By Sara Gilbert Frederick
Special to The Free Press
NORTH MANKATO —
When the Minnesota Twins played their first game at Target Field this spring, Angie’s Kettle Corn was there. They’ll also be at the Minnesota Vikings first home game at the Metrodome next fall, and at every Minnesota Timberwolves basketball game held in the Target Center as well.
There’s only one professional sports franchise the North Mankato-based manufacturer of sweet-and-salty kettle corn doesn’t currently have a contract with.
“We’ve got everything but the Wild,” says Dan Bastian, who owns and operates Angie’s Kettle Corn with his wife, Angie. “We’re just taking it one sports team at a time.”
Angie’s Kettle Corn started with the Mankato MoonDogs, back in the summer of 2002. At that time, the Bastians were primarily popping their corn at street fairs and neighborhood gatherings and other local events. But then they set up a tent at Vikings Training Camp and sent 120 complimentary bags of their corn to Gage Hall, for the players and coaches. Before long, a marketing executive had stopped by their tent and initiated contract talks that would make their snack available during regular season games as well.
That, they agree, was the turning point for their business.
“That was a catalyst for us,” Dan says. “It opened doors for us. Before that contract, we were really just an outdoor, mobile kettle corn popper. Working with the Vikings allowed us to reach more people with our product.
The exposure they received from their presence at Vikings games helped expand their market and gave their business immediate credibility. It also opened their minds to new business possibilities. “Customers at the Dome would often ask us where else they could get our kettle corn,” Angie Bastian says. “We just said, ‘Send us an e-mail, and we’ll send some to you.’ It
wasn’t available anywhere else.”
Now it is. Angie’s Kettle Corn is available in almost every major Minnesota grocery outlet, including Cub Foods, the Lunds/Byerlys and Kowalski’s chains in the Twin Cities, and all co-ops in the state. It is available nationally in Costco stores and in all SuperValu-owned grocery stores. And by June, it will also be available in SuperTarget stores all across the country.
The packaged kettle corn sold in those stores is definitely the biggest revenue stream for Angie’s Kettle Corn. But Dan and Angie still see great value in being involved with sporting events both locally and statewide. “It’s our marketing arm,” Dan says. “It’s the best way to get our product in front of more people.”
Popping Up New Business
That Angie’s Kettle Corn is experiencing great growth right now is directly related to the company’s hire last spring of an additional sales person — specifically, a national sales director. “Up until that point, I was handling all of the sales,” Dan admits. “Adding another person was huge and has very much helped us in growing the company.”
Their new sales rep came with several year’s worth of experience in the food industry, which was a tremendous help to his new employer. “He’s an expert,” Angie says. “He had already been working with brokers and distributing agencies. And, he understands the language of the industry.”
Adding a full-time sales rep, as well as a handful of other full-time employees, has been critical to the expansion of Angie’s Kettle Corn. The business now has more than a dozen full-time employees and more than 50 part-time.
Even in 2004, when they broke into the retail business with the Lunds/Byerlys locations in the Twin Cities, Angie and Dan were doing almost everything themselves — including hauling bags of prepackaged kettle corn up to the Cities. “It was just us,” Angie says. “We were popping it, packaging it, driving it up and demoing it. We would go up for our boys’ baseball games and at some point drive over to one of the stores to set up a demo, then head back to their games.”
They no longer have to do it all on their own. Now a distributor picks up their packages at their North Mankato plant and ferries them to retail outlets throughout the state. Full-time employees on-site also help with the production and packaging of the kettle corn. They’ve also got a couple dedicated to managing the staffing at Target Field this summer, where six employees will be needed to work at every home game. “We definitely have more help now,” Dan says. “We’ve been able to hire some incredible folks, which has helped out a lot.”
They’ve also brought in a team of employees dedicated to working on research and development — and to expand the company’s line of products. In January, the first new product was introduced nationally: Angie’s Lite Kettle Corn, with 50 percent less fat and 50 percent less sugar than the original version. “That’s allowed us to open a whole new audience,” Angie says. “There are people out there who are just light eaters, and so this is more appealing to them.”