Linda Beg is out to change the world – with her recipes for the staff of life.
As the founder and owner of the three-year-old Starseed Bakery in Rockaway, New Jersey, Beg not only caters to people with food allergies and intolerances but also sees herself as an agent of change – against GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, in food. Starseed bakes some 30 different products, including breads, bagels, cakes, cookies, muffins and pies – without GMOs, dairy, soy and gluten. Vegan and Paleo offerings round out the mix.
“This food impacts people, and people thank me,” said Beg, 59, who earned her degree in business administration from Suffolk University in Boston. Through the years, she has managed an estate property and served as the “right-hand” of CEOs.
A food activist with a penchant for baking, Beg launched Starseed after an organization she started to raise awareness about GMOs failed to gain the traction she desired. And with word spreading about the gluten-free breads she created for family and friends with gluten sensitivity issues, her kneading grew in demand.
So about two and a half years ago, Beg began renting a kitchen in a meat store in order to pursue her passion. Six months later, she relocated Starseed to its current storefront space – a former restaurant measuring 1,500 square feet, with an additional 1,500 square feet in the basement.
With a $10,000 start-up loan from a friend, she managed the business on a shoestring budget at the get-go. She shopped Craigslist and auctions for used equipment, and her significant other, a general contractor, and his friends repaired her vintage machinery. He also turned the storefront space into a commercial bakery with a small retail shop that sells prepackaged baked items.
“I literally built the business one loaf at a time and used [the proceeds from those sales] to buy a pan or ingredients,” said Beg, whose divorce a decade ago left her with no financial resources of her own. “I started this with nothing.”
With Starseed’s goods retailing between $2.25 for a muffin and $19.98 for a nine-inch vegan apple pie, its wholesale customers encompass more than 20 retailers, including small food markets, health stores and a handful of ShopRite supermarkets. The company, which is currently breaking even, is on track to generate more than $250,000 in sales this year, at least a 67 percent increase over last year’s results of $150,000.
Word-of-mouth recommendations, as well as Starseed’s own social media efforts and e-blasts, help drum up business.
Evidently, Starseed is also selling the right type of goods at the right time.
In 2014, non-GMO products accounted for about $200 billion in retail sales in the United States, or about 25 percent of all domestic retail food and beverage revenues, according to the report, Non-GMO Foods: U.S. and Global Market Perspective, 2nd Edition. In 2019, U.S. retail sales of non-GMO food and beverages are expected to hit $330 billion, an increase of 65% over 2014 results. In contrast, during that same five-year period, retail sales of all food and beverages in the U.S. are predicted to grow by just 13%.
For her part, Beg takes nothing for granted. In addition to using her Toyota Camry to make all commercial deliveries herself, she depends on part-timers and an intern to help turn out her sweet treats and breads.
“Every step of the way, I have had to baby step the growth and bring people in as I could afford it, “ said Beg, who, as part of her five-year plan, looks forward to the day, possibly two years from now, when Starseed will operate in a larger, more automated space.
“I work 70 hours a week,” said Beg, “and I would like to build it in order to sustain me and I can take some time off.”