Name and age: Kenny, 48
Company name and description: Kenny's Cajun Corn, a manufacturer of Cajun-flavored microwave popcorn in Fisherville, Kentucky
Starting point: Less than $100,000 in 1998
2000 sales projections: $1.5 million The story: "My grandfather was from New Orleans, and he taught me Cajun was a flavor, not a temperature," Kenny says. He had been making his own Cajun spice blend for some time when he accidentally discovered how good it tasted sprinkled on popcorn. "I felt like God gave me a Hula-Hoop, and I'd better do something with it," he says. So he formed the company, perfected the product and began shipping in January 1999.
A family business: To maintain quality, Kenny handles all the manufacturing and processing in-house with the help of his wife and two younger children. His two older children live in Chicago and work as distributors.
Circumventing the system: Having built a network of independent distributors who handle the sales side, Kenny ships directly to the stores, bypassing the traditional food distribution system. "It comes right off the truck and goes onto the shelf," he says. And retailers are discouraged from buying quantities that aren't likely to sell within a month or two. "I try to keep my popcorn less than three months old from the day I make it until the day it goes in [the customer's] mouth," he says.
Delighting the customer: Kenny includes a 13th package with each order of 12, plus a letter explaining the extra package is for the customer--an inexpensive but effective way to reach new consumers.
Looking ahead: Kenny's goal is to have 1.1 percent of the microwave popcorn market, worth $11.5 million, by 2004. Currently, he has distributors in seven states, is negotiating for three more and expects to have distributors in all 48 contiguous states by the end of this year. He also plans to add other Cajun-flavored snack food items, such as pretzels and peanuts, to his product line.
Kenny's Cajun Corn, (877) BE-CAJUN, www.kennyscajuncorn.com.