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POW-made firelogs roll out at Walmart

Daily New Staff Writer

A new Alaska-made product is rolling out in Walmarts across the state, with the inaugural delivery hitting the Ketchikan branch on Tuesday.

Viking firelogs will be available soon at all nine Walmart stores in Alaska. The product itself is an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional wood logs, and is produced from compressed trimmings and sawdust.

Viking Lumber currently operates two sawmills, and the work of logging and cutting results in a lot of excess trimmings and waste. Those trimmings and waste are then compressed down into dense, 3-pound logs that can be used for anything from cooking to heating.

Viking had been selling the firelogs locally on Prince of Wales Island, but the firelog market has now grown thanks to the formation of Tongass Wholesale Distribution, which is co-owned by Don Reed and DJ Hansen. The two created the company in order to distribute and market the product to a wider audience.

According to Tongass Wholesale Distribution’s website, the firelogs themselves are innovative because, unlike other prefabricated logs, there are no chemicals and the product is 100 percent natural.

“Viking firelogs are made from unused sawdust, compressed into 3-pound bricks. This process uses only pressure, no adhesives or binders,” the site reads. “They're made from 100 percent biomass, are carbon neutral and burn hotter and longer than natural logs.”

Hansen was there at the Ketchikan Walmart on Tuesday as two one-ton pallets of the logs were forklifted from a truck into the back of the store. He told the Daily News that he is excited that the firelogs are finally hitting stores.

“I think it’s a great product,” Hansen said. “… It’s basically a byproduct, something renewable, sustainable, green.”

Hansen said that each of Walmart’s nine stores in Alaska would be receiving two one-ton pallets of the firelogs for distribution. He said that in a lot of ways this was essentially a test run to see how the product would perform commercially.

“So every Walmart store in Alaska now has two pallets and we’ll cross our fingers and hope that sales go good so they’ll take more,” Hansen said.

Terry Smith, general manager of Ketchikan’s Walmart, told the Daily News after the delivery on Tuesday that the firelogs are unique in that they are the only Southeast Alaska product being sold in his store. He also noted that future sales or growth of the product would be largely contingent upon consumers’ reaction and the supply of the firelogs.

“A lot of that is going to depend on how the product goes over, and secondly how they can supply that and keep it flowing,” Smith said.

And according to Hansen, the ability for a strong supply is certainly there. He said that Viking’s operation on Prince of Wales Island could produce up to 10 tons of the firelogs per day at peak production.

Hansen said that the product has already gone over well in the hyper-local market over on Prince of Wales Island, and he hopes that success will translate across the state.

“We decided with Don’s help that we’d try to push them out and go a little more mainstream,” Hansen said. “… Several schools on (Prince of Wales) use them in their wood-fired boilers, so they kind of started a product that was usable on the island.”

Reed told the Daily News that if sales go well in the 49th state, there might be a push by Tongass Wholesale Distributers to eventually move the firelogs to other stores across the U.S.

Reed also said he is hoping that he and Hansen’s company would begin to market other Alaska-sourced products for a wider audience. He said the Tongass Wholesale Distributers is actively looking for other goods made in the state that they could sell.

“That’s the (product) we’ve started. We’re going to add more,” Reed told the Daily News during an October interview. “… There’s probably a lot of really good products that are made in Alaska that just aren’t getting to the markets, so that’s one of the things that we want to do — whether it’s small, medium or large, we want to set up a channel for you — to get it into the markets.”

For now though, Hansen said he is looking forward to moving the product out of Prince of Wales and across the state.

“What they can potentially put out is much greater than what (Prince of Wales Island) can consume, so now it’s just finding different areas where this is going to work,” Hansen said. “That’s the main thing, getting the product out there so people can look at it, touch it, feel it.”

Smith said that customers in Ketchikan would see the firelogs on shelves by this weekend.

According to Hansen, the other eight stores across the state will begin receiving pallets of the product for sale in the coming days and weeks.

For more information on the firelogs, visit: www.vikingfirelogs.com.