Kari Morris concocted her idea for making sugar-based syrups while she was spending time in France in 2008, after college. She noticed that the family she was staying with used a sugary ginger syrup in a variety of ways, from including it in salad dressings and marinades to topping off breakfast foods to adding it to beverages.
When Morris returned to the United States, she and her brother made 40 bottles of ginger syrup to sell at a farmer's market in Brooklyn. Morris knew she had a marketable product when all 40 bottles sold in two hours.
"That's where it started. I knew then that I had something," she said. She opened Morris Kitchen in Brooklyn in 2009, and began selling her ginger syrup, mainly for use as a cocktail mixer.
The business, located in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, now offers six varieties of syrup that utilize such New York crops as rhubarb, apples and honey. Consumers are pouring the syrups in more than just cocktails. They are finding uses for them in cooking and baking, and for making their own sodas.
Growing the business was becoming difficult. Production was limited because the manufacturer they used also manufactured products for another company. And even if Morris Kitchen had more capability, limited cash flow and the inability to secure a loan from a private lender prevented it from building inventory. Sales were also stymied because the tiny company did not have the money to hire a dedicated marketing person.
Then her business applied for and won a free booth at Brooklyn's Fancy Food Show. The booth space that her business won was sponsored by New York City's Economic Development Corp., and the organization connected Morris with NYBDC's NYC Food Manufacturers Growth Fund.
Funded jointly by the New York City Economic Development Corp. and Goldman Sachs' Urban Investment Group, the Food Manufacturers Growth Fund will provide up to $10 million in affordable growth financing for the small, food-manufacturing sector that is a critical piece of New York City's economy. Loan amounts range from $50,000 to $750,000.
Qualifying businesses may use their loans to buy equipment to improve efficiency and increase profits, purchase inventory to fulfill an increase in business, or hire workers to grow revenue.
Morris used her $83,000 loan to increase inventory, which allows her to have more manufactured product on hand, and transition a part-time employee to a full-time sales position. She said NYBDC was flexible when a substantial order caused her to use the funding in a different way. Initially, Morris planned to use a portion of the loan to buy equipment, but she decided the money would be better spent on boosting revenue.
Traditional lenders may not have been so willing to redirect those funds.
"We had planned to start manufacturing ourselves, but plans shifted. One of our clients submitted a very, very substantial purchase order, and that gave us the confidence to focus on sales," Morris said. "We were able to take money from the purchase orders and put right back into inventory."
Those efforts helped Morris Kitchen double revenue in 2013 and add a full-time position. Morris expects to double revenue again in 2014. The syrups are now sold to more than 150 retailers nationwide, including high-end stores Dean & Deluca and Williams-Sonoma, and the products recently started shipping to distributors in Japan.