Tuesday, June 12, 2018

College Trip to Peru Sparks World-Changing Nebraska Soap Business


Six years ago, Andrew Vrbas was a budget-strapped college student making soap in his college apartment. He had an idea for a business that would help change the lives of people around the world.
After just five years in business, his Pacha Soap Co™ enterprise is already doing that.



The business that he and his wife, Abi, started in Hastings in 2013 has donated 3.4 million bars of soap to people in developing countries, has created 256 jobs in Nebraska and around the world, has provided 74,078 children with hand-washing education and has created wells to provide 4,000 people with clean water. And in 2017, Whole Foods honored Pacha Soap with its 2017 Supplier of the Year award.
It all started with Andrew’s 2010 trip to Peru.
“As a junior in college, I didn’t know that a trip to volunteer for others would ignite a life change in me,” Andrew said. “My trip took me to Peru, South America, to volunteer at a local school and then later on, a local construction crew. There, I witnessed basic needs not being met, many of the things that our society takes for granted.”
An idea sparked in Andrew’s mind: what if he could help the Peruvians by starting his own for-profit business back in the United States?
After some research, he decided to create organic handcrafted soap under the name Pacha Soap. All of the ingredients to make soap can be found near the equator, which is where the people lived that he wanted to help.
When starting his business, Andrew sought membership and advice from GROW Nebraska. Thanks to the organization’s special low membership rate for college students, Andrew was able to test the viability of his Pacha soap at GROW Nebraska retailstores. Andrew and Abi also gleaned advice from other GROW Nebraska members and from the organization’s educational trainings and workshops.

The social entrepreneurs set up their company so that a portion of profits from each bar of soap is directed toward helping locals develop regenerative, self-sustaining business and occupational training, such as soap making, well drilling and hygiene education. Its mission is to “empower people in developing nations with sustainable ventures, creating healthier communities by disrupting the cycle of poverty.”


As Pacha Soap grew, so did the opportunity to create global change. They established a soap production shop in Burundi, Africa, in 2014. At the same time, they started building operations and adding employees in the Hastings headquarters. They started selling products at Whole Foods Market, and in 2016, the company launched an exclusive product called Froth Bombs™ with Whole Foods. This new product allowed Pacha to train and help people in developing nationals drill clean water wells.

Today, Pacha Soap employs more than 50 people in Nebraska and has empowered locals in Burundi and Kenya, Africa, to start their own soap enterprises. And, the company is currently in the process of assisting locals in Peru and the Congo to do the same.

And Pacha Soap’s work is just beginning. This summer, the company is releasing several new products: salt blocks, two new limited edition froth bombs (Bubbles the Whale and Twinkle Toes), three new limited edition soap blends (Dead Sea Clay, Coconut Lemon and Watermelon Peppermint) and is releasing a new product, Extra Scrubby Whipped Soap.
Purchase Pacha Soap products and help change the world on GROW Nebraska ecommerce sites: Buy Nebraska (http://www.buynebraska.com/SearchResults.asp?Search=pacha+soap&Submit=Search), GROW’s Amazon store (https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=me%3DA3BI7YTNENK0JD&field-keywords=pacha) and at the GROW Nebraska retail store in Kearney.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Love of Popcorn Leads to Thriving Business for Gibbon's HR Poppin' Snacks

Cheryl Hughes has loved eating popcorn since she was a little girl, especially caramel corn.
When she learned that her favorite popcorn snack shop at Kearney’s Hilltop Mall would be closing in 2000, she decided to take action.
“My initial goal was to continue to offer caramel popcorn to the area,” Cheryl said.
Nearly 20 years later, Cheryl and Gary Hughes’ HR Poppin’ Snacks Gourmet Popcorn pops more than 20,000 pounds of popcorn seeds annually from their production shop in Gibbon. They sell their popcorn in more than 135 flavors at stores around the country.
Their stellar customer service, high-quality round popcorn and willingness to share and give back have helped them become a rural Nebraska success story.
“I am able to help people a lot through this business,” Cheryl said. “You wouldn’t think that selling popcorn would allow you to do that.”

Gary and Cheryl Hughes

Starting a popcorn business

When the Munchville snack shop owner announced he was closing his Hilltop Mall location in 2000, Cheryl was happily employed as a home health nurse. However, she also loved popcorn. Her husband, Gary, operated a successful restaurant equipment service business, and the Munchville owner asked if they would be interested in purchasing his equipment.
Gary and Cheryl decided to buy the equipment, and Cheryl learned how to operate it and make the popcorn she loved. Since she didn’t want to quit her nursing job to work in a retail popcorn store, she decided to sell her popcorn wholesale.
She rented a kitchen in Shelton the first two years, and she began learning how to produce great popcorn and how to be a business owner. Besides nursing, Cheryl previously worked with the Federal Crime Commission and the Council on Alcohol and Drugs in Lincoln.
Gary brags about his wife’s abilities to problem solve and make things happen.
“She’s very passionate about what she does,” Gary said. “She’s very good at what she does.”
Cheryl joined GROW Nebraska as one of its first members, and is grateful for the organization’s marketing help. She sought advice from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Food Processing Center, the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project, the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and her health inspector.
“I rely on my health inspectors a lot,” Cheryl said. “A lot of people look at the health inspector as an enemy, but I look at them as someone who can help. I ask a lot of questions from a lot of people. I use my resources.”
In their quest to make the best popcorn possible, the Hughes discovered the magic mushroom popcorn developed through years of trial and error by Nebraskan B. Keith Heuermann of Phillips.
The magic mushroom seeds pop 100 percent round, have a tender hull and don’t leave any unpopped kernels in the bottom of the batch.
HR Poppin’ Snacks started producing quality popcorn in various flavors, packaged it into clear 7-ounce snack bags and distributed it to be sold at convenience stores, gifts shops and holiday stores.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Be Dad's Favorite: Your Father's Day Gift Guide


He's the greatest Dad in the world! Why? Because he's your Dad. He makes everything better, and now it's time to celebrate him!

Father's Day is June 17, 2018. Skip the tie this year, and find the perfect gift to show Dad how much you care. Here's your 2018 guide to Nebraska gifts for Dad!

1. For the Dad who likes to Snack:







2. For the Dad who likes to Relax:





3. For the Dad who likes to be Outdoors:






4. For the Dad who likes to Read:



5. For the Dad who has it all:






Still not seeing exactly what you want? Browse the largest online collection of Nebraska products at BuyNebraska.com. Happy Father's Day!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The 5 Nebraska Products You Need For Your Summer Adventure

Summer is here, and that means camping, cookouts, hiking and so much more! As you explore the beautiful trails and parks in Nebraska, make sure you're stocked up on the best. Here are 5 must-haves for the perfect summer adventure.

1. Ogallala Cream Can

Every good adventure starts and ends with a delicious meal! And whether you need to feed 5 or 50, the Ogallala Cream Can Supper Company has you prepared. One pot meals have never been so versatile!



2. Nature's Coffee Kettle

Need a little caffeine to get geared up for the trail in the morning? Nature's Coffee Kettle can go with you - in the car, by the campfire, anywhere! Because of it's innovative bag, it's light weight and easy to pack, but it's also packed with flavor.
 Nature's Coffee Kettle

3. Sandhills Natural Water

Stay hydrated! The heat is on, and you need to stay in peak condition to enjoy your summer adventure. Sandhills Natural Water is crisp and clean - straight from the heart of the Ogallala Aquifer!

 Sandhills Natural Water


4. JR Lures

When you're ready to relax and go fishing, JR Lures will help you catch that bass you've been dreaming about. Let's reel the big one in!
 JR Lures


5. Nyobrafting Gift Certificate

And, of course, the best adventures take place in the best locations with friends and family! Kayak or tube down the beautiful Niobrara River for memories that will last a lifetime. Lose yourself among the beautiful scenery, cool water, and plentiful wildlife!

 Rafting, Tubing, or Kayaking down the Niobrara



Friday, May 25, 2018

Oh Yeah Spices and Miller Beef featured on NTV

Looking for great recipes for the summer? Fill your grill with flavor! Oh Yeah Spices and Miller Beef were recently featured on NTV's The Good Life. Watch the segments here!

Check out Oh Yeah Spices:
Oh Yeah Spices on NTV


Learn more about Miller Beef:

 Miller Beef on NTV






Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Spice Up Summer Steaks With Holen One Java Rub

Summer is just around the corner, and that means it’s finally time for summer barbecues and steaks on the grill! Several GROW Nebraska members, including longtime member Holen One Farms, offer sauces, marinades and seasonings to create the perfect flavor for your summer grilling.

Spice Up Summer Steaks With Holen One Java Rub



“Something magical happens when the blend of aromatic spices, peppers, turbinado sugar, and coffee is rubbed into ribs, roasts, steaks, or chicken before grilling. The coffee enhances the natural meat flavors, leaving the grilled meat a beautiful coffee brown.”

That’s the description of Holen One Farms’ best-selling product, the Java Rib & Roast Rub, that can be used as a dry rub or all-purpose seasoning to make that perfect summer steak or pork chop.
Holen One Farms of rural Loomis started their catering and seasonings business at about the same time that GROW Nebraska started and was one of its first members.

Renee Holen said the partnership with GROW Nebraska has made their products more visible. Besides their Java Rub, they also sell a BBQ dipping & glazing sauce and a marinade.



Mike and Renee Holen ventured into the catering and food business after raising five kids and working for 30 years in farming. They initially started with a food concession business that allowed them to travel the country to sell products at fairs, carnivals and other special events. Eventually, so many customers wanted to know the secret behind their tender and juicy Steak-on-a-Stick and pork loin that the idea to sell their Original Recipe Marinade began. 

After 20 years of catering and selling Holen One Food Products, the Holens are now slowing down a bit. They still cater smaller local events.

Meanwhile, their food products continue to grow in popularity and are available (along with 3,200 other products) on GROW Nebraska ecommerce sites: BuyNebraska.com,  eBay and Amazon, as well as at grocery stores around the state, such as Hy-Vee, Whole Foods, Russ’s Market and Super Saver. Products are also available on their website at holenonefarms.com.

For recipes using Holen One Farms products, visit http://www.holenonefarms.com/recipes/.

Visit the GROWNebraska eCommerce website (BuyNebraska.com) to discover more gourmet food products to spice up your summer grilling from these GROW Nebraska members:




Meet the Author: GROW Nebraska member Kristine Jacobson is a former journalist and non-profit executive who is now putting her writing and marketing skills to work telling the stories of small businesses and organizations. Her work includes everything from designing publications, such as newsletters and annual reports, to writing press releases, blog articles and feature stories. Her articles have been published in “Nebraska Rural Living,” “Nebraska Life Magazine,” “Her View From Home,” “Chicken Soup for the Soul Angels & Miracles” and in newspapers and other print and online publications. She is also the founder and editor of Nebraska Family Magazine, an e-magazine that provides encouragement and inspiration to Nebraska families.