Push for organic food spurs Muesli Fusion

By Ruth Harper

Democrat and Chronicle  Ian Szalinski President Muesli Fusion

For Ian Szalinski, living organic is more than adding fruits and vegetables to his diet, it’s quickly becoming his business.

The 23-year-old president of Muesli Fusion has begun producing approximately 300 pounds a week of his oat- and whole-grain-based muesli cereal and putting it into stores from coast-to-coast.

“(Muesli) doesn’t have all the added sugars,” said the 2010 SUNY Geneseo graduate and Rochester resident. “It’s not big on oil like a granola. It’s also very versatile. You can eat it raw if you want, you can put it in yogurt or soak it in milk.”

Muesli Fusion began selling in stores in March and is currently being produced in a small 400-square-foot production facility in the city. Today, it can be bought in 15 stores: nine in New York, three in Utah and one in California, in addition to the company’s online store, which opened in April.

Locally, the cereal is sold at the Abundance Cooperative Market at Marshall Street in Rochester and Webster Gourmet on West Main Street in the village of Webster.

“I definitely think they’re going to be successful,” said Naz Runfola, a senior buyer for Abundance. “(Szalinski’s) really conscious of the product he’s creating, and I know the packaging is really nice. He’s really been out there walking the pavement and getting people interested, and I know he’s selling in quite a few stores, so I definitely think it’s going to take off.”

In fact, organic products have been gaining in popularity across the country as total sales grew to $24.8 billion in 2009, a 5.1 percent growth over 2008 sales, according to the Organic Trade Association. By comparison, 1990 sales of organic food and beverages tipped out at $1 billion.

The association also reported that organic food sales are becoming more mainstream with 54 percent of all organic sales coming from popular grocery store chains, club stores and other retailers. Meanwhile, specialty stores, farmer’s markets, co-ops, community-supported agriculture and Internet sales accounted for the remaining the sales.

“It’s not just vegetables anymore,” Runfola said. “I think as people become more aware about organics, they eventually want more breakfast products in that mix.”

About five years ago, Szalinski began eating muesli, a ready-to-eat organic cereal that is popular in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

But he got bored with the limited varieties available in stores, and after receiving some advice from friends and family, he decided to jump into the niche organic cereal industry.

Muesli Fusion offers more than 14 muesli varieties, including Classic Swiss, Monkey Food, Toothache, PB&J, Banana Split Blend and Alternative Energy. At the online store, the 16-ounce product ranges in price from $6.49 to $8.19, depending on the variety.

Currently, Szalinski is a one-man crew forced to conduct business just about anywhere, including lunch breaks from his full-time marketing assistant job with KJT Group in Honeoye Falls.

Szalinski plans to bring on both interns and new employees in the future, which he hopes will help increase awareness and production rates, allowing the company to expand to more markets.

“It’s done very well in natural and specialty food stores where people are looking for those type of products,” Szalinski said. “(In) the bigger grocery stores, there are people who are sort of doing the same thing I was doing and buying all the same kinds. If there was more variety there, I think they’d look for it, but they need a little more awareness just to know we’re out there.”

Harper is a freelance writer from Rochester.

Ian Szalinski

Age: 23.

Residence: Rochester.

Occupation: Marketing assistant at KJT Group and president of Muesli Fusion.

Education: Bachelor’s degree from the State University College at Geneseo.

Community activities: Member of the Rochester Aardvarks.

For more: evokefoods.com