From Power of Business (powerofbusiness.net), an Extension initiative, and our eXtension community, Entrepreneurs and Their Communities, welcome to Small Business Week. The land-grant university system and Extension support small businesses and their development as a part of their mission. Today we highlight another small business assisted through a variety of programs offered by this resource.
By Mandy Gross, Oklahoma State University’s Robert M. Kerr Food Agricultural Products Center Communications Services Manager
Tulsa-native Corey Carolina wanted to take his grandmother’s passion for making jelly and start his own business developing delicious wine fruit spreads, and he did just that. In August 2011, he created Carolina Food Co. LLC.
However, Carolina knew little about how to market his product. He turned to Oklahoma State University’s Robert M. Kerr Food Agricultural Products Center for assistance and attended the center’s Basic Training for food entrepreneurs, which helped him develop a plan for the future of his business.
“I learned so many important things in the Basic Training class, such as marketing and the importance of looking at the competition,” Carolina says. “The jam/jelly market is extremely competitive. When one of the presenters showed a slide of a grocery aisle with jelly products from top to bottom, I really realized that this was my competition. I needed to find a niche and be unique.”
After attending Basic Training, Carolina followed the Client Success Path, a model established by FAPC to help clients enter the market. He continued to work with FAPC specialists for product scale-up, label and nutrition panel assistance, and marketing assistance, including food show opportunities.
As a result of hard work and perseverance, Carolina sold his first jar of Toasted Wine Fruit Spreads in April 2012. This spring, he celebrated the completion of his second year of selling the unique wine spread.
“This is a big milestone,” says Rodney Holcomb, FAPC agricultural economist and one of the organizers of Basic Training. “Of the more than 1,200 Basic Training graduates, only about 15 percent of these new food product companies are in business after one year.”
In addition to Carolina’s success in selling Toasted Wine Fruit Spreads, the company was named one of the top six in the 2013 Tulsa Community College Startup Cup business model competition.
The seven-month competition is designed to support entrepreneurial growth, expand business and community connections and maximize promotional opportunities both locally and nationally. It awards local entrepreneurs who develop and pitch the best business model.
“I have been blessed to have been selected to the top six entrepreneurs in the Startup Cup,” Carolina says. “My dreams have come true; I have been able to sell Toasted Wine Fruit Spreads to great Oklahomans who have been so supportive.”
Carolina said FAPC is essential to the success of a small business, and the center has gone above and beyond to help his company.
“I want others to take the leap of faith and start selling their products,” Carolina says. “The Startup Cup coaches and judges have helped me improve my business. It is opportunities like this that really support the small business industry.”
Today, Toasted products are available in six flavors: Strawberry with Sangria Wine, Peach with Peach Chardonnay, Plum with Sangria Wine, Grape with Blush Wine, and a Wine Pepper Spread and Wine Pepper Sauce, both with bell peppers and jalapeños. The fruit and wine spreads can be used on sandwiches, meats, cream cheese, toppings for cakes or ice cream and more.
Carolina said his future plans include continuing to work with FAPC to further develop his brand and distribution methods and launch at least two more products.
What advice does he have for others wanting to start a food company?
“Be willing to work late and often seven days a week,” Carolina says. “Be willing to travel, give out free samples and make a personal financial investment. Follow your dreams.”
Carolina’s products are available at more than 50 retail outlets including several Oklahoma wineries; Green Acres Market in Jenks, Okla.; Akin’s Natural Foods and Whole Foods in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, and Reasor’s in northeastern Oklahoma. The products also can be purchased online at www.toastedwinespreads.com.
To view a video about the FAPC Basic Training class, visit http://fapc.biz/videos/basictraining or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57cPbL7wd-w.