Gina and Elisabeth Galvin, founders of Stellar Snacks, are in the midst of building out a 500,000-square-foot production facility in Reno.
In March 2020, just about the time when the COVID-19 pandemic started shutting down business, Stellar Snacks of Carson City was rocked by a series of cancellation orders that likely spelled financial doom for the fledgling company.
Founded a year earlier by entrepreneurs Elisabeth and Gina Galvin, Stellar Snack’s main customers were a handful of airlines for which the company packaged pretzels that were passed out on flights as snacks. When the news hit, Elisabeth Galvin said she took her dog for a walk around Washoe Lake on a Friday afternoon and contemplated bankruptcy.
“We got a few million dollars of purchase orders canceled because the airlines weren’t flying anyone,” Galvin told NNBW. “That weekend took everything from me to stay zen. I knew that if I didn’t sell that inventory in the next 48 hours, I was done.”
Instead of burying her head in the sand, Galvin sat down at her computer and began sending out emails to as many contacts she could think of inquiring if they needed pretzels. For the next four months, she replaced the lost airline business by selling pretzels to Feeding America, Good Source and other organizations that were providing meals for K-12 food programs despite schools being shuttered.
“We sent truckloads of pretzels everywhere,” Galvin said. “We were able to stay in business and avoid employee layoffs.”
Birth of Stellar Snacks
Galvin’s first company, Delyse, had been packaging pretzels, snack boxes, trail mixes and stroopwafels for upscale hoteliers and the airline industry since 1992 — she even had the former Reno Air as a client. In July 2018, however, a critical supplier, California Pretzel of Visalia — the only pretzel manufacturer west of the Mississippi — shuttered its operations. It was then that the mother-daughter duo came up with a plan to open a manufacturing facility and begin baking their own pretzels.
That summer, the older Galvin took a chance and attended a trade show in Chicago. She rented a booth and advertised that she was going to begin making pretzels from a production facility in Nevada. Buyers from several major national retail brands expressed serious interest, and a few months later Galvin secured a loan from the Small Business Administration. Coupled with investor capital, Stellar Snacks launched in March 2019 from a 100,000 facility on Conestoga Drive.
After relying on another company to make pretzels for decades, Galvin was finally in the driver’s seat.
“That was a dream come true,” she said. “Controlling my destiny was very important for me. Buying from another supplier really reduced our ability to grow because they didn't want to do any innovation and they only wanted you to buy what they made.
“In order for me to lead, I need to be able to innovate and take risks,” she added. “Opening Stellar Snacks and controlling the manufacturing process and being able to drive innovation really got us to where we are today because we can respond to our customer needs and respond to what consumers want.”
Next round of growth
Stellar Snacks is in the midst of building out a 500,000-square-foot production facility in Reno, where it will produce its own branded pretzels. Galvin already has secured shelf space with many major retail brands.
“Our brand since November has really taken off,” she said. “People love the product. It’s the first time pretzels were made vegan.”
The Carson City facility currently employs 127. The Reno facility, though much larger, will employ roughly 125 people across six to eight fully automated production lines. Galvin said she will work with Truckee Meadows Community College and Western Nevada College to offer robotics and mechanical apprenticeships at the new plants.
A key aspect of the new production plant, she added, is that it allows the Carson City operations to begin producing peanut-filled pretzels and snack mixes – that facility is currently peanut-free. The Reno operation, which will be a peanut-free facility, is expected to be up and running by February or March 2023, she added.
Show me the wheat
The biggest challenge right now for Stellar Snacks is the rapid rise in the price of wheat, Galvin said. Stellar Snacks purchases all of its wheat from a mill in Ogden, Utah – for now.
Galvin is working to bring wheat production to Nevada and mill it in a facility that would be built next to its Reno production plant.
“I met with a farmer, and it is a two-year project,” she said. “We have to plant, and also work with the governor – it has a lot of impact for this farmer to let go of his current crops and switch to wheat.
“I believe that in the next five years wheat will be a real problem, and we need to do something,” she added. “Making Nevada a place where we can grow our own wheat will be such a beautiful story.”
Growing conditions in Fallon and other agricultural areas of Northern Nevada are perfect for wheat, she noted. In order to make it affordable, wheat can’t be located much further than 1.5 hours from a mill since transportation costs erode its economic viability, Galvin added.
Gina Galvin, Stellar Snacks’ director of marketing and advocacy, said that adding a second state-of-the-art facility in Reno and ramping up the company’s manufacturing footprint to over a half-million square feet is vital for the growth of Stellar brands.
“Since our recent launch, we’ve been overjoyed to see explosive growth and traction,” she said. “We differentiate our products from other labels on the shelf through superior quality, ingredients and processes that can only be achieved through baking in-house, and that’s why we initially took the plunge to Stellar Snacks. At this exciting new juncture, multiplying our production capacity by four-and-a-half times will enable us to grow without limits and scale our brands in a meaningful way.”