Chickamauga-based Old Mill Kettle Corn expands with McKee distribution (with video)

Chickamauga-based Old Mill Kettle Corn expands with McKee distribution (with video)

March 13th, 2013 by Shelly Bradbury in Business Around the Region

OLD MILL KETTLE CORN TIMELINE

2002 - Founded, started selling at fairs and festivals

2009 - Started retail sales

November 2012 - Broke ground on new facility at 172 Industrial Drive

February 2013 - Moved into new production facility

March 2013 - Entered partnership with McKee Foods

Brandon Daggett, 23, scoops a measured amount of corn for production alongside his grandfather James Daggett, far left, Tuesday at Old Mill Kettle Corn in Chickamauga, Ga.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Mike Proctor and Monty Daggett cooked up the first few batches of Old Mill Kettle Corn in a garage with one kettle and two pairs of hands - meticulously popping, bagging and labeling everything by hand.

"We did two cases one night and thought we were doing really well," Daggett said with a laugh.

Eleven years later, they've got 15 pairs of hands and their six-figure production equipment churns out two cases per minute.

The company is poised to double in size in the next year. Co-founders Proctor and Daggett announced Tuesday that Heartland brands, a subsidiary of McKee Foods, will start distributing Old Mill Kettle Corn products to grocery and retail stores throughout the nation.

"It's just a natural fit," Proctor said. "When you have a company like Heartland brands who already have it all in place, they can pick our products up and put them in the distribution chain much faster than we could."

The Chickamauga company's gluten- and dairy-free, all-natural kettle corn is already on sale at regional Bi-Lo, Earth Fare and Whole Food stores, and the partnership with McKee could help Old Mill Kettle Corn expand to chains like Publix, Kroger and Winn-Dixie, Proctor said. Ingles Market will add Old Mill products to all store shelves next week.

To handle the increased demand, Daggett and Proctor are expanding their manufacturing line by nine kettles -- expanding their production capability from 800,000 units a year to 6.5 million a year. They're also planning to hire another 15 people in the next year.

Both born and raised in North Georgia, Daggett and Proctor always wanted their company to become a household name, Daggett said.

"I didn't think it would happen this fast," he said. "We went from cruising along with three or four employees to needing to hire four or five more, and fast. We've gone from six bags to 40 bags a minute. It's unbelievable."

The distribution agreement is a new move for McKee Foods, which doesn't usually partner with other companies, spokesman Mike Gloekler said.

"Partnering with another company is the part of this that is new and novel," he said.

But Gloekler said the company thinks Old Mill is positioned well for the future.

"Ready-to-eat popcorn is one of the fastest growing segments of the salty snacks category," he said. "To partner with a local company with a product line that is trending well was attractive."

He added that Old Mill products won't immediately start distributing nationwide. Rather, sales will dictate growth and distribution will start in the Southeast.

"They'll be using our national specialty and national foods distribution channel, and our intent is to carry them as far as possible," he said.

Proctor expects Old Mill Kettle Corn's revenue to jump four or five times higher than it has been because of the partnership. The co-founders want to stay in Chickamauga and continue to expand on their new 2.5-acre plot, Daggett said.

He added that expanding throughout the region has been a goal even from the company's garage-popping early days.

"That was our goal," he said. "To swamp the Southeast with Old Mill Kettle Corn."