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Colorado Woman's Backpacking Meals Becoming A Big Hit

By Jamie Leary

BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) - A food startup had been on her mind, but Lillian Hoodes never imagined after a year, a major retailer would be calling. Hoodes, with two co-founders, dove headfirst into a company totally dedicated to camping meals.

Hoodes launced TrailFork, in June of 2017.

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"So we did kind of this grassroots marketing thing, but we didn't have a budget. We didn't have any investors. I had kind of blown through my initial investment on inventory, so we just had to be really creative," she said.

The goal was ambitious, Hoodes wanted to create healthy food that appeased all types of diets. Living in Boulder, she found there were many.

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Lillian Hoodes (credit: CBS)

"People have like the wackiest dietary restrictions here, and it seemed like there was food that would cater to everybody."

She also noticed that healthy diets weren't the only thing unique to her Boulder community. It was a startup community. She recalled living in Silicon Valley where everyone owned or was part of one.

"I found that the same sort of thing was happening here [in Boulder], it's just that it wasn't software. People were doing it with food. Everybody had a food business."

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She was in a competitive market, but with regard to camping food, there wasn't a lot of variety that fit her ambitious criteria -- environmentally friendly packaging while catering to the wide array of dietary needs.

Hoodes uses her fiancé and friends to try new recipes she created in her kitchen. She introduced CBS4's Jamie Leary to the Paleoats breakfast currently on shelves.

"So, it's 520 calories, um, 14 grams of protein and it's completely vegan and grain free."

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Her meals exist in 10 REI stores currently, but will soon be in 40 across the country. All accomplished with no investors and little to no marketing.

"It's exciting that we're operating under the assumption that we're going to exist, that we can plan that far out."

It was confidence she discovered in the Longmont kitchen she shares with other food startups. It's hard to imagine now, but one year ago, she almost gave up.

"I mean, it was terrifying, frankly. I wasn't making any money. I was blowing through my savings."

Hoodes said those in the shared kitchen encouraged her to stick with it.

"I think without that vote of confidence from the people around me I might have just abandoned the project."

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Her tenacity has paid off. Hoodes recently received a $250,000 small business loan which will help her expand the brand.

"There are points, I mean for every successful business, there have been points along the way where it looks like it's just going to crash and burn, and getting through those is probably more important than anything.'

There are nine meals on shelves right now including Coconut Chana Masala, Loaded Veggie Hummus and Apricot Almond Hummus. The TrailFork website also enables people to customize meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Pouches range in cost from $8.50 to $11.50. Custom meals are $30 per day.

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Hoodes will have two more in 2019: pizza casserole and a thai peanut noodle dish. All are vegetarian, most are totally vegan and gluten free.

Hoodes says not only is the compostable packaging unique, but she also made it a goal to give a percentage of proceeds to help save the planet. The TrailFork website says:

TrailFork is a proud member of 1% for the Planet, an organization that facilitates financial donations from corporations to environmental organizations. Think of it as a self-imposed environmental tax: our business relies on the environment for its success, so we pledge to give 1% of sales back to the environment. Through 1% for the planet we've chosen to partner with Friends of Cedar Mesa. As part of our partnership with FCM, our 100% compostable packaging features a line drawing of Valley of the Gods, by none other than Co-Founder/Creative Director Cristyn Hypnar.

Jamie Leary joined the CBS4 team in 2015 and currently works as a reporter for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. She couldn't imagine a better place to live and work and will stop at nothing to find the next great story. Jamie loves learning about and hearing from her fellow community members, so connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @JamieALeary.

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