Chickamauga's Old Mill Kettle Corn To Go National In Partnership With McKee's Heartland Brands

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 - by Mike O'Neal

Chickamauga's Old Mill Kettle Corn has formed a strategic partnership with Heartland brands, a subsidiary of Collegedale-based McKee Foods Corporation.

Heartland brands, makers of America’s original granola cereal, will contribute sales and distribution resources through its natural and specialty foods network, which is a natural fit, according to Nancy Plemons, national sales manager for Heartland brands.

“Old Mill Kettle Corn, besides being free of genetically-modified organisms and gluten, is simply the best tasting kettle corn on the planet,” Ms. Plemons said. “We are excited to be partnering with a brand that complements our national distribution of Heartland granola cereals and a company with values that closely align with ours.”

Established in 2002, Chickamauga-based Old Mill Kettle Corn first popped and sold its products at festivals, fairs and the Chattanooga Market. By 2009, recipes were perfected and Old Mill Kettle Corn became available at the McCallie School bookstore and several area groceries, according to CEO Mike Proctor.

Three years ago the company moved from a small space inside the Old Mill General Store in downtown Chickamauga to Industrial Drive and completed a $1 million expansion that allowed the company to begin producing its sweet and savory popcorn snacks in every greater volume.

“Three years ago, we at Old Mill started on a mission to make our snack a household name brand, just like Heartland brands cereals and Little Debbie snacks,” Mr. Proctor said. “Now, with this sales and distribution contract with Heartland brands, that vision will become a reality.”

The alliance with Heartland brands “lets the little guy compete” because it “removes the barrier of entry” into larger markets, he said.

“This is a natural fit,” Mr. Proctor said. “It can be a shot in the arm for both companies — Heartland gains a new product and we gain wide distribution.”

Company officials predict production will increase from roughly 800,000 units of product to about 6.5 million units annually, something that will require further expansion at the plant and the hiring of 10-15 additional workers during the coming year.

Heartland brands began producing granola cereals in 1968. Today, cereal varieties include Original, Raisin, Low Fat and Low Fat Raisin. Heartland® brands also produces Granola, Graham and Chocolate Graham varieties of ready-to-use pie crusts.

Like Heartland brands granola cereals, Old Mill Kettle Corn comes in a variety of flavors, including Original, Kickin’ Korn, Apple Cinnamon and Blue Raspberry, as well as chocolate drizzle and other flavors.

Mr. Proctor said Earth Fair stores, like the one on Gunbarrel Road near Hamilton Place, are the first national retailer to carry Old Mill Kettle Corn products since the alliance with Heartland brands was announced last Friday.

“The Southeast is our initial market,” Mr. Proctor said.

Many more outlets, possibly including Ingles, Whole Foods, BiLo, Harris Teeter, Shop-Rite and others will soon carry the flavored popcorn snacks, he said.

The company is also co-branding it snacks with regional collegiate powerhouses that at present include the universities of Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee as well as Clemson and Florida State.

“This is a recipe for success,” Mr. Proctor said. “In two or three years, we hope to be as widely recognized as Heartland cereal or Little Debbie snack cakes.”

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