What started as an experiment planting 46 different types of hops in a 30-acre field nearly a decade ago has now turned into a thriving agricultural wholesale business that has exported products to more than 50 countries.
That quiet start that tested what could be grown and produced from the small town of Whitefish is now the award-winning Glacier Hops Ranch. Recently as part of Small Business Week, Glacier Hops Ranch was recognized as Regional and National Exporter of the Year by the US Small Business Administration. The company was honored with a ceremony that presented all three awards to founder and CEO Tom Pritz.
Winning the Montana Small Business Exporter of the Year award alone came as a shock to Britz as he had been hoping for a top five spot, but when he heard that Glacier Hops Ranch had won at three different levels, he was taken aback.
“I got the call about the country and the territory, and I was like Wow, that’s mind-boggling … the news that we’re going to win the national one, it’s pretty humble,” Pritz said. “It was a big goosebumps as it is now. This is a huge problem when you think of all the small businesses in the country.”
And doing international business, now a major part of Glacier Hops Ranch, outside of such a small town is incredible, he added.
“The international stuff is a funny business — it takes a lot of work,” he said, “but the majority of our business and our growth has been really global.” “It struck me that we could do this from Whitefish, Montana. That was probably the most surprising thing to me.”
National Small Business Week recognizes the important contributions of entrepreneurs and small business owners across the country. The Small Business Administration says that more than half of Americans own or work for a small business. As part of Small Business Week, the SBA strives to highlight the impact of hard-working entrepreneurs from all 50 states and US territories.
This year’s Small Business Week theme, “Building a Better America Through Entrepreneurship,” is designed to highlight “the resilience, ingenuity, and creativity of these award winners who, like millions of small businesses, have faced challenges from the pandemic and made our nation’s economy comeback,” says a statement. .
“Glacier Hops Ranch, Inc. has disrupted the hops/brewing industry with its innovation and creativity, creating new products and processes along the way,” said Brent Donnelly, Montana SBA County Manager.
While SBA honors Glacier Hops Ranch, Pritz reflects on his business’ humble beginnings and success and failure along the way.
Back in 2012, Pritz and his wife were having a hard time getting out of the Great Recession. They decided to keep their 30-acre farm in Whitefish but had to figure out what to grow in it and how to make money from it.
Michigan State University Agricultural Extension Agent Pat McGlynn suggested growing hops.
“I said ‘Hell no, I never thought about hops growing,'” Pritz recalls.
But he did some research and gave it a shot. From there he began the journey of creating the Glacier Hops Ranch.
Glacier Hops was the first commercial hop farm in Montana. Britz started by growing different types of hops to see what would grow in Flathead’s particular climate. It turns out that all varieties grew and thrived in Montana.
“Our climate here in Flathead is very good for jumps as we’ve discovered,” he said.
After a few years on the line, Britz began experimenting with hops, looking to create a hop-type feed. He began researching how to make oil from hops and eventually created the so-called Hopzoil which was produced exclusively by Glacier Hops Ranch. This product is the result of taking fresh hops and steam distilling them on the farm to capture all the essential oils found in hops fresh in the field.
The creation of this product changed business in 2018, ending hop cultivation and embarking on an international export journey. Now the business is a two-part model with a broker-dealer side and a Hopzoil producing part.
Glacier Hops Ranch works closely with Flathead Valley Hops to create the product and to export the hops grown there as well.
Glacier Hops Ranch got its first international client in 2018 and since increasing its staff and learning the ways of the international market better in recent years, it is now a thriving enterprise.
Pritz says creating Hopzoil was key to breaking into the international side of this business because the product has a longer shelf life and easier and cheaper shipping.
“The highly concentrated nature of the product, we can ship it internationally… and get it through customs within four days – so a fraction of the time and a fraction of the cost,” said Pritz.
International export has become a major part of Pritz’s business, and he never intended it to go this way. Sometimes a little luck and a lot of overcoming obstacles can result in the unimaginable.
Creating Hopzoil, a great product for brewers around the world, says Pritz, was just “foolish luck.”
The Small Business Administration has helped Pritz during the pandemic and in many other ways. The SBA granted Glacier Hops Ranch a working capital loan in 2020 and with this help, Britz was able to hire the staff and support needed for growth.
It’s been just a one-man show for the most part for many years, and Pritz says if there’s one key to continuing to ask for help.
He said, “If someone says what is the secret to your success, I will tell you to persevere.”