re blessed to make it here.”

That being said, it’s essential for brands to continue to innovate, he says. To that end, Willamette has been sitting down with customers and hearing what they want. That led to a rebrand unveiled a few months ago and a new line of items, including the first non-GMO cream pies on the market.

“All that came from listening to our customers and what they want,” he says. “But really on a large scale philosophically, we talk about we don’t talk about followers and likes and just customers. We refer to it like anybody who consumes our product is part of our family.”

In Part 1, Austin talks about:

* Gratitude for his wife’s support at home and with his career.
* His lifelong dedication to the food industry.
* The challenges of a food business based on weather and harvests.
* The results of a recent rebranding.
* The company’s charity and fundraising efforts in the Pacific Northwest.

Join Ramon Vela and Austin Kelly as they break down the inside story on The Story of a Brand.

For more on Willamette Valley Pie Company, visit: https://www.wvpie.com/ 

This episode is brought to you by Mercury.

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