Stihl Dealer Days

Rural Missouri Magazine

Looking for a taste of success
For some Missouri entrepreneurs,
business begins in the kitchen

by Jeff Joiner

Family and consumer science students at Hurley High School mix ingredients to make a taco seasoning which the school sells through its business, Spring Creek Flavorings and Seasonings. The brainchild of teacher Susan Faseler, the business teaches students how to be entrepreneuers by developing food products.

It’s not uncommon these days to find locally made jams and jellies, popcorn and potato chips and other foods competing with Frito-Lay, Smuckers and other giant food producers in grocery stores. But for small rural food makers, getting their products on store shelves is often a nearly impossible venture. But there are success stories out there including that of a group of high school students and an 88-year-old grandmother.

Welcome to Mrs. Faseler’s sixth-hour family and consumer science class at Hurley High School, the home of Spring Creek Flavorings and Spices.

“Make sure everyone washes their hands,” says Susan Faseler as she walks around her classroom as students bring out mixing bowls and bulk containers of spices and other food ingredients. Susan has taught home economics, or family and consumer science as it’s called today, for more than 20 years at the tiny southwest Missouri school. But this class is different. Though there are plenty of recipes and the mixing of ingredients, this class has more to do with business than it does with cooking.

“At first it was just classroom discussion. It was just something fun to dream about,” says Susan, as a group of her students on one side of the room begins mixing together ingredients to make Tiger Taco seasoning while on the other side of the room another group packages chocolate chip cookie mix. These and several other products the students package and label are ready to be sold in gift baskets put together by the class.

Susan Faseler oversees the specialty food enterprises of the Family and consumer science class at Hurley High School.

Gourmet specialty foods are one of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. food processing industry and small entrepreneurs, many in rural areas, make up a large part of that trend, says Susan. Though almost anyone with a kitchen can fill jars with jams and bags with specialty popcorn and slap on their own label, anyone wishing to sell a food product has a myriad of rules, regulations and other concerns to think about, as the students at Hurley High School have learned.

In 1995 Susan’s class put together a cookbook, which included the history of Hurley. When students wondered why there were so few businesses left in the town the teacher suggested her students try to think of businesses they could start. Spices, flavorings and bread and cookie mixes seemed like ideal products to sell, but without start up money the idea remained a dream.

Then in 1998 the Missouri Department of Education offered a competitive grant to schools to develop innovative and creative teaching curriculums. Susan applied and received $10,000. Spring Creek Flavorings and Spices was born.

Susan assigned her students to find products they could market and then research recipes they could make or mix in the classroom. She taught them how to experiment with changing the recipes using controlled scientific methods. The students researched buying bulk ingredients, a difficult task for small food producers. And the students learned to design their packaging and labels, following all federal food labeling laws. It was a challenge.

“They’ve learned a lot. Take the federal labeling law and give that to a group of high school students and have them interpret it. They learned the government is very picky,” Susan says.

Susan also taught her students how to look at their production costs and come up with wholesale and retail prices for their different products. Though Spring Creek occasionally comes out ahead, Susan says the real goal is education

“The kids are learning so much — food science, marketing and business and working with the state and federal government,” says Hurley School Superintendent Doug Arnold. “And the kids really enjoy the class.”

Dorothy Holterman, 88, successfully created Grandma’s Cool & Zesty Dressing with the help of her grandson Steve Picker. After four years of hard work, the pair has their product in 200 grocery stores.

As many entrepreneurs learn, the difference between the success or failure of their dream is often pure tenacity. Just ask 88-year-old Dorothy Holterman of Jefferson City who, with the help of her grandson, has realized a long-held dream of bottling and selling her mother’s German salad dressing. But first it took two decades of experimenting to come up with the recipe.

“I remember my mother making this wonderful dressing,” says Dorothy, who grew up on a family farm near Rich Fountain. “I was determined to learn to make it, but my mother didn’t write anything down. All she knew was a dab of this and a dab of that. It look me 23 years to perfect it, but I did.”

On her 84th birthday, in 1999, Dorothy remarked to her family that she always wanted to sell her mother’s dressing and the next day her grandson, Steve Picker, began putting a business together which soon became Grandma’s Cool & Zesty Dressing. Together, Steve and his grandmother designed a bottle and label and took Dorothy’s dressing on the road to grocery stores where, more often than not, the store manager liked the product, but couldn’t give the tiny startup shelf space.

Both Grandma’s Cool & Zesty Dressing and products from Spring Creek Flavorings and Spices are included in the Taste the Best of Missouri gift box available this holiday season.

Through sheer persistence, Steve convinced the stores to give him space so long as he delivered the bottled dressings and stocked shelves himself. That persistence has resulted in Cool & Zesty Dressing earning shelf space in 200 grocery stores in central Missouri and St. Louis, where Steve now relies on a distributor. The dressing has grown so popular the family had to find a large food processor to make and bottle the dressing. The challenge was converting a recipe for 15 ounces to make 70-gallon batches. Dorothy did taste tests to make sure the recipe was right and when bottles of the dressing began coming off the line, she was emotional.

“When all those bottles were coming down the line she cried,” says Steve. “‘That’s my dressing,’ she said.”

After dozens of grocery store visits and food trade shows, Grandma has achieved celebrity status, at least in grocery store aisles where her picture can be found on bottles of her dressing.

“I was working out at the gym one day and a woman there stopped me and said, ‘You’re the lady with the dressing!’ Someone once said I’m a show-off and I am. I love life. I had a dream and getting old had nothing to do with it.”

Look for Grandma's Cool & Zesty dressing on grocers' shelves or order online at www.cool-zesty.com. For information about Hurley High School's Spring Creek Flavorings and Spices, e-mail springcreekflavoringsandspices@hurleyschools.com. These products are also available in the Taste the Best of Missouri gift basket (see below).

Show Me treats
that are good eats

If you‘re looking for a gift this holiday season with good taste and shows your love of Missouri, then the Taste the Best of Missouri gift boxes could be what you’re looking for.

In an effort being promoted by the AgriMissouri program, 26 small Missouri-owned food makers have joined forces to promote their products in a gift box. The producers come from across the state with the majority calling rural Missouri home.

Taste the Best of Missouri is the brainchild of Kansas City business owner John Jungk, owner of Old World Spices and Seasonings who has traveled Missouri recruiting businesses and promoting the idea of showcasing Missouri-made products in a specially designed gift box.

Businesses included in the box make everything from gourmet jellies, salad dressings, barbecue and steak sauces, meat marinades, pecans and walnuts and many more food items (see story left). Each product included is recognized by AgriMissouri for being produced, processed or manufactured in the state.

Jungk said he chose the products from a field of 63 applications based on the taste and labeling and whether the company used good manufacturing practices.

Missouri-shaped gift boxes are available starting at $40 and going up to $70. Baskets for $80, the highest priced package, includes food products in a hand-made basket produced by Quality Products, a sheltered workshop in Nevada, Mo.

A portion of the proceeds from sales of the Taste the Best of Missouri boxes will go toward scholarships for students at the University of Missouri. A portion of sales will also assist small, Missouri food manufacturers in the Taste the Best of Missouri program to participate in national food processing trade shows.

Jungk says he hopes the program gives these small manufacturers much-needed attention.

He also hopes people who try these products will like them enough to ask their local grocery stores to stock them on a regular basis. Jungk says he would also like to encourage school groups to sell the boxes as fundraisers.

"We want schools to take more pride in Missouri products, instead of selling fruit from Texas and Florida, or cheese and meats from Wisconsin," he says.

The gift boxes are available in many grocery stores around the state or can be ordered online at www.tastethebestofmissouri.com, or by calling 1-800-241-0070. To ensure delivery for the holidays, orders should be placed by Dec. 1.

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