Successful businesses don’t always travel down a straight path, and entrepreneurs need to be open to new ideas and opportunities.
That is the philosophy that led Mike Lagsding and Rhoda Shurigar to create a new product – Gold Dust Kettle Corn – that is now sold in seven states.
Gold Dust Kettle Corn sales have nearly doubled every year since it started in 2016. The couple recently expanded their commercial kitchen in Grand Island, have hired five employees and a bookkeeper and are looking toward automation to keep up with popping, bagging and distributing nearly 1,000 pounds of kettle corn every week.
Beekeeping Turns Into Popcorn Business
Mike started beekeeping as a hobby in 2010 after taking a beekeeping class. He discovered a passion for working with bees and then started selling honey in 2013 as Great Plains Honey Farms.
In 2016, Mike and Rhoda gave free samples of their all-natural honey to thousands of shoppers at the GROW Nebraska State Fair Store, and those samples increased their sales dramatically.
Then, a visit to the midway sparked an idea for a new product.
“After we sampled honey, we went out on the midway, and there was a kettle corn vendor from Arizona, and we saw the amount of kettle corn that was sold,” Rhoda said. “It was astronomical.”
They decided to research kettle corn as a new product.
Rhoda said the original goal was to incorporate Great Plains honey into the kettle corn. However, they learned that honey makes the kettle corn too sticky and doesn’t make a good crust. After many trials and errors, they developed an all-natural kettle corn that has the flavoring popped into the popcorn instead of adding it later as a coating. They produce it using a special premium style mushroom-style popcorn developed in Nebraska.
They offered free samples of their new Gold Dust Kettle Corn at the 2017 Nebraska State Fair, and it was a hit. In 2018 and 2019, they have focused exclusively on the popcorn side of their business.
They make each batch by hand, sometimes now with the help of employees, and deliver the products to distributors, grocery stores and convenience stores in Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Iowa.
Their sales have doubled nearly every year, and Rhoda said she attributes the growth to the research and testing they did before launching their product.
“Mike spent a lot of time before we got going researching and taste testing and drilling down the recipe,” Rhonda said. “To get the best taste and the best products, we use the best quality ingredients. I think that has paid off.”
They also don’t “coat” their popcorn like a lot of other kettle corn on the market. Instead, they cook the ingredients right into the corn when it’s popped.
Grow Helps Grow Business
Mike joined GROW Nebraska in 2010 as he was developing his beehives and honey business.
Rhonda said GROW’s training opportunities, helpful staff and network of other business owners have been instrumental in helping their business grow.
“Everybody at GROW is so nice and so friendly,” Rhoda said. “Any time we have any questions or problems or issues or anything, we can call. No matter who answers the phone, if they don’t know the answer, they will ask someone and get the answer.”
They have also appreciated the ability to network and ask questions of other GROW business owners.
“If we didn’t have the other business owners as a resource, I wouldn’t know where to turn,” Rhoda said. “That’s been really beneficial to us. “
Besides the Buy Nebraska store in Kearney, Gold Dust Kettle Corn is sold on GROW’s Amazon, eBay and Esty stores. And, the ability to sample products and sell at GROW’s Nebraska State Fair store has also been a huge bonus.
“The exposure that you get from the state fair is just phenomenal,” Rhoda said. “We found out the first year that samples are huge. Our motto is ‘Samples Sell.’”
Rhoda has attended GROW’s MarkeTech conference for several years and has benefitted from more than just the knowledge she received there.
“Last year, I was a vendor in the networking room and picked up a convenience store chain for our kettle corn,” Rhoda said. “That was a good payoff.”
Passion for Popcorn & People
Rhoda said she and Mike are proud of developing a new product from scratch, and they want to continue to expand and grow their business into something that their children or grandchildren would want to take over in the future.
“Our main goal in the whole business is to have the best product that we can make available to our customers and as many customers as possible,” Rhoda said.
They enjoy the people they get to meet along their business journey – from the store managers and owners to the distributors and warehouse workers.
“Everyone is unique and has a story to tell you,” Rhoda said.
And, they enjoy the opportunity to help and support people through donating popcorn for fundraisers or other events. They recently stopped at a library to make copies and decided to donate a case of popcorn to the kids enjoying a Dr. Seuss party!
“We just like to do things for kids,” Rhoda said. “It was so fantastic that we just happened upon the celebration, and we were supposed to do this.”
For more information about Gold Dust Kettle Corn, visit the business’ GROW Nebraska member page at https://members.grownebraska.org/list/member/great-plains-honey-farms-gold-dust-kettle-corn-9362