Prosper Profile: The Natural Evolution Of Organic By The Case

Shortly before Yvette Berman's son celebrated his first birthday, he developed an eczema-type rash that didn't go away.

The persistence of the rash concerned Berman enough for her to consider an alternative to conventional remedies, one that included switching her son's milk to an organic brand that was free of hormones and antibiotics.  

Soon she found that her son was free of his rash.

"A lot of things started to improve with his health and with all of our health," says Berman of Clarkston, who ended up switching her whole family to an organic diet.

In the nine years since then, Berman has not only become a student of organic living, she's made a business out of helping others do the same.

Organic by the Case, an online bulk organic foods and cleaning products and distribution business, recently celebrated its first anniversary.

"It was about helping people across the country eat healthier," says Berman.

The business, headquartered in Orion Township, just expanded its distribution in Oakland County for the more than 1,000 items featured on its Web site, www.OrganicByTheCase.com.

Organic by the Case not only features a wide selection of bulk organic offerings, like baby food, dry goods, personal care and cleaning products, it's home to nearly 30 Michigan-based producers.

Berman hand selects all the products featured on the site and showcases a "Product of the Month" that is made in Michigan. It's a way, she explains, to help the local economy while giving local producers a chance to bring their products to a larger consumer base.

"We give them an immediate national presence," says Berman.

When Organic by the Case was launched in April 2008, Berman had intended it to be a place for families to buy organic products in bulk, a sort of online, natural-foods version of Costco. While she found a lot of interest from individual consumers, she wasn't expecting how popular the site would be with businesses like restaurants and grocers.

"We've also found a lot of companies have taped into us," she says. "I'd say we have a 50-50 ratio of consumers and businesses."

Organic by the Case supplies organic cheeses to Holiday Market in Royal Oak as well as products to Mind, Body, Spirit restaurant in Rochester Hills.

Though Berman had been a full-time marketing professional before having a family, she realized she needed some guidance when it came to starting her own business. She contacted the southeast Michigan chapter of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) and was matched up with veteran businessman Robert Hodson.

"It was a very good learning experience," she says of her business counseling from SCORE. "His imprint had great value."

While getting the word out about the Web site remains a priority, Berman is already thinking about the future of her company. Starting July 1, Organic by the Case will expand home delivery by partnering with Troy-based Suburban Delivery.

Berman has also launched a second niche Web site called HarvestMichigan.com, the same type of site as Organic by the Case, except it features Michigan-made products exclusively.

"Its angle is all things made in Michigan," says Berman, who has consolidated Organic by the Case and Harvest Michigan into one group, Organic Earth Group LLC. Her hope is to one day be seen as the organic food version of amazon.com

"I really listen to my customer," she says, "and it doesn't take me six months to implement what my customer is asking for."

With a business model firmly established, the next endeavor is to seek more capital. With the credit crisis last fall freezing markets and lending, Berman says she has to be more proactive at finding venture capitalists to help her business grow.

"The credit market has completely collapsed for businesses less than two years old," she says. "I just really know that when we have the right partners we can move in the direction we want to go."

In the mean time, Berman is just enjoying the "amazing journey" she's taken over the past year – one she hopes will go further with each passing year.

"I call myself an eco-preneur," she says. "This is about growing the organic business, the organic movement."

OrganicByTheCase.com features more than 1,000 products, while HarvestMichigan.com is dedicated to Michigan-made goods. Organic Earth Group LLC is located at 140 Engelwood Drive, Suite B, just north of The Palace in Orion Township. For more information, visit www.OrganicByTheCase.com or www.HarvestMichigan.com, or call (248) 475-5805.

Robert Hodson was the resident SCORE advisor at the Oakland County Business Center, based in Waterford.  The Business Center, service of Oakland County’s Economic Development & Community Affairs department, offers education through training, no charge counseling and referral services.  Check out their calendar of events and website at www.oakgov.com/peds/calendar.

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