By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – Local business owner Alex McKenzie is excited to announce that his new food and beverage distributing company, Montana Prime, is beginning operation as an offshoot from his Big Sky ice cream company The Emperor of Ice Cream.

“Getting products in and out of Montana at a volume that makes sense for startups like [The Emperor of Ice Cream] can be prohibitively expensive for many small producers,” McKenzie said. “It’s about the economies of scale found in the commercial trucking industry. Many distributors have volume minimums that are impractical for small producers.”

Alex McKenzie, owner of the The Emperor of Ice Cream, recently opened his second startup, Montana Prime, a distributing company that will focus on bringing Montana goods to the Pacific Northwest. PHOTOS COURTESY OF ALEX McKENZIE

McKenzie’s first startup, The Emperor of Ice Cream, opened last summer as a mobile ice cream cart that sells customized flavors like bourbon pecan pie and mojito sorbet at the Big Sky Farmers Market, the summer concert series Music in the Mountains, and other outdoor events. McKenzie partners with a creamery in Washington that makes each of the flavors he develops and for nearly a year McKenzie has trucked his custom ice cream from Seattle.

“I won’t tell you how much I pay to have a single pallet of ice cream delivered to me here in Montana, but it’s a lot,” he said. “Two pallets is a bit cheaper, and eight pallets is much cheaper. But I don’t really have a need for eight pallets of ice cream yet, you see?

“I know many other small Montana producers face the same challenges, and are either limited by the ingredient volumes they can actually use, or have to mark up their prices considerably to offset those shipping costs,” he said.

Already driving a truck from Montana to Seattle, McKenzie spotted an opportunity to use his regular route to bring some of Montana’s consumer goods to a larger market.

“It makes more sense to make that drive with a full truck rather than an empty truck,” McKenzie said. “There’s an opportunity to cover our traveling costs by carrying other products in to the Pacific Northwest, and we happen to believe in the Danny Meyer approach to the food and beverage business: that by investing in our community and supporting other Montana producers, we can all benefit.”

“Montana is a huge state with not a lot of people. It’s why I live here, but it can be difficult for small businesses like my own,” said Patrick Burr, owner of Roots Kitchen and Cannery in Bozeman. Burr recently signed with Montana Prime and will begin by distributing three jam flavors and two types of pickles.

“Montanans are very proud of the products made in this state and are very supportive, but it can be hard with a population that is so spread out,” Burr said. “For us­, expanding our distribution to the Northwest is huge. It will allow us to reach a whole new demographic and show them a unique view into Montana’s food culture.”

The new distributors will focus on bringing Montana products to markets in the greater Pacific Northwest, including Seattle and Portland, and as the company grows, Montana Prime hopes to bring products back to Montana with The Emperor of Ice Cream’s pallets of ice cream. As of EBS press time, seven Montana producers have signed and will be represented by Montana Prime, including McKenzie’s own company, The Emperor of Ice Cream.

McKenzie said Montana Prime is focusing on all-natural products that can command a competitive price with similar products produced in Washington and Oregon. “With the increasing consumer desire for locally made products, we feel that having a great product backed by a clean ingredient statement and attractive packaging are all vital to being able to compete outside of Montana,” he said.

McKenzie regularly takes the Emperor of Ice Cream to Big Sky events like Music in the Mountains and Big Sky PBR.

The Good Stuff Botanicals, based in the Flathead Valley, is excited to join with Montana Prime in selling organic skin care products to new communities.

“We’ve tried a couple other distributors but they didn’t care about our products or us, so we didn’t have a lot of confidence that they would be able to sell us,” said Maranda Johnson, co-owner and operator. “The folks behind the curtain at Montana Prime are eager and show a genuine interest in our company. We finally feel comfortable opening up the gates and doing business with them on our team. We’re excited to get into new territory, pick-up some new accounts so we can expand a little more and hire a couple employees so we can really get rocking.”

McKenzie is meeting with retail buyers in Washington in order to secure new accounts for some of Montana Prime’s new purveyors. The company has also applied for a federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade permit so as to share Montana beer and distilled spirits with the Pacific coast.

Montana Prime is solidifying a delivery route and product catalog and is continuing to add retailers and wholesale producers to their client list.

For more information about Montana Prime or to inquire about a partnership, visit montanaprime.co or call (406) 595-3392.