Phil Castle, The Business Times
While other businesses struggled in the middle of a pandemic to keep their doors open, Brad Stieg and his daughters struggled to keep up with orders.
At one point last year, the backlog of orders for reusable plastic canning lids had grown to 2,000. “August was just off the charts. It was insanity,” Stieg says.
By Thanksgiving, the family finally caught up.
But Stieg expects the year ahead could be another busy one for Harvest Guard and the Grand Valley operation. “I am planning for it to be as big or bigger than 2020.”
Stieg attributes the situation to a confluence of events, among them a pandemic that’s kept more people at home and concerns about food security that’s prompted more people to plant gardens and can the fruits — and vegetables — of their labors. Add to that a shortage of traditional metal canning lids that can only be used once.
Although stressful, the situation has worked out well for Stieg in his latest iteration of a family business.
Stieg launched his first venture about a decade ago to market the reusable plastic canning lids his father, Loren Stieg, invented in the 1970s. A tool and die maker in Michigan, Loren Stieg developed the plastic lids in response to a shortage of metal lids at that time.
Brad Stieg sold his company. But after a time away, he decided to return to the business and compete with the firm he started.
Stieg says his daughters — Leanna Stieg and Ashley Pettit — joined in the operation, located in a building off the Riverside Parkway in Grand Junction.
Plastic canning lids differ from metal lids in many ways, Stieg says. Plastic lids won’t corrode, which makes them well suited for canning such acidic foods as pickles, peppers and tomatoes. Most importantly, plastic lids can be used over and over.
The plastic lids Harvest Guard sells come with rubber ring gaskets that ensure a good seal. The gaskets also are reusable, although only for eight to 10 times.
Harvest Guard sells two sizes of lids — regular and wide mouth — in white and red. The company also sells replacement gaskets. Harvest Guard sells directly to consumers through its website and markets mostly through social media.
Stieg says he expected 2020 to be a busy year based the sales of vegetable seeds — a kind of leading indicator for gardening and home canning. “I had that feeling.”
But the pace of sales soon exceeded his expectations with shortages of traditional metal lids as well as jars and other canning supplies. Strapped with supply chain problems, metal lid manufacturers couldn’t keep up, he says.
Stieg buys his lids from a Montrose manufacturer and says he kept that firm busy.
Stieg says he recently purchased an injection mold machine to manufacture wide mouth lids that account for about
40 percent for sales. He says he’ll continue to purchase regular lids from the Montrose firm.
In addition to running Harvest Guard, Stieg also oversees a distribution facility for the Squirt brand of bicycle chain lubricant and other cycling products.
A company based in South Africa manufactures the products, but ships them to Grand Junction for distribution to North and South America, Stieg says. Squirt lubricant contains waxes and water in an emulsion that remains cleaner and lasts longer than petroleum products, he says.
While the pandemic curtailed the bicycle races and other events that afforded opportunities to market Squirt, sales have increased gradually, Stieg says.
As for Harvest Guard, Stieg says the ongoing effects of the pandemic, as well as uncertainty over the availability of traditional canning supplies, portend another busy year for the company and what could be sales in excess of $1 million.
And that could mean another welcome struggle to keep up with orders.
For more information about Harvest Guard and reusable plastic canning lids, log on to www.canninglids.com.