The Community Conversation of this past Thursday brought together three local/regional entrepreneurs well known for their fine products for a stimulating conversation about value added products, which, of course, they specialize in - Jenelle Syverson of Choke Cherry Tree, Kathy Keys of Pagosa Baking Company and Kris Gosar of Gosar Ranch Natural Foods. A good part of the discussion was aimed at answering the question – What adds value to your products? – with some interesting and unexpected answers. Not surprising ingredients came up quickly as an answer- organic, locally sourced, quality, certainly and all the better if wild harvested as with Jenelle’s choke cherries or with history as with Kathy’s sour dough starter that she has used continuously since 1995. Then a less obvious answerrelationships was suggested and all three quickly agreed that building relationships takes time and is built on a good product and reliability as exemplified by Kris in his from Denver to Santa Fe and points in between distribution of Gosar Sausages to retailer and restaurants. Kris further noted that distributing your own product and making it easy and unobtrusive all are critical to the relationship with the customer and in itself is an added value to his product. Then there isthe customer experience as an added value. Many ways to build this, for example, making the customer feel connected to the food by watching the process as Jenelle does with her large window into her commercial kitchen where the customer can see her staff building chocolates or caramels. Easy to understand how this experience engages the customer in the product and very likely increases what he or she is willing to spend on the chocolate or caramel. Or be letting the customer know where the ingredients come from as Kathy does by displaying flour that is locally sourced from Gosar Natural Foods and is used in all her baking. Then, there is history, the longevity of the company which clearly takes time. All three can claim that added value. Flour milling began with Kris’ father with the establishment of the 2nd certified organic farm in Colorado in 1971 and sausage making has an even longer lineage going back five generations. The Choke Cherry Tree goes back to Granpa Bill and his roadside stand selling choke cherries and jams made from the overripe. The Pagosa Baking Company is celebrating 20 years of operation. Clearly there is virtue and rewards in persevering. The history of the establishment reflects on the product. Finally, there is the actualprocess of producing the product and the equipmentused that can add value to the product. Preparing and cooking in small batches and the attention to the product that it allows are practices shared by all three. The grinding stones used to produce a unique flour and maintained by the family and the filling of sausage by hand are practiced at the Gosar Ranch. The old fashioned machines involved in preparing dough and chocolate used by Kathy and Jenelle also add value. The question regarding challenges faced by these small family operations produced an abundance of comments: striking a balance between using classical techniques and remaining relevant to modern life; packaging and distribution hurdles to wider distribution; knowing how to maintain classical equipment; and keeping up with marketing on social media are some of them. All agreed that the opportunities for expanding the product base are available; one has only to recognize and act prudently as Kathy did when she began to repackage the Gosar 50# flour bags into 5 and 10# retail packages to sell in the bakery; as Kris did when he began to include deliveries from other companies in his distribution route; as Jenelle plans to do when she is able to make her commercial kitchen available to outside user and add classes. The final question. How to increase demand? Communication. Buzz. Marketing. Networking. Building relationships. It was an interesting hour of conversation with these three very successful small business entrepreneurs.