Midwest Hops Producers
Growth is a goal for any new business, and when the product of your business is a crop such as hops, the promise of growth — and an eager market come harvest time — are essential to success.
Accurate market analysis is just one of the services that Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC) consultants have provided to Annette and Bruce Wiles, co-owners of Midwest Hop Producers in Plattsmouth.
Annette had previously worked in product development for a national corporation with offices in Omaha. “I looked at hops as I would with any other product, and that requires market analysis,” she says. “We got in touch with NBDC as soon as we started.”
That relationship continues today as Midwest Hop Producers looks into exporting its uniquely Nebraska-grown hops to China and other countries overseas where craft beers are gaining in popularity.
Wiles says NBDC Consultants John Nichol-Caddy and Wei Jing, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program manager at NBDC for the state of Nebraska, have provided market research reports and expertise during the application process for a SBIR Phase I grant and, most recently, Midwest Hops Producers’ Value Added Producer Grant application. “Everyone we have reached out to at NBDC has been helpful and supportive,” Wiles says.
Hops are a “very labor intensive” crop that takes three years from planting to reach maturity, Wiles says. Because hops are more commonly grown in the Pacific Northwest in a climate and soil different from Nebraska, the Wiles have planted 22 varieties to determine which will grow best here.
Once the initial crop matured in 2016, they furnished a full array of samples to area brewers to get their feedback. “Nebraska brewers are very open and honest,” Annette says, “and they are willing to pay a premium price for a locally-grown perennial.”
The Wiles have participated in hops breeding trials with researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and have explored the region’s wild hops because of their proven resistance to the area’s conditions and diseases. They have identified multiple wild hops throughout Nebraska — including one they spotted in a ditch alongside the road while driving to an aunt’s funeral in Plattsmouth. “We named it ‘Doris Mae’ in her honor,” Wiles says.
With the rise in popularity of craft beers around the world comes an increased demand for American-grown hops, Wiles says. “It’s incredible the number of people in the world who want U.S. hops,” she says.
To tap into potential overseas markets, NBDC has provided lists of sales leads, and consultants have participated in a meeting with a representative of a Chinese company regarding Midwest Hops Producers products. NBDC consultants have also detailed financing options available through the U.S. Small Business Administration and U.S. Export Assistance Center.
Since the Wiles’ initial meetings with growers and processors in 2014, the advice and services provided by NBDC’s consultants have proved extremely useful, Wiles says.
“I’ve seen what some companies spend to obtain the services that the NBDC offers without charge,” she says. “The state of Nebraska does a great job promoting new and small businesses. Wherever I go, I’m always tooting Nebraska’s horn.”