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Rural Missouri Magazine

Miraculous beans
A college marketing project saves
a family from financial ruin

by Bob McEowen

Every once in a while, something as simple as a phone call can change lives. That is precisely what happened when Heidi Hall phoned home in the fall of 1994.

Then a senior international marketing student at Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield, Heidi often called her parents on Sunday afternoons. On this occasion she mentioned an upcoming class assignment. She and a group of fellow students were to create a food product that wasn’t then on the market, calculate costs of production, design packaging and devise a marketing plan.

The Hall family — pictured from left, son Andy and his parents Rosemary and Dwight Hall — produce a flavored soybean snack called Mighty Mo Munchies in Oregon, Mo. The product is the result of a college project by the Hall's daughter Heidi.

“My dad said, ‘You ought to do something with soybeans,’” Heidi recalls. “I said, ‘I don’t think so.’”
The student, now Heidi Rodrick, remembered her father eating soybeans straight out of the field and how unpalatable they were.

Little did she realize that her dad was onto something big. That fateful conversation led to a new soybean snack, sold in health food stores across the country as Mighty Mo Munchies, which rescued Heidi’s family from financial ruin.

At the time, though, Heidi couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to eat soybeans.

“There wasn’t anything appetizing about soy,” she says. “At that time you still had the perception of, you know, ‘Ewwh, the hamburgers at your high school or some substance that was really gross.’”

But Dwight Hall, a failed soybean farmer from Oregon, Mo., who eked out a living cleaning other farmers’ seeds for replanting, was determined. Dwight and his wife began experimenting with ways to cook raw soybeans. “Rosemary and I went to the kitchen with little pans and modified barbeque grills and just tried to think of things,” Dwight says.

Their effort led to a crunchy, nut-like snack.

Although she was skeptical, Heidi shared her parents’ snack with her project group. The other students liked the cooked soybeans and believed the idea held more promise than a new kind of candy bar, their only other prospect at the time.

Heidi and her group sold their professor a flashy, foil-packaged snack called Power Play, aimed at athletic consumers. The teacher was convinced. He awarded Heidi an A grade for the class and encouraged her to pursue the idea.

Heidi had other plans. She traveled to Germany for a year, pursuing a career in international business. In the meantime her parents worked on the soy snack project.

“When I got back they were ready to start marketing it,” Heidi says.

The cooking process for Mighty Mo Munchies is secret but the Halls say it produces a better soy nut.

Although other companies offered soy products they were not marketed in the Midwest and soybeans certainly were not widely thought of as a snack. It took a leap of faith for the Halls to sell their seed-cleaning equipment and stake their future on bringing this new product to grocer’s shelves.

But desperate times call for desperate measures. And the Halls were nothing if not desperate.

The Hall family had farmed the fertile Missouri River bottoms of northwest Missouri for generations but Dwight lost everything in the farm credit crisis of the 1980s.

“We didn’t do bankruptcy but I couldn’t have borrowed $50 to feed my family,” he says. “It was like a foreclosure. You were just standing there in the middle of the street with nothing.

“It was despair. It was as low as you can go,” Dwight says.

A sympathetic neighbor helped them get on their feet operating a seed-cleaning business. For nearly 12 years Dwight worked seven days a week trying to make the operation pay. The soy nut snack idea offered hope, or at least a way out.

“I was just hoping we could make a living,” Dwight says. “If it would pay the bills, which had been very hard to do for a long time, it would be a wonderful thing.”

Besides, Dwight and Rosemary, members of United Electric Cooperative, believed in the product.
“They’re a good snack. They’re crunchy. And they’ve got a real good flavor,” he says. “Of course, soy is a wonderful food. It’s very high in protein and ours is low in fat.”

The Halls perfected their proprietary method of cooking soybeans and created four distinct varieties: lightly salted, unsalted, Cajun and ranch. Rosemary and Heidi began going door to door, calling on health food stores, groceries and bulk food buyers. The combination of an innovative product and the variety of flavors made the sale.

“The natural foods people had heard of soy nuts but there was very little available,” Rosemary says. “And flavors, that was something different. They were very receptive to the flavors.”

Mighty Mo Munchies practically flew off the shelves. The snack really took off when the family began using only organic soybeans.

The Halls now buy about 4,000 bushels of organic soybeans each year. All of their snack varieties are certified kosher and organic — and soon will be classified 100 percent organic, a higher standard.
Their small factory near Forest City has expanded three times since 1996. The company employs 13 people including Dwight, Rosemary and their son Andy. Heidi lives in Kansas City and describes her involvement as that of a cheerleader, though she does help with the company Web site.

Mighty Mo Munchies are sold unsalted, salted, Cajun and Ranch flavored. Photo courtesy Mighty Mo Munchies.

The snacks are sold in a 1-1/2 ounce pouch that retails for about a dollar and an 8-ounce bag that brings about $4 in health food stores and grocers across the nation.

“We’re in about 43 states and probably a little over 400 stores,” says Andy, who left a career in banking to join the business. “In the last three or four months we’ve gotten involved with some distributors. That’s going to be a huge step for us.”

While a number of competitive products have entered the market, Mighty Mo Munchies remain a favorite of customers, the Halls say.

“There’s nothing like ours out there,” Andy says. “It’s got a different taste and texture than what’s out there. Most of the time people like ours better.”

The remarkable success of Mighty Mo Munchies may reflect a case of impeccable timing or the right marketing approach but the Halls credit a different source for their good fortune.

“It wasn’t like anything that was supposed to happen and that’s how we know the Lord was with us,” Rosemary says. “On our package we have ‘Let go, let God.’ We feel that’s definitely what we have to do.”

Dwight agrees.

“We’re not fanatics at all. It’s not something that we’re making a crusade on but that’s exactly what we think,” he says. “It’s not any big deal that I did. I’ve just been going for the ride.”

Whatever the case, clearly Heidi’s college marketing project has turned out well for the Halls. It’s an outcome that she could not possibly have dreamed.

“I have never been so surprised at anything in my life. I just never pictured my parents as people adventuresome enough to do something like this,” says Heidi.

“I’m just really proud that they ever took a chance on it.”

For more information write Mighty Mo Munchies,
P. O. Box 335, Oregon, MO 64473; call 1-800-762-1384 or log on to www.mightymomunchies.com.

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