VIOLA - Go Macro, a company which manufactures healthy, delicious, nutrition bars, has recently expanded their Viola manufacturing plant and added solar panels to a south-facing roof.
The company is an economic bright spot in a little community that has been battered by the recent Labor Day 2018 flooding. The village experienced an unprecedented crest on the Kickapoo River of 23.72 feet on Wednesday, August 29. That was 2.47 feet over the 2008 record crest of 21.25 feet.
Located on the southern edge of town in the business park, the company lost power for four days but was not flooded. The company is served by the municipal utility, which was impacted by flooding. The village itself is currently debating the future of their historic downtown. The gas station at the intersection of Highways 56 and 131 still closed.
Just before the flood hit, the forward-thinking company had installed a 360,000-kilowatt-per-year solar array on their roof. The system consists of 840, 360-watt solar panels estimated to produce about 75 percent of their total annual electricity usage. Ethos Green Power of Viroqua installed the system.
According to Ethos owner, Alicia Leinberger, Go Macro received a Focus on Energy competitive grant written by Ethos, and will be able to use the federal tax benefits to reduce the total cost of the system by 75 percent.
“The value of the electricity will pay for the system in just a few years,” Leinberger said. “Their system will provide decades of on-site clean energy with very little cost to the company.”
Like most who install the systems, put off by the additional expense, the company did not install the storage capacity that would have allowed them to continue business operations running only off solar.
“In order to continue to operate in the case of a grid outage, Go Macro would need to add energy management and storage equipment,” Leinberger said. “These storage systems are very effective, and would have allowed them to continue operations when power from the grid was not available, but they are also relatively expensive.”
Go Macro Director of Operations Tony Sarem said that the business has been purchasing carbon offsets for the last four years, which are enough to completely offset the business’ carbon footprint, including staff travel.
“Our carbon offsets from the last four years are the equivalent impact of having planted 60,000 tree saplings, and let them grow for 10 years.”
Go Macro has recently completed a 20,000-square-foot facility expansion which will provide office and production employees with much-needed space. Increasing from 5,000 square feet will allow them to expand their storage and production space, as well as adding staff offices, a kitchen and exercise room, and two new loading docks. The new building is mostly completed, and they expect to be moved over by mid-October.
“Right now we have office employees piled on top of each other in what we call “the war room,” Sarem explained. “That room holds the offices of the seven managers, and we even have office employees in the same room as our lab.”
Sarem explained that the company is now three times bigger than they were in 2015. Sarem started with the company while it was still located on the rural Viola farm of founder Amelia Kirchoff.
“I started in 2010, and on my first day we set a record, producing 6,300 bars. Those bars were all hand cut, and we got our first cutting machine in 2011,” Sarem recalled. “Now in 2018, we are producing between 160-170,000 bars per day.”
Since the brand’s launch in 2004, they’ve grown from selling MacroBars at local markets to national distribution in over 20,000 locations. Starting out with just two employees in 2004, they now employ 96 people in a rural area where good-paying jobs can be hard to find.
The Viola facility houses production managers and staff, sales support staff, and the product innovation department headed up by Kirchoff. CEO and co-founder, Jola Sonkin, Kirchoff’s daughter, leads the sales and marketing effort from California. The Viola and California parts of the business stay in touch through weekly videoconferences.
The company was started in 2004, after Amelia Kirchoff was diagnosed with breast cancer. After speaking with her daughter, Jola, Amelia decided to fight the cancer with a macrobiotic, plant-based diet as an alternative to traditional treatment. In the face of adversity, Jola and Amelia bonded together, fought the cancer and Amelia won.
During her battle with cancer, Amelia created the MacroBar recipe in her kitchen on the Wisconsin family farm. In the years following, Amelia and Jola began spreading the power of a plant-based diet, balanced lifestyle and conscious practices through GoMacro.
The new offices of Go Macro are a beautiful blend of state of the art office equipment, beautiful handcrafted wooden table tops, eye-popping, artistic LED light fixtures, a light-filled exercise room, and a homey kitchen and dining area that will allow them to prepare ‘family-style’ meals for staff.
“Our brand mission and our philosophy as an employer is to promote healthy lifestyles,” Sarem explained. “Now, our employees will be able to exercise, and eat healthy meals together.”
Sarem explained that one benefit the employees enjoy is a shared community supported agriculture share, which provides them with fresh vegetables throughout the growing season. Currently 60 staff are enrolled in the program.
All of the desks are ‘variable height desks,’ allowing employees to choose to either stand or sit while they work. The beautiful, hand-crafted wood tops for manager’s desks and the conference room table were made by Henry Miller of Cashton.
Sarem says he expects the facility to achieve some level of ‘LEED certification’ by 2020. LEED stands for ‘Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.’ It is a ‘green’ building certification program developed by the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council. LEED includes a set of rating systems for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of green buildings that aims to help building owners be environmentally responsible and use resources efficiently.
Sarem said that the company is expected to double in size in the next five years. The company will also need to look at an additional expansion in their production facility to accommodate that volume of product.
“We’ve learned a lot with this expansion,” Sarem said. “The next one should be easier as a result.”
The brand has recently launched three new MacroBars, and a new line of Thrive raw superbars. The new MacroBar flavors are ‘Blissful Daybreak,” made with blueberries and cashew butter; ‘Protein Decadence’ with dark chocolate and almonds; and ‘Sweet Awakening’ with mocha and chocolate chips.
The Thrive snack bars come in such delicious flavors as Chocolate, Nuts and Sea Salt; Ginger Lemon; Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip; Caramel Coconut; Almond Apricot; and Blueberry Lavendar.
Every year in the month of October, ‘National Breast Cancer Awareness Month,’ ten percent of sales from the ‘Sunny Uplift’ bar, with cherries and berries, go to the ‘Keep A Breast Foundation.’ The foundation promotes breast health awareness and education among young people by approaching the topic in a manner young people understand and can connect with. They also promote healthier living through consuming food and using products free of toxic chemicals.
Other charitable causes supported through sales of MacroBars include Feeding America, Solutions for Change, and Farm Sanctuary. Year round, one percent of net proceeds from the ‘Everlasting Joy’ bar, with coconut, almond butter and chocolate chips, go to Feeding America. This national organization works to feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger. Sales of the bar also go to support Solutions for Change, which works to end family homelessness using a unique program reaching the root causes of homelessness to remove them permanently.
During the month of May, ten percent of net proceeds from sales of the ‘Protein Replenishment’ bar go to Farm Sanctuary. The organization brings awareness about the abuses factory farm animals suffer, and works to combat these through rescue, education and advocacy efforts.