Now, a few short years later, the brand has earned wide acclaim for the taste and appeal of its all-natural products, and as of Friday, March 8, the company signed a distribution deal with granola conglomerate Heartland Brands.
Mike Proctor, CEO of Old Mill Kettle Corn, was thrilled at the national recognition, and hopes that the locally-made products will someday be available in all corners of the country.
“We'd like for our product to be a household name just like Heartland brand cereals, or Little Debbie snack cakes,” he said during a news conference Tuesday, March 12. “We're really excited about this. We think that with this partnership, it will help us realize our vision, and ultimately make Old Mill Kettle Corn a household name eventually in the United States.”
Heartland Brands approached Old Mill Kettle Corn, Proctor said, because they saw the great potential for widespread growth and appeal that the company’s healthy snack products have on the market today.
“(Heartland) said ‘hey, we've been watching your brand for a couple of years, we like your packaging, we like everything about it, we like the growth rate that it's on, and we'd like to be involved in it,’” Proctor explained. “So it was absolutely validation.”
Heartland Brands is “the nation's oldest maker of granola cereals,” he said. “They are a subsidiary of McKee Foods over in Collegedale, and they have the exclusive right to distribute our products now nationwide.”
For starters, however, Old Mill Kettle Corn is going to focus on getting their foods into major stores across the Southeast. Already, they have a plan of attack to draw new customers.
Six big-team schools across the southeast will soon be seeing their mascots and logos on bags of Old Mill Kettle Corn in their respective areas. The company plans to do special team-themed bags for the University of Georgia, the University of Tenn., the University of South Carolina, the University of Florida, Florida State University, and Clemson University.
“As far as the collegiate packaging goes, that was a project we were already working on prior to the partnership with Heartland-McKee,” Proctor said. “We hope that that will go well this fall. We think that the fans who like our product already will really like it when they can get almost like a souvenir art bag of their respective teams.”
Original-label bags will also soon be available in stores with which Heartland Brands has distribution; already, they are pushing to earn more shelf space for the ambitious new company.
“Our strategic focus is going to be the Southeast to start out with,” said Proctor. “Really, the kettle corn market in the country, or the popcorn market in the country, is dominated currently by a couple of large players that are located, one in the Northeast and one in the Midwest. And we are really the largest manufacturer of popcorn products that go to retail distribution here in the southeast.”
Old Mill Kettle Corn can already be found in local Bi-Lo stores around the northwest Georgia area, as well as all Whole Foods markets in the southeastern states and in Earthfare stores nationwide. Ingles supermarkets have already signed up to carry the brand; they still hope to create a market in Publix, Kroger and other similar chains.
“A lot of those folks are going to be carrying their respective collegiate bags,” said Proctor. “At least, we hope that they'll carry them; we have a good feeling that they will.”
The company isn’t expecting change overnight, however; they know that getting their product to a wider market will take some time.
“Even though Heartland has picked it up, it's still going to take them awhile to get it into their distribution chain,” said Proctor. “And they're in just about every chain; I think they're in every chain in the country.
“It'll slowly go, but we're going to start with the Southeast. If some chain on the west coast says hey, we'd like to pick this up, we're going to go ahead and give it to them, but our focus is going to be on the Southeast...We hope that in two or three years from now, our brand name will be as recognizable as Heartland granola cereal or Little Debbie snack cakes, so we're extremely excited about this, and we want to grow and become a large manufacturer and employer here in north Georgia.”
With new distribution will come new expansion to the company as well; Old Mill Kettle Corn has already almost outgrown its most recent expansion in October of 2012.
“We bought this facility here in October 2010, and we started renovating,” Proctor explained. “We opened it up for production in mid-2011 and we've just completed an expansion. We've gone from where we could do somewhere in the neighborhood of 800,000 units a year prior to this expansion and now we can do somewhere around 6.5 million units a year.
“In the last twelve months we've hired ten people. And we're interviewing currently...We plan to hire another 10 to 15 more over the next 12 to 18 months.”
Furthermore, the company looks forward to new equipment coming in within the next few weeks, which will allow them to increase their production even more — a far cry from their early days of weighing bags of product on postage scales in the kitchen.
“This (new) machine will process about three cases a minute,” said Monty Daggett, one of the original partners who founded the company with Proctor. “When we started, we were happy to get three cases every two hours.”
Daggett and Proctor believe their product will be successful nationwide because of its simple ingredients, great taste and healthy appeal; they are proud to have created a snack that parents can let their children consume without worrying about dangerous food additives.
“We want to help make the healthiest snack available for mom to send to school with the kids,” said Proctor. “Our stuff is gluten-free, it's dairy-free, it's nut-free, it's all-natural. We don't buy any ingredients that are genetically modified. And so mom can pack the snack to send to the school and the kid can share it with whoever they want to because it's really hypoallergenic. And it's a great-tasting product.”
Children remain a major focus for the company, which can often be seen participating in local fundraisers and events throughout the Walker County area and beyond.
“We do a lot with the local school districts; we do fundraisers and elementary schools all through southeast Tennessee and northwest Georgia,” said Proctor. “Most everybody has participated with us to this point in a fundraiser. And the school makes 50 percent of the revenue, we make 50 percent of the revenue, so we think that's a great partnership with the local schools.
“We do have a philanthropy bone in our body, too, as well. It's not all about profits.”
For more information on the company or its products, visit oldmillkettlecorn.com.