Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! My name is Katie Young and I am the owner and operator of Klondike Kettle Corn. We are a company that sells a ready-made gourmet popcorn throughout the Yukon Territory and now online across Canada.
Our business started out at the Fireweed Community Market in 2010. Since then, we have been supplying Whitehorse with our Sweet and Salty kettle corn. We now have our products being sold across the territory in grocery stores, service stations, coffee shops and tasting rooms. Our product line has grown to include over 30 different flavour combinations, including Yukon made or harvested ingredients like spruce tips and cranberry bitters!
We bring in about 2 ½ tonnes of kernels every year to provide the Yukon with kettle corn. Last year our revenue increased 67%, and our first quarter this year is already up 39% from our first quarter last year.
Now that our company has grown we have been able to give back to our community through sponsorships and donations. You will often see our kettle corn being served at various sporting events across town, including the Yukon Quest and a number of Mountain Bike races, as well as film festivals and other school events.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
It was actually a close friend’s idea to set up a kettle corn business in the Yukon. He had seen one set up down south (Vancouver) and thought it would take off in Carcross, a small community just outside of Whitehorse, that was starting to cater to tourists coming off the cruise ships from Skagway, AK.
When other work commitments did not allow him to follow through with his business idea, I stepped in to help. Eventually, I bought the kettle corn business from him and started to attend the Fireweed Community Market in Whitehorse.
Be open to new ideas and always be searching for creative ways to keep your product interesting.
After many years and adventures skiing and paddling across the North, my husband and I decided to start a family. In our first full season at the Fireweed Community Market I was pregnant with our first son, Jack. Our second son, Cody, was born at the beginning of our third season, and attended his first market at 7 days old!
I think any mother can agree that raising children is a pretty full-on commitment. But having this part-time summer business gave me a way to connect with my community and also explore my own pathway and career beyond motherhood. I was able to feed my entrepreneurial spirit by developing my business with my children literally by my side.
Now they are both in school and I’ve had time to grow my business through retail and online sales, explore the world of marketing, and continue to be involved in my community through the summer market as well as other events and festivals throughout the year.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The first product I sold at our local grocery store was our original Sweet and Salty Kettle Corn. This is the same product I was making at the farmer’s market and I simply added a label to the packaging and started stocking shelves. It was a recognizable product to my customers and I think the familiarity of the product helped sell it outside of the market setting.
We have a shop on our property and I had the kettle up in there for production during our first year of supplying the grocery store. Kettle Corn is a product made to be sold at markets, and everything is done outside under your market tent in a large kettle heated with a propane burner. Having the kettle set up in the shop worked fine when the doors were open to allow venting. Buy as soon as it started to get cold (North of 60 cold!) and I couldn’t leave the shop door open, I realized this set up wasn’t going to work year round.
My husband and I brainstormed how we could solve this problem, and we eventually agreed that a lean-to could be built off the back of the shop. This could be a permanent market tent where I could back up and store the popcorn trailer and make kettle corn under shelter. My husband built an extra wide door into the shop so that I could roll my sorting bin in and out. I could still package popcorn in the warmth of the shop where my packaging equipment would work.
Today’s product development process
In the past couple years I started expanding my product line beyond the original Sweet and Salty kettle corn. We now supply 5 gourmet flavours throughout the year including our original, sweet and salty kettle corn, buffalo blue cheese, white cheddar, caramel cheddar and dark chocolate and sea salt. Our kettle corn is being sold at grocery stores, service stations, coffee shops and tasting rooms across the territory, in addition to our newly launched online store.
We developed 3 different products to sell online. We wanted to expand our market and start exporting our product outside of the territory, but we didn’t want to start an online store where we sold a couple bags of popcorn here and there. We decided to come up with 2 products that would cater to large events, where our customers would make larger orders and maybe only purchase one or two times per year. These two products are unique to our company and have helped increase our income without putting too much demand on our ability to produce. Afterall, I am still the only full time employee!
Our Really Big Box of popcorn was designed to help feed large groups of people at events with a low budget. It comes in a 18”x18”x24” box with 100 serving bags and a scoop.
Our promo bags were designed as an unforgettable giveaway at weddings, trade shows or customer appreciation days. The labels and flavours can be customized to uniquely represent our customer.
Our third product is a Popcorn Subscription Box that is sent out in the mail once a month and includes 5 gourmet flavours of popcorn and a surprise Yukon treat from one of our favourite Yukon businesses. Since I am the main operator of the business, having the boxes built and shipped out once a month made it more manageable to keep up to than adding too many new flavours to our year round selection of popcorn.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We have been a vendor at the Fireweed Community Market since 2010. The Fireweed Community Market hosts an outdoor summer market as well as a Christmas market. After spending a couple years gaining a following through the markets I decided I wanted to go into year round production.
In the summer of 2015, I approached a local grocery store to sell our popcorn. I was curious about what steps I would need to take to start selling wholesale. I walked into the store, introduced myself to Mark, the owner of Your Independent Grocery store in town, and mentioned I was interested in selling my product in his store. Mark said, “Sure! When can you get your first order in?”
I realized that Mark, and other retail outlets, were very interested in supporting local business. Mark was so helpful as we readied our product for the grocery shelves. He had barcodes printed out for us at the bakery while we figured out how to get our own. He gave us a prime location in the front of the grocery store. And let us put up a great big sign in the front door advertising our product.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Popcorn is a super fun food product to experiment with! It’s pretty much a blank canvas just waiting to be dressed up. Last summer, the farmer’s market started encouraging vendors to try using other vendors or farmers products in their own. I really took on this challenge! Initially, I thought there wasn’t much more you could do with kettle corn… but I started digging deep into my culinary background to come up with some truly unique flavours.
The community had supported my business up until this point and I really wanted to be able to find a way to give back. It turns out there were a lot of local business’ making products that tasted really good on popcorn! Just as I had used our local farmer’s market to test out product pricing and packaging, I now tried to introduce some new flavours with a local twist.
On one of our summer market days we set up a popcorn bar. Like something you would see at a movie theatre… but instead of your typical ‘salt and vinegar’, dill pickle and ketchup flavouring we were using locally sourced products. We were sprinkling kettle corn with Richard’s Maple Sugar from the Maple Rush, a Yukon company creating Maple products. We had a couple different spice mixtures made up from The Wandering Bison, Luke’s local catering company and Deborah’s The Twisted Gourmet. We had fun misting the popcorn with Free Pour Jenny’s* solstice cranberry bitters. We used fresh cheese and flavoured olive oils from Lara’s *Cultured Fine Cheese Shop* for our Harvest Cheddar and Truffle Oil and Cracked Pepper popcorn. And we bought fresh dill from *Elemental Farms at the market for our own take on dill pickle popcorn. We even use locally harvested Birch syrup for a Caramel Corn at Christmas. This collaboration really brought businesses together and created conversation around the power of shopping local.
Through all of this fun flavour experimentation at the market we developed 3 different lines of specialty flavours: The Cultured Collection - flavoured with infused olive oils, The Yukon Collection - flavoured with locally produced or harvested Yukon products, and the Holiday Collection - including flavours for all seasonal holidays.
Keeping our product line fun and always having new seasonal flavours to offer has really helped to keep excitement around our business. Our social media presence is important for connecting with customers and showcasing new flavours and collaborations with other businesses, as well as how we are involved in various community events and festivals.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I have been running the kettle corn stand for almost 10 years, but I feel like I might only be at the start of building this business. It has been a slow progression of acquiring equipment, product development and figuring out our packaging and up until this point we have not had to take out any significant loans.
This year we were able to apply for government funding to help launch an export-ready product. This project involved creating an e-commerce website and developing our online presence through a marketing plan, as well as photography and illustrations for the website.
The highlight of this project was definitely being able to work with some amazing local talent and get to know more people in our community. We worked with GBP Creative Media for our photography. We had two days of photo shoots booked, the first being set in the outdoors, at an appropriate 40 below for our truly northern business, and a second day for a product photo shoot in the studio. Smrt pop-ups got things rolling for us with a creative brief.
This really helped me to realize how our company is strongly rooted in our community and is really about bringing people together. Smrt pop-ups also worked with us on our marketing plan, includings social media content calendars and working through their online Facebook Ads course. Monika Melnychuk, who has created a Yukon brand of her own through her amazing illustrations, helped spark our creativity and bring our popcorn flavours to life! And Elise Cheetham helped bring all of these amazing ideas, photography and illustrations together in a thoughtful and beautifully designed website.
Whitehorse is a community that likes to support local business and it has been really exciting to work together with other like-minded entrepreneurs! There is so much we can learn from each other.
Since developing our marketing strategy and launching our new website, our business has seen a considerable amount of growth. Klondike Kettle Corn has become a symbol of a local made product and locally developed business. While we were still growing, I would pick retail locations that I thought my product fit in well with, but overtime I am noticing more retailers are now seeking our product.
As for our future, we would like to continue to grow our online sales and see Popcorn Subscription Boxes bringing a taste of the Yukon to doorsteps across the country!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Be open to new ideas and always be searching for creative ways to keep your product interesting.
The idea for our promo bags was actually brought to me by a marketing company looking for a locally made, promotional giveaway. I developed the product to suit their needs and then realized there was more need for this type of product in the market.
This year Yukon Tourism was looking for a promotional snack with more of a Yukon twist so we will be making our promo bags in a variety of flavours from our Yukon Collection including Spruce Tip and Dill, and White Chocolate Cranberry, as well as one of our Essential Flavours, Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt, made with chocolate from the Yukon Chocolate Company!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We have a very low budget for marketing and choose to put time into creating meaningful content on social media to connect with our customers.
Before launching our new website at the end of March, the only place you could order our Popcorn Subscription Box was through Facebook. We have been selling our subscription boxes since last Christmas.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I am a big fan of talking to other businesses in the community and finding out what works for them! Living in the North, there are a lot of unique challenges, like shipping charges. Some businesses get together to place orders to try and keep shipping costs down.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
It’s ok to grow slow. Make sure you have set goals to work towards. It’s easy for your idea to take over your life, and you might not want that!
Decide how big you want your business to be and make sure you include your work-life balance in your goals.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are looking for part-time help in production! Apply through the link on our Facebook Page.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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