First Chico, then the world
Maisie Jane’s high school project turns into an eponymous, enormous business
Maisie Jane Hurtado grew up on an almond farm in the Chico area, helping her family with all aspects of the operation. When she wasn’t driving a tractor or harvesting the nuts for Bertagna Orchards, she was listening to her family discuss the almond business and lament about the dearth of American consumers.
“California was growing about 80 percent of the almonds in the world, but most of them were being exported,” she said. “I realized that almonds were undermarketed here and thought of a way to get Americans to buy more of them.”
What began as the idea for a high school project paved the way for Maisie Jane’s California Sunshine Products, an almond growing, processing and packing business that sells around 200 tons a year.
Hurtado had grown up eating oven-roasted almonds from her mother’s kitchen and thought if she could produce flavored almonds like those, more people would buy the nuts. So in 1993, as a Chico High junior and Future Farmers of America member, she purchased a 2,000-pound bin of almonds and oven-roasted them in flavors such as chocolate, tamari, cinnamon and coffee.
She took them to local retailers, who quickly asked to sell them in their stores.
“It just took off on its own,” Hurtado said. “I was selling at the farmers markets and local stores and just continued to watch everything evolve.”
Did it ever. Five years later, Hurtado bought her first store and production facility on Twelfth Street in South Chico.
The production facility gave her the space needed to meet the demands of her growing wholesale customers, who make up the majority of Maisie Jane’s business. Meanwhile, the retail space in the store allowed Hurtado to exercise her creativity by putting together gift baskets, which became so popular that she outgrew the shop.
In 2003, she opened a second store on Dayton Road, where she continues to operate the business.
“I had no idea that I was going to be doing this 15 years later,” Hurtado said, her almost 2-year-old daughter Isabella looking on from a pile of toys. “It’s been the biggest joy to watch the business grow.”
Six-and-a-half months pregnant with her second child, Hurtado has been able to maintain a strong balance between success and family, primarily through having her relatives work closely beside her.
Her husband, Isidro, joined her as a business partner in 2002. He farms 80 acres of the almonds that Maisie Jane’s processes and sells. Her mom and aunt both help with the business, too.
With buyers all over the world, including Canada and Hong Kong, Hurtado finds it is remarkable that what started as a simple idea now has her in competition with big-name corporations.
Her business continues to grow, and she says it’s with the ideals she started it on: a love of family and of agriculture.
“We are a small family farm and a family company, and it’s been such a blessing to make it as that,” Hurtado said. “I know the strong importance of agriculture and the need to be environmentally friendly.
“That will never change, no matter how big we get.”