Catching Up with the Red Ducks

Catching Up with the Red Ducks

What a difference a year can make. Back in May 2013, the Red Duck Ketchup team was just about to wrap up a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of moving the company's manufacturing from a local commercial kitchen to the Lane County-based Sweet Creek production facility. Now, just a year later, the team has secured financing and is working full time on Red Duck, the line of gourmet, flavored ketchups the MBAs originally created as a project in New Venture Planning, a part of the innovation and entrepreneurship track at the Oregon MBA.

“This will allow us to really take the business to a growth opportunity business, not just a home-grown lifestyle brand," said Shannon Oliver, MBA '13, one of the company's cofounders.

More than eighty stores in the Pacific Northwest now carry the ketchup, including all thirteen locations of Portland's New Seasons Market. The coming year should see even more retailers added to the list because the company recently began working with the distribution arm of Eugene-based GloryBee Foods.

Red Duck has also earned an important distinction: the right to display the official USDA organic seal on its products. Though the team has always used only organic ingredients in the ketchup—even in the earliest days when they prepared sample batches in their home kitchens—it wasn't until this winter that they put their product through the certification process.

Back in the company's hatchling days, the Red Duck team—Kurt Barajas, MBA '13; Karen Bonner, MBA '13; Jessica Zutz Hilbert, JD/MBA '14; and Shannon Oliver—mostly worked out of the Oregon MBA program's graduate lounge in the Lillis Business Complex. After their graduation from the program, they moved their headquarters to Hatch!, NEDCO's incubator for food businesses in the Sprout! food hub in downtown Springfield, where they were the first tenant.

Earlier this year, the Red Ducks migrated again, finding a roomy new nest for their business in an office and warehouse space on 11th Avenue in West Eugene.

As the company has evolved, the team has stayed in touch with mentors at the Lundquist College, including Technology Entrepreneurship Program Advisor Al Cochrane, Avamere Professor of Practice Michael Crooke, and Assistant Dean for Centers and Business Innovation Institute Director John Hull.

Ongoing guidance is just one part of what the team gained from their Oregon MBA experience. Thanks to their business training, the Red Ducks bring a strategic edge to their startup.

“We work hard to always keep the big picture in mind and dissect what that means for right now, for each quarter, and for the whole year," said Oliver.

Certainly, running a growing business provides nearly daily opportunities for the four to bring into play what they learned during their coursework.

“It's funny, because we each have so many moments where we think back and say ‘oh, if the problem about the widgets had been framed in terms of tomato paste then I would have gotten 100 percent on that quiz,'" said Oliver. “It all makes sense when you put it into the context that is our lives right now."

What's next for the Red Ducks? Fans can look forward to a new flavor being launched—and possibly even a new product. The zingy ketchup may also pop up as a condiment for—or even as an ingredient in—dishes served at restaurants around the Pacific Northwest.

Meet the Red Ducks in person and sample their wares this September 19–20, when they'll be showing off their ketchup at this year's Feast Portland event in Pioneer Square.