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Hastings natives on the slow but steady road to success, were finalists in MN Cup competition

Sisters Elizabeth Aarness, left, and Rebecca Biederman have turned pizza into an honest food with their company, True Dough. (Submitted photos)

About four years ago, two Hastings sisters got a great idea. Rebecca Biederman and Elizabeth Aarness wanted to create a business making healthy, quality pizza dough. The result was True Dough, a business that started out small with the sisters making all their deliveries themselves, to now selling their product in more than 200 stores across seven states.

“It’s been wild,” Aarness said.

Their product is certified organic pizza dough: five flavors of dough prepared in frozen dough balls that customers roll out themselves and two flavors of baked, gluten free flatbreads. While their products haven’t changed, much about the rest of the operation has.

True Dough now operates out of the Minnesota Foodcrafters kitchen, where they can produce up to about 1,000 units per day. They have a team of employees who work in the kitchen and a team that works out in the field, giving product demonstrations and connecting with communities. Instead of the business owners delivering orders themselves, they now work with distributors to see their dough properly shipped around the country.

Their success hasn’t been quick, Aarness said, but it has been steady. In 2013, they started selling at Spiral Natural Foods Cooperative in Hastings, their first retail location. Spiral Foods still carries the dough, but now the sisters are seeing their product on the shelves at Whole Foods, food cooperatives across the state, Coborn’s, Lunds & Byerly’s, Kowalski’s and more. In Hastings, Duff’s Meats II also carries the dough, and Aarness said she hopes to see it on the shelves at the Hastings Coborn’s before the end of the year. The dough is also sold at Ptacek’s in Prescott, Wisconsin. Soon, she said, they’ll be working with another distributor that will help them reach markets in 13 more states.

Aarness credits their success, in large part, to timing.

“I think there’s been a shift in consumer demand,” she said.

She’s seen an increased interest in eating local and eating organic, she said, especially in Minnesota. Food companies all over are growing, and she’s seeing more people focused on health. With True Dough coming into the market just as interest was ramping up, they’ve been able to serve a growing consumer base.

“We’ve been received well in the community,” she said.

As their home state, Minnesota has responded particularly well.

“We’ve acquired quite a following here in Minnesota,” she said.

Next, Aarness said she’s focused on continuing her business’s slow but steady growth, introducing new distribution markets and likely adding staff to help manage the business.

MN Cup finalist

True Dough got a bit of a boost recently thanks to the MN Cup, a startup business competition run through the Carlson School of Business Management. Aarness said she knew some people who have competed in the MN Cup before, and they all said the same thing: it’s a ton of work, but the resources contestants gain are well worth it.

“I just knew it was something that we should do,” Aarness said.

True Dough competed in the food and agriculture category against about 200 other businesses and landed in the top 10.

Semifinalists were paired with professional mentors over the course of several weeks, preparing a business plan, video and investor presentation. True Dough worked with a professional from Cameron’s Coffee as well as General Mills.

“It was a really great experience,” Aarness said. “... It was just a great opportunity to get our name out there and meet people.”

Although True Dough didn’t make it to the final round, they did make several valuable contacts with distributors, investors, business and marketing experts and other entrepreneurs.