Hughes Strives to Make Road to Success Easier For Entrepreneurs

Hughes Strives to Make Road to Success Easier For Entrepreneurs

Hughes Strives to Make Road to Success Easier For Entrepreneurs

When Cheryl Hughes began HR Poppin’ Snacks more than 20 years ago, she encountered a steep learning curve. Not only was she learning how to make the best quality popcorn, but she also had to learn all aspects of snack food manufacturing and wholesale.

At about the same time, GROW Nebraska also started with the intent to help educate and promote businesses just like hers. Cheryl joined as one of GROW’s first members.

“There was always a learning experience, good exposure and good advertising,” Cheryl said of GROW. “They have done a great job for me.”

HR Poppin’ Snacks grew into a successful business that now pops more than 20,000 pounds of popcorn seeds annually from its store in Gibbon and sells popcorn in more than 135 flavors in stores around the county.

Cheryl has maintained her GROW membership the entire time, and she continues to give back to GROW through mentoring and giving advice to other members. And her giving doesn’t just stop with members.

Entrepreneurs have traveled to Gibbon from as far away as Brazil, Paris and Nigeria to visit HR Poppin’ Snacks to learn how to produce quality popcorn for their business ventures. Cheryl gladly shares her knowledge with anyone who asks without charging consulting fees.

“If I can help somebody with a leg up, then I do,” she said. “I learned the hard way because I didn’t have someone in the know to mentor me. Now, I have the benefit of the knowledge so I want to share with others to make their road to success a little easier.”

Cheryl and her husband, Gary, are adamant about using their business to help others. That philosophy started with the naming of their business nearly 20 years ago. The HR in the name stands for ‘Heavenly Reason.’

At least 10 percent of their earnings go to charity or someone in need, whether it’s donating popcorn gift baskets to local fundraisers or giving popcorn away to those serving in the military.

“This has happened by the grace of God, and we need to give back,” Cheryl said.

GROW Nebraska CEO Janell Anderson-Ehrke said Cheryl donates all of her mentoring services to pay it forward, which makes a huge difference for many business owners.

“She’s easily touched more than 100 businesses we’ve worked with,” Janell said.

In the early days of GROW, Chery helped set up a retail store in Grand Island and later launched the UPC program to help GROW members sell their products on sites like Amazon. Members who sell just one or two products can save money by buying into GROW’s UPC numbers instead of spending hundreds of dollars to purchase their own UPC number.

When GROW members ask about product labeling, Cheryl is their source for answers.

New GROW Nebraska member Karen Ogelsby, owner of MoKa’s Kitchen, recently relied on help from Cheryl with labeling her popcorn for sale during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Karen thought her business would be “dead in the water” when COVID-19 hit. Her business previously provided artisan and gourmet popcorn for special events. When the special events stopped, so did her business. Chery helped Karen find a distributor to make her popcorn products available in stores, where shoppers were still flocking to buy snacks during the pandemic. MoKa’s Kitchen popcorn is now in 50 locations across the state.

Janell said she is grateful for members like Cheryl who give back and wants to celebrate her and others.

“I don’t want to forget where we came from,” Janell said. “It’s been GROW and a whole bunch of people and members who just kept giving back.”

Cheryl said she’s always lived with the philosophy that there’s always enough business to go around. She’s not worried about helping her potential competitors.

“If I continue to make a quality product and do my business well, I shouldn’t have any problems,” she said.

Cheryl encourages anyone who is considering starting a business or developing a product to contact GROW Nebraska.

“There are lots of ways that GROW Nebraska can help,” she said.

One of the biggest benefits, Cheryl said, is the annual MarkeTech conference, which she has attended every year it has been offered.

“It’s a great benefit, and any member that I work with I encourage them to attend MarkeTech,” she said. “It’s well-organized, provides good networking opportunities and education. I encourage anyone in the state, even if you aren’t a member of GROW Nebraska, to participate in MarkeTech.”

The 2021 MarkeTech conference is scheduled for Thursday, July 15, in Kearney. For more information, visit To sign up for the GROW newsletter to stay informed on upcoming trainings, visit here.

With holiday popcorn sales just wrapping up, Cheryl said she is preparing to launch new popcorn flavors soon.

Story by Kristine Jacobson, GROW Nebraska member and owner of KRJ Public Relations, a business that specializes in helping non-profits and other businesses tell their stories and gain momentum through blogs, newsletters, annual reports, social media and other publications.

State Fair Samples Sell Products

State Fair Samples Sell Products

State Fair Samples Sell Products

Nebraska State Fairgoers experienced a buffet of flavors from buttery toffee to spicy mustard at GROW Nebraska’s 2019 State Fair Store.

Fifty-four GROW Nebraska businesses participated that year, and many of them boosted their sales through offering free product samples.

Barb Mapes, owner of Barb’s Buttery Toffee, enjoyed watching customers enjoy samples of her buttery toffee during several days at this year’s fair.

“The more people taste it, the more likely they will buy it,” Barb said.

She makes her buttery toffee in a commercial kitchen in Crete. The almond and pecan buttery toffee flavors are always hot sellers for state fairgoers seeking a sweet treat.

For companies looking to launch a new product, the Nebraska State Fair crowd is the perfect arena to test the waters. Jenna Borer, niece of Gold Dust Kettle Corn owner Mike Lagsding, worked at this year’s fair to test out a new BBQ-flavored popcorn.

“This one has really caught people’s attention,” Jenna said of the new flavor. “It’s neat to see people’s reactions.”

Many taste testers purchased bags of the popcorn after sampling the new flavor.

James Gustafson said he has provided samples of Lincoln-based Herbal Gatherings mustard at the state fair for more than 10 years.

“To come out here in the middle of the state, it’s a great resource for us,” James said. “It helps us meet a lot of people in a short amount of time.”

A few state fair attendees stopped by to encourage friends to try the mustard after they had sampled it at previous state fairs.

“People are hesitant to pick up a new product, so when you let them try it, it changes the whole trajectory,” James said.

While giving samples, business owners can also boost sales by suggesting new ways to use their product and offering recipe ideas.

While giving samples, business owners can also boost sales by suggesting new ways to use their product and offering recipe ideas.

Cheryl Hughes, owner of HR Poppin’ Snacks in Gibbon, has been sampling her flavored popcorn at the Nebraska State Fair for more than 20 years. She and her husband, Gary, sell their popcorn in more than 135 flavors at stores around the country.

“I firmly believe in samples,” Cheryl said. “They try it, they buy it.”

This year, Cheryl sampled 14 flavors at the state fair including new flavors Chocolate Covered Strawberries, Cookie Crumble, Cheddar Pretzel (made with Dot’s pretzels) and Monster Cookie Dough.

“Most generally, sampling sells your product,” she said.

The GROW Nebraska State Fair Store was made possible by the following sponsors: Kracklin’ Kirks Fireworks, LIPS Printing Service, Wynk, Nebraska Enterprise Fund, Nebraska Arts Council, ATC Communications, Lundeen Isaacson Insurance, Hay Bale Banners LLC, Dorothy Lynch, Touch of Class and Gary’s Quick Steak.