- Associated Press - Saturday, June 13, 2015

PLYMOUTH, Conn. (AP) - For Greg Miller, distributing spices was never intended to be more than a hobby.

Nearly 20 years since he started that “hobby” in the garage of his Morris home, Miller is now the co-owner and operator of Nutmeg Spice, a multi-million dollar company located off of one of the newer roads in the Plymouth Industrial Park. The company is building a 25,000-square-foot addition just four years after breaking ground on its first 12,000-square-foot building at 7 Bombard Court.

“Did we ever envision we’d be doing business like this?” Miller said in a recent interview. “Probably not.”

Miller and his business partner, Dave Barrett of Bristol, said they knew within 18 months of the first building being constructed that they were going to need an addition. They’re expecting it to open by late July.

Barrett and Miller declined to release annual sales figures except that Miller said it is in “the millions and millions (of dollars).”

They also said they cannot quantify how much product they sell per year. Miller, however, said their number of employees is up substantially, from no more than 13 in the Morris garage to about 45 today.

Nutmeg spice distributes 90 different types of spices, herbs and meat rubs to 3,500 independent retailers nationwide, Miller and Barrett said. Their newest customer is Big Y Supermarkets. While a chain, they said it is a family-owned business that supports other local businesses.

“It’s all about our niche with the size container we sell,” Barrett said. “They want the larger-size containers. No one’s ever sold to those people before so that’s kind of our niche. There’s people who want the national brand; there’s people who want the 88-cent, 99-cent (Ocean State) Job Lot spice; and then there’s people who want quality, quantity, price and variety and that’s what we are.”

Miller said his “hobby” was an outgrowth of observing customers at the former Country Grocer in Thomaston, which he owned for 40 years. He would listen to them complain about the small quantity and high price of the spices and herbs.

“We were giving them four times the amount for half the price and the quality is as good, if not better,” he said.

Barrett, who became Miller’s partner nearly nine years ago, has more than 40 years of food sales experience. In the early days of the business, he handled all of the sales on the road while Miller, who claims he is “terrible” at sales, managed the operations.

“So basically it was a perfect match,” Miller said. “He didn’t want to do my job, and I certainly didn’t want to do his.”

And like any hungry, fledgling business, Miller and Barrett’s modus operandi was if they could drive to it, they would sell to it.

Five years ago, they hired their first broker. They hired another one a year later.

“We have such a niche with our product line, we have stores literally calling us,” Barrett said. “We’re adding stores everyday.”

One of the first groceries to become a Nutmeg Spice customer was the Winsted Super Saver. Owner John K. Dwan said he still has an aisle-end display just for the products distributed by Nutmeg Spice.

Dwan said Nutmeg Spice’s products “far outsells” spices and herbs with the McCormick label, a national competitor. He said most of Nutmeg Spice’s products are priced at $3.99, even though the container is larger so there’s more in it and the quality is better.

“As a general rule,” he said, “McCormick’s spices are half or less the size and sell for twice as much as Nutmeg Spice.”

The addition will allow Nutmeg Spice to bottle six different products simultaneously. Currently, it can only do one at a time.

“I might want to do 1,000 pounds of pepper but I might only do 250 pounds because I need the machine for the next item, so we have to run smaller batches,” Miller said.

He said they started running two eight-hour shifts four days per week and still could not produce enough products to keep up with demand. And there was no room for additional machinery.

The new building will be strictly a bottling facility and warehouse, while the existing building will be for labeling and distributing the bottles and housing the marketing and administrative offices.

When Nutmeg Spice moved to the Plymouth Business Park, the town sold a 2-acre lot to it for $85,000, with half of that going to the state. The remaining $42,500 the town gave back to Nutmeg Spice in the form of an economic incentive grant. The town also gave Nutmeg the property tax free for the first two years.

For the addition, Nutmeg bought an adjacent 2.5 acres. It was not clear what the purchase price was but the town’s business Web site advertises the lots at the park to start at $72,000.

Director of Planning and Economic Development Margus T. Laan said the town’s tax incentive committee recommended a two-year tax abatement for the second lot but was unable to confirm whether the town council approved it.

Council minutes however do indicate that the board did approve a $50,500 economic development grant to Nutmeg Spice on Oct. 7.

Miller said Nutmeg Spice would never have moved into the business park without financial assistance from the town.

“We literally started with $3 in our pockets,” Miller said. “Dave doesn’t come from money and I don’t come from money. We’re only here because of all the incentives and the great people in this town that made this possible.”

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Information from: Republican-American, https://www.rep-am.com

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