Held appropriately enough on International Entrepreneurs’ Day, a celebration was held at the new chocolate-stuffed marshmallow manufacturing facility that will be bringing s’more than 130 jobs to the Lehigh Valley.
The brain child of entrepreneur, Mike Tierney, who just celebrated his 30th birthday last week, Stuffed Puffs is the newest manufacturer in a growing field of food manufacturers in the Lehigh Valley.
Already operating out of The Factory incubator in Bethlehem and manufactured in Wisconsin, Stuffed Puffs will be able to drastically increase production in the new 150,000-square-foot plant at 3900 Burgess Place in Hanover Township, Northampton County. The added production capacity will allow Stuffed Puffs to grow from its current exclusive partnership with Walmart to be available in retailers nationally by mid-2020.
The building was developed and is owned by J.G. Petrucci Co.
Having moved from Scottsdale, Arizona to the Lehigh Valley to take advantage of the services of The Factory, which provides capital, testing space and mentoring to startups in the food and pet industry, Tierney said the success his company is now experiencing was a long time in coming.
Speaking to a crowd gathered at the facility launch, Tierney said the idea actually started around a camp fire about 11-years ago, when he was a freshman in college.
While making s’mores he thought it would be so much easier to make the sloppy but tasty treats if he could make marshmallows stuffed with chocolate.
“I wasn’t the first person with the idea. I probably wasn’t even the 100th person with the idea,” Tierney said.
What he did have is persistence, “or stubbornness” he quipped. He never let the idea drop and eventually found venture capitalists willing to back him.
“I don’t know if they saw the vision or they were just degenerate gamblers,” he said, but they gave him the backing he needed to start researching how to make product.
The big challenge came in trying to find a supplier. He said plenty of people he talked to said they liked his concept, but it had been tried before and always failed.
But he persisted, and eventually caught the eye of Walmart, which was willing to give him a contract.
He was ready to roll, but as it turned out – getting those chocolate centers in the marshmallows was as difficult as people predicted and he couldn’t fill the order.
He said it was Richard Thompson of FreshPet fame, and the other partners in The Factory that came to his rescue.
Thompson had already invested in another one of Tierney’s ventures, Mikey’s Better Food Baking Co., and he offered him the support of the Factory to help develop the new product.
“The thing about Richard and the Factory is that this is more than just a private equity fund. There are plenty of people out there with capital to invest. What’s great about Richard is his experience and his willingness to help with startups,” Tierney said.
Thompson said he was drawn to Tierney’s energy and determination and knew that he could help Stuffed Puffs not only become a successful product, and a significant employer in the region, he would help inspire others to bring their startups and build the synergy that is growing in the Lehigh Valley’s food manufacturing industry.
He also noted that The Factory isn’t the only assistance that Stuffed Puff and Tierney are receiving. The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development has stepped forward with a number of grants, loans and tax credits to get the facility up and running.
Tierney also made a famous friend to help promote his product. Internationally known DJ Marshmello is partnering with Stuffed Puff on marketing, a deal Tierney said he was able to make after “email stalking” the DJ’s manager and business partner, Moe Shalizi.
Shalizi said he had already been in negotiations for the DJ to market a major, well-known marshmallow brand when he finally broke down and opened one of Tierney’s many emails and was impressed enough that he turned down the big brand to align with the Stuffed Puff startup.
“We’re both young and we both have an entrepreneurial spirit, so we decided to join in on the ride with Mikey,” Shalizi said.
DJ Marshmello will be using his various digital platforms and fan base to help get the word out about the new stuffed marshmallow product.
Stuffed Puffs are already in stores and Tierney said he hopes to have his new factory up and running and staffed by summer of 2020, with the first batch of Lehigh Valley-made marshmallows shipping by mid-July.i