The White Mountain story is a tapestry woven by all who have come into contact with it as well as the cultural and societal events that have impacted our family and team since the 1930s. From the founding family's farming and animal husbandry history, the Great Depression, the health food movement of the 60s, to the company's incorporation in 1980, and on through to the present, all of our family, owners, and team members have contributed to who we are as a company.
Purist Foods, Inc., D.B.A. White Mountain Foods is a vegetarian health food manufacturer. The founding concept of our company is about supporting health, not how much money we can make. Our physiological condition and our consciousness are impacted by the food we eat. By reducing or eliminating specific foods that cause us harm and eliminating overly processed, additive and chemical laced, engineered-for-profit, nutritionally deficient foods, we can support and maintain our health, and reduce our discomfort and the need for medical help. The concept of vegetarianism is an integral component of this philosophy as its physiological modifying effects have a major impact not only on our physical health, but also on how we treat others and the world we live in. "People before profit" is our governing business concept, and it guides every business decision we make, from the purchasing of ingredients and packaging to what we do with our profit.
Our mission is a simple one: provide our consumers with delicious, minimally processed yogurt and meat-alternative products that are organic when possible, completely free of additives and preservatives, and manufactured and packaged in a health-conscious environmentally responsible way.
All of our products are made with the same basic concept in mind: natural simplicity. If we can't make a product with just a few simple all-natural ingredients that our consumers enjoy eating, then we don't make it. Our new product process doesn't start with a product category review with an eye towards maximizing profit, it begins with a question as to what our consumers would appreciate eating and then we set about trying to produce that product without any synthetic additives, flavorings, coloring agents, thickeners, texture modifiers, and artificial or refined sweeteners. We also steer clear from cane, beet, and corn sweeteners due to their negative effects on the immune system, preferring to use honey and agave syrup instead. We believe keeping the immune system healthy through eating supportive foods has the greatest overall effect on our health than anything else we can do.
White Mountain is a small company more so because of how we think and conduct ourselves rather than what our sales volume or profit is. The company is still owned, operated, and our products manufactured by the Murray family and the company team members in Austin, Texas. We are a corporation, as our founder incorporated his business in 1980 with approximately $100,000 in annual sales. The corporate business structure became a legal necessity and made dealing with the government's various regulatory and taxing bodies easier and more efficient.
The company has grown modestly over the years and will continue to do so in a way that does not lose touch with our founding concepts or our family atmosphere. Our founder was not particularly interested in growing the company into a large national or multi-national behemoth, getting rich by focusing purely on profit, or by selling out to people who didn't care about the quality of their products. He was interested in the concept of right livelihood. Right livelihood means making a living with work that makes you feel good about yourself and supports the community and environment in which you live and operate. Treating ourselves and others with respect and appreciation is uppermost in our minds.
Recently, the company conducted a survey to determine what annual income would be required to provide our team members with a living wage in the Austin area. The result of that survey showed that the company was not paying its team members enough and was going to have to grow significantly if all team members were going to be able to afford a home and a comfortable living for their families. The owners had to ask themselves why a corporation exists if not to provide a prosperous living for all its members. Is its existence simply to keep making profit just for profit's sake or for the enrichment of a few corporate officers? We believe a corporation exists to provide a living for all its members and to support the community in which it resides. To that end the company implemented a five year growth plan with the goal of providing every team member with a true living wage so that they and their families could own a home and transportation; be able to afford utilities, good food, health insurance, and health care; and generally prosper and enjoy life in Austin.
Our founder, Robert Reed Murray (Reed), was born in 1950 in Houston, Texas, the second of five children of Robert and Lorraine Murray. The family moved from Texas to California in the mid 50s (where our current CEO Jeff Murray and company graphics artist and webmaster William Murray were born) and returned to Texas and settled in Waco in the early 60s.
The Murray family was introduced to health food in the late 60s. The family (with siblings Gail, Reed, Jeff, William, and Richard), being the first generation off the farm on both sides of the family, had picked up some convenience and junk food habits that weren't particularly healthy and a large diversion from the grow/raise-your-own cooking-from-scratch that Robert and Lorraine were brought up with. Influenced by information from the Framingham heart studies they read about in the Reader's Digest, several family members began to change their diet to help prevent strokes, high blood pressure, and to lower their cholesterol levels. The family's paternal grandfather and several of his sons had died of heart attacks or strokes in their forties, and Lorraine was determined to prevent that from happening to her husband. She introduced the family to whole wheat bread and brown rice; reduced our egg, butter, and fatty foods consumption (no more fried bologna sandwiches); and all of the preservative- and additive-laced convenience foods were gradually eliminated.
In the 70s, three of the Murray men (Reed, Jeff, and William) became vegetarians. Two of those brothers, Reed and Jeff, relocated from Waco 100 miles south to Austin and joined Good Food People, Inc., a vegetarian orientated health food manufacturer, wholesaler, retailer, and restaurateur. At that time, Austin was a hotbed of alternative experimentation and revolution in politics, lifestyles, religion, music, and food. Good Foods was started by members of a Sikh sect who practiced Surat Shabd Yoga, vegetarianism, and a simple, high moral lifestyle. They also wanted to eat additive-free whole foods and went about creating a company that could provide themselves and the Austin community with healthy vegetarian food alternatives.
The Good Food People had several retail stores around town, one juice bar, a cafe, a wholesale distribution center that distributed health food throughout the Southwest, and a manufacturing plant that packaged bulk grains, nuts, and dried fruits; bottled honey; and produced all-natural soaps, whole grain bread, pastries, sprouts, and yogurt.
A partnership including Reed bought the yogurt bottling business from Good Foods in 1979, and began producing Good Food Brand Bulgarian Yogurt and selling it around the Austin area. In 1980 Reed bought out the partnership and established the business as Purist Foods, Inc. Some of his local customers were The Juice Factory, the Good Food stores, Woody Hills Co-op, Wheatsville Co-op, the 12th Street Natural Food Store, General Nutrition Centers (GNC), and Safer Way. Deliveries were made in a pick-up truck with an insulated box in the bed. Shortly after incorporation, another local yogurt company—White Mountain Yogurt, whose name we do business as today—was bought by the company.
Operations expanded throughout the early 80s and the company leased larger facilities in northeast Austin. Reed rented space in the new location to other vegetarian product startups which he later purchased when the owners wanted to move on to other projects. Our Wheat Roast meat alternative (wheat roast, vegetarian BBQ, and Fajitas) and Tofu Salad (Original, No-Egg, Cottage, Hot and Onion dips) lines were added in this way.
The Tofu Salads were originally created by the folks who lived on The Farm commune which was founded in 1971 in Tennessee. Being the original American vegans, they created a wide variety of innovative recipes that merged traditional southern cooking with Asian soy processing techniques to feed their growing membership. A division of The Farm—The Farm Foods—eventually marketed soy ice cream and many tofu based products. A small group of them later moved to the Austin area and set up production in space rented in White Mountain Foods' warehouse.
In 1993 the tamale craze hit on the coattails of a wider pop-culture interest in all things southwest which resulted in the creation of our vegetarian line of tamales (Traditional, Sweet Potato Pecan, and Chipotle Mushroom) at the request of our local retail customers. During the 90s Reed also experimented with producing tofu, tempeh, vegan sausage, fresh squeezed orange juice, goat milk yogurt, flavored yogurt, and yogurt cheese (currently being marketed as Greek yogurt.)
During this same time, issues with lease security convinced Reed that he needed to own the building and property his production facility occupied so that he could provide a safe place from which to operate his business and have plenty of room for future expansion. As a result, White Mountain purchased and relocated to a 58,000 square foot facility in East Austin in early 1995. The building had previously housed a meat-packing plant, smoke house, and sausage maker which was the largest company of this type in the Southwest for many decades. Originally built in 1944 and expanded in 1955, the facility was closed in 1990 when the company sold out to competitors.
The building sat empty for several years, became a campground for the homeless, and was stripped of anything sellable. At that time, our area was a rough industrial neighborhood with gun fire every night and a high crime rate, but was beginning to feel the impact of bordering neighborhood associations' attempt at change. Local realtors refer to White Mountain as a pioneer in our area for recycling an abandoned building and turning it into a community supporting enterprise contributing to the overall effort to make that part of Austin family and business friendly once again. Where once it was dangerous to walk alone, one can now see many people from all walks of life enjoying the area's new found family friendly atmosphere. From bicyclists, joggers, and hikers using the many trails that cross the neighborhood; families walking their dogs; to the many attendees of the local music and art festivals, the East Austin neighborhood rejuvenation project started by those individual firebrands, the city government, and companies like White Mountain has come to fruition.
In 1999 we became a USDA certified organic producer of soy and dairy products. Our organic yogurt was certified non-GMO in 2015 as a result of joining the Non-GMO Project, a private organization dedicated to maintaining the transparent integrity and purity of the foods we eat. As more agricultural producers become non-GMO certified, we hope to be able to manufacture all of our products under the Non-GMO Project banner.
Reed's brother Jeff joined the team as Production Manager in 1997, presaging Reed's semi-retirement in 2001 and eventual turning over the day-to-day operation of the company to Jeff in 2004. Cynthia Murray, Jeff's wife, came on as book keeper and plant nurse shortly thereafter, and William Murray was engaged in 2005 to revamp all of our packaging and to upgrade and oversee our online presence. After graduating college, Jeff's son Hannibal joined the crew as COO in 2007 (having spent his summers working and learning operations at the plant), and nephew Michael Jeffries started in production in 2010. Jay Hollingsworth, Cyndi's son, became production manager in 2007, after spending time in administration and customer service. Our long-time master yogurt maker, Bacilio Montenegro, joined the team in 1989, and is still going strong twenty-seven years later, after returning from a brief stab at retirement.
Reed passed away early Tuesday morning, April 15, 2008, in a motorcycle accident, doing what he enjoyed doing best. An avid member of the Mankind Project and the Texas Bicycle Coalition; a Meals on Wheels and Disclosure Project volunteer; hang gliding and RV enthusiast; and a beloved friend, mentor, "Boss," and family member—he is sorely missed by all. His fearless pursuit of self-improvement, stubborn insistence on being true to his values in the face of life's travails, and authentic compassion for the welfare of others set Reed apart as a truly unique individual. His and his family's personality and values are the foundation on which White Mountain was built and will continue to guide its growth and development into the future.
From the Desk of Reed Murray, Founder, White Mountain Foods:When I started this company (it became White Mountain Foods in 1980), I had been making yogurt at home for years. Since the early 1970’s the proprietary formula has not changed except for the addition of one ingredient, the B. Bifidum culture. Our yogurt has not changed since then and remains identical to the yogurts made across Asia, the Middle East, and eastern Europe for millennia.
As a young man, I had planned a career in aerospace engineering. My dream was to design, engineer, and build a rocket, climb in, light the fuel (which I had cooked up and loaded myself), and explore the moon. When I discovered that engineers didn’t do that, I left college and became a carpenter's apprentice with a firm that tore down historic homes and rebuilt them from the ground up. Not rocketry, but I was creating with my own hands and involved with the process from digging the foundations to putting on the roof and the finished product was, in part anyway, my responsibility.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s a group of young radicals (hippies?) started what has become the natural foods industry because they were dissatisfied with the way our food supply was becoming increasingly processed, chemicalized, corporatized, etc. Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring (and others) had alerted us to the dangers of this and we wanted to chart a new course. “You are what you eat” and “food for people, not for profit” became a mantra of sorts, as we strove to offer clean, healthy, minimally processed foods, bulk organic grains, bakery products, etc. to family and friends in our communities who wanted healthy food.
Much like tearing down an old house and rebuilding it to suit new owners we, without thinking about it in those terms, set about tearing down the business of food and rebuilding it to reflect true human needs. In doing so, we lit a rocket engine that has propelled us and the natural foods industry literally into uncharted waters.
As founder of White Mountain Foods, I have been able to create and sell the kind of food I wanted to eat, the kind of food I wanted my family to eat— simple, unprocessed or minimally processed LIVE food that not only supports robust health but tastes good. All of our products are minimally processed, organic where possible, simple, and simply good tasting food.
White Mountain Foods is not just about food, it's also about community. What use is good food if we’re not living in a community that supports us and is supported by us? I passionately pursued my “real" food dream by supporting staff, customers, retailers and distributors who felt the way I did. I ultimately chose east Austin for our current home by redeveloping an abandoned meat packing plant that had become a haven for petty crime and drug users—we recycled it. East Austin at that time was a neglected part of town experiencing high crime and unemployment. Rebuilding and using the space was consistent with our values. Many of our employees live in the area around our plant.
I created White Mountain Foods the way I lived my life. It was not about the money. It was and is about creating and sustaining right livelihood through honest and productive work that enhances individual and community life. Our marketing effort, or rather lack of it, attests to our focus on a “real" food versus “engineered” food. My heart was in it. I created delicious health food for a family dinner table. This is our core value.
While some things have changed (I retired from active participation in 2001), I am happy to say that under the leadership of my brother Jeff Murray, our commitment to individual and community health and product quality is being maintained with a new look, new labels, an expanded community presence and approach to partnering with our consumers and channel partners. 2005 marks our 25th year and, as always, our goal is to bring White Mountain Foods quality to more homes and communities looking for real food for their real families.
- Reed Murray, Founder
Message from the CEO, Jeff Murray:My relationship with White Mountain Foods started in 1997. During my time here I discovered that the founder, Reed Murray, myself and our customers share a common philosophy: human beings first, business and profit second.
Producing products that support health begins with providing our employees a healthy, enjoyable, safe, and supportive environment to work in. That atmosphere of support directly transfers to our products. Our products are and will always be made with one thing in mind: the health and support of our customers and the environment we live in.
It is my privilege to guide White Mountain Foods into the new century using the structure of our founder’s vision, my own thirty-plus years of experience in and around the health food industry, and a continuously co-created progressive business model. This blueprint will allow White Mountain Foods to expand; develop strong distributor, retailer, consumer, and community relationships; actively market current, new, and private label products; and provide a conducive supportive environment for entrepreneurs with innovative product and business ideas that support our common goals: healthy people, healthy commerce, healthy planet.
- Jeff Murray, CEO
Author of Health & Happiness for the Western World