Vail Resorts To Offer Natural Foods At Heavenly

Skiers and snowboarders lunching at Vail Resorts' restaurants this winter will find a wide array of all-natural burgers, hot dogs and even yogurt without a hint of chemical additives.

The nation's largest ski operator said Wednesday that it will shift away from artificially enhanced products to address increasing consumer demand for healthier food.

Nearly all the lunch offerings at 40 restaurants in the company's five ski resorts will consist of natural and organic products beginning this season. The company typically serves about 2.5 million lunches each winter at Vail, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek and Keystone in Colorado and Heavenly at Lake Tahoe on the Nevada-California line.

Vail Resorts has partnered with Coleman Natural Foods and WhiteWave Foods, which manufactures Horizon Organic and Silk products, for the new venture.

During a news conference, Vail Resorts Chief Executive Officer Rob Katz declined to release financial specifics other than to say his company is making a significant investment.

Consumers will see prices increase less than 5 percent, roughly a typical yearly rise, he said.

Nationally, sales of organic food and beverages rose 21 percent last year to $16.7 billion.

At least some organic and natural food items can be found in tourist restaurants from national parks to the Statue of Liberty, Organic Trade Association spokeswoman Barbara Haumann said.

"Vail Resorts is making a big commitment," she said. "It definitely is an impressive move and will be good for farmers and producers and consumers."

The Broomfield-based resort operator began endorsing environmentally friendly strategies last year with its shift to wind-generated electricity at all its resorts.

Work on the food partnership began during a company "food summit" in May. The company soon determined the biggest obstacle would be to guarantee a large enough supply.

It turned to Golden-based Coleman Natural, which distributes natural and organic meat products, and Broomfield-based WhiteWave, which manufactures Horizon Organic dairy products and Silk soy-milk products.

This season, Vail Resorts figures it will need more than 447,000 pounds of various meats; and 48,000 pounds of organic butter, 37,000 pounds of organic cheese, 30,000 pounds of organic yogurt and 64,000 gallons of organic milk and cream products.

As Coleman and WhiteWave continue to make accommodations to meet
the demand, Vail Resorts will start by buying about 90 percent of its fresh meats from Coleman and about 87 percent of its dairy products from WhiteWave, a subsidiary of Dean Foods Co.

It still is working to get enough of some items, such as eggs and ice cream.

The company also will offer some products at its Grand Teton Lodge Co., which operates restaurants in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

Katz said the company believed it needed to make the switch to organic to bring food in line with the company's environmentally friendly strategies.

"The environment really is our business," he said. "It's time for us to take that experience to a whole other level."

Vail Resorts' stock closed down 30 cents to $64.19 in Wednesday trading.