This post first appeared in Indy Week.
Experienced planners of Super Bowl parties take their guests' preferences to heart. There's the chili-and-nachos crowd, the cheese-and-crackers eaters, the mindful nibblers of vegetables and fruit.
At the Durham home of Scott Beaudry and Theresa Chu, they set out a special snack for a regular with a sensitive stomach. And if Feb. 2, the evening of the Super Bowl goes right, the treat will elicit tail wags and global exposure for Barley Labs dog biscuits.
The upstart is among four finalists in the national Intuit Small Business Big Game contest, which awards a highly coveted Super Bowl commercial to the winner. Last year's game drew a record-setting 111.3 million viewers—enough to turn a small operation with a growing regional following into a bona fide national brand.
"We didn't have very high expectations at all when we submitted our video," says Chu, who produced the short clip herself. "It was free and easy to enter. We figured, why not take the chance?"
The entry features Barley, their beloved 5-year-old Lab mix, who serves as Chief Inspiration Officer and VP of Quality Control at Barley Labs. The business officially launched in September 2012, but the couple had been using spent barley from Baudry's home-brewing projects to make biscuits long before then.
"Barley has always had a sensitive stomach, so it was important that we knew exactly what was in the treats we fed her," Baudry says. "The vet suggested adding pumpkin puree to her diet, so that's how we developed the pumpkin biscuits."
Other flavors of the crunchy product include all-natural peanut butter and cheddar, the latter of which is sourced from Culture Cow Creamery in Durham. The main product is spent barley procured from Durham's Fullsteam brewery. Baudry struck a deal with the dog-friendly business when it became evident that demand was outpacing the 60 pounds of grain he collected from each batch of home brew.
"The funny thing is, we went to a Durham Bulls game and drank beer at Fullsteam as part of our first visit to the area when we were planning our move from Chicago," Baudry says. "We liked it right away and felt so at home. We're happy about being able to work with them."
Fullsteam owner Sean Lilly Wilson admires the couple's mission. "As an entrepreneurial venture ourselves, we love supporting local start-ups and watching them grow from bar patrons to business owners," Wilson says. "How can you not cheer for a local company that makes dog treats from local beer grain and local cheese?"
The barley saved from the brewing process has been soaked to yield barley-infused water, which is used to make beer. The spent grains have no alcohol content and will not, as some customers have wondered, make biscuit-loving pups tipsy.
Barley Labs biscuits are available online and in several Durham-area businesses, including Fullsteam, where the 8-ounce bags sell for about $6.49 each. In thanks for their own rescue animal, Baudry and Chu donate 10 cents from each package sold to support the Animal Protection Society of Durham. They also feature adoptable dogs from the Triangle and across the country on the Barley Labs website.
The positive exposure already has translated into increased sales and inquiries from out-of-state businesses that want to stock Barley Labs product. Biscuits can be purchased from shops in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Georgia, Arkansas and Iowa.
The couple recently moved its home baking operation to The Cookery, a commercial kitchen space in Durham. Access to industrial equipment means they can produce more biscuits at a time.
Chu says they plan to introduce more products, another crunchy flavor and some soft treats, but have no firm timetable. "Everything's been put on the back burner until we know what happens," she says.
They hope to hear from Intuit before the end of the month and understand that the contest winner will have input into the creative development of the advertisement.
"Barley is definitely the face of our business, but she's a nervous girl," Chu says. "She's really been stressed out with people coming in and out of the house in the last few weeks. I've read that animals can pick up on emotional signals from humans, so we're trying to help her be calm. We're trying to assure her that it all will be worth it."
To view the video entry submitted by Barley Labs to the Intuit Small Business Big Game contest, visit smallbusinessbiggame.com/NC/Barley-Labs/373335. For information about Barley Labs, or where to buy biscuits, visit barleylabs.com.