Frontier began as a two-person operation in 1976 in a cabin along the Cedar River in Eastern Iowa. We have grown steadily since then to become a major supplier in the booming natural products industry. This outstanding performance throughout the years reflects our close harmony with both industry trends and the values of natural products consumers.
Frontier has demonstrated an aptitude for associating itself with trends that fuel success. The business was originally structured as a cooperative that supplied herbs and spices to its members, all of whom were cooperatives engaged in retailing natural foods or cooperative buying clubs. Being a co-op itself helped propel Frontier into national distribution in rapidly expanding natural foods "co-op movement."
Frontier also embraced many of the positive ideals underlying the popularity of co-ops. The early management envisioned a workplace where employees would enjoy their work, families would come first, the quality of products would be unsurpassed, organics would play a key role in the business and social responsibility would be inseparable from their actions. These values have been sustained—and have contributed significantly to Frontier’s success—throughout its entire history.
Initially Frontier acted as a wholesaler, repackaging several hundred varieties of herbs and spices into smaller one- and two-pound bags. Customers then resold these products in bulk to their retail customers, typically at a substantial discount to equivalent consumer-packaged products available in traditional supermarkets. In an effort to meet as many customer requests as possible, Frontier expanded its selection to include many uncommon herbs and spices, building both its supplier contacts and its reputation as a comprehensive source of botanical products.
In 1978 Frontier bought and converted a grocery store building in Fairfax, Iowa, into a 5,200 square foot operations facility.
Subsequent growth resulted in Frontier purchasing a ten-acre parcel of Iowa farmland in 1982 near Norway, Iowa, and constructing a 21,000 square foot facility. Plant expansions in 1984, 1988, 1993, 1999 and 2007 have increased the facility size to over 145,000 square feet. Frontier also purchased an additional 50 acres of land adjacent to the main facility, 22 acres of which is maintained as tallgrass prairie.
Further sales growth led to offsite expansion. In 2003, Aura Cacia moved into a facility in Urbana, Iowa, (just 25 miles from the headquarters in Norway), and in 2011 we purchased a 100,000 sq ft facility in North Liberty (27 miles from Norway) for expansion of receiving, processing and Quality Assurance. Continued strong growth led to the establishment of a fourth location with the purchase in 2015 of a 107,000 square-foot building in Belle Plaine (20 miles from Norway) to handle handle distributor orders for our three brands.
During 1988 Frontier introduced a line of packaged spices. This was followed in 1991 with the introduction of a line of gourmet, 100% certified organic whole bean coffees. Subsequent introductions included a line of herbal extracts and the first certified organic beer in the United States.
Not all of these product lines were sustained successes, but all provided greater name recognition and expanded opportunities. The Frontier brand packaged-spice line developed into a significant sales contributor and laid important groundwork for the later establishment of the Simply Organic brand. Another Frontier brand, Frontier Coffee, was a part of the company for ten years. In addition to providing consumers with the highest quality organic coffee, Frontier Coffee funded a wide range of social programs in the poor coffee growing communities. Business loans, a power plant to produce electricity, computer equipment for schools, and a bridge were among the projects. In June of 2001, the coffee business was sold to Green Mountain Coffee.
The most sustained and dramatic success with product expansion has been in the area of aromatherapy. Early in its history, Frontier accommodated its customers by buying bulk quantities of essential oils and rebottling them into one-half ounce glass bottles. This line grew steadily as the concept and practice of aromatherapy became increasingly popular. Frontier responded to this accelerating trend, capitalizing on its early success and bolstering its product line with the 1993 acquisition of Aura Cacia, a leading aromatherapy and natural personal care products company. Aura Cacia products include a full line of aromatherapy items such as essential oils, massage and body oils, mineral baths, and lotions. Frontier has grown the line into the clear aromatherapy market leader in natural health outlets nationwide, adding many innovative new products. Aura Cacia sells a wide variety of certified organic products and has created the Aura Cacia Organic 1% Fund to give back 1% of organic sales to supplier communities.
The Simply Organic brand, established in 2001, quickly established the same kind of leadership in packaged seasonings as Aura Cacia has in aromatherapy. The line of organic products is built on a base of certified organic spices and spice blends with the addition of a wide range of creative seasoning mixes. Fueled by the exceptional popularity of the new products, Simply Organic became the fastest growing brand in natural seasonings and the leading brand of the explosively growing category of organic seasonings. The Simply Organic 1% Fund was established in 2002 giving back 1% of all Simply Organic sales in support of organic agriculture and education.
Beyond the fact that Frontier has listened attentively to its customers and responded wisely to trends and changes in the natural products industry, we have the advantage of sharing some basic values with the people buying our products.
Early decisions to invest in the equipment and personnel to create a top-notch Quality Assurance laboratory moved Frontier into the position of being the quality leader as well as the sales leader in bulk products and aromatherapy. Our carefully cultivated contacts and well-deserved reputation for quality give us a unique advantage in meeting the growing demand for high-quality products.
And our advantage is even greater in regards to organic products. Frontier led the industry in recognizing the value of organic agriculture and promoting organically grown products. The market for organics continues to grow, and Frontier is the established leader in organic selection and quality.
The standards of the National Organic Program, implemented in 2000, created no problems for us since our own internal organic standards already exceeded those required by the program. Our longstanding leadership in promoting organic agriculture around the world provides us with contacts, visibility and respect that are valuable assets.
Frontier was also a trendsetter in employee relations, building a loyal, efficient workforce from the beginning with sincere communication and respect for employees at all levels of the organization. Innovative programs such as subsidized on-site childcare and meal programs, established over two decades ago, led to national recognition for workplace accomplishments at the same time Frontier was cited as one of the country’s fastest-growing companies.
The adherence to the company’s ideals regarding customer service, product quality, social and environmental responsibility and employee relations are intrinsic elements in Frontier’s impressive success over the years.
We appreciate your interest in Frontier Co-op and invite you to visit the other pages on our site that explore our values and programs in more detail.
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