News
News Home
Quick Bites
Exploradio
News Archive
News Channel
Special Features
NPR
nowplaying
On AirNewsClassical
Loading...
  
School Closings
WKSU Support
Funding for WKSU is made possible in part through support from the following businesses and organizations.

The Holden Arboretum

NOCHE

Greater Akron Chamber


For more information on how your company or organization can support WKSU, download the WKSU Media Kit.

(WKSU Media Kit PDF icon )


Donate Your Vehicle to WKSU

Programs Schedule Make A Pledge Member BenefitsFAQ/HelpContact Us
Social Issues




How a turn-around expert in Bath gets a snack business popping
White Cat Popcorn is bottled in downtown Akron and sold in 4,000 stores nationwide
by WKSU's VIVIAN GOODMAN
This story is part of a special series.


Reporter
Vivian Goodman
 
In a glass jar it's just White Cat Corn yellow butterfly popping corn and nothing but.
Courtesy of Courtesy White Cat Corn
Download (WKSU Only)
In The Region:

Before long, there’ll be a nip in the air and many of us will be inclined to enjoy some cozy indoor fun… like popping corn.

In today’s Quick Bite we learn that a gourmet brand is bottled right here in Northeast Ohio. WKSU’s Vivian Goodman reports the owner started out with more expertise in business than popcorn.

LISTEN:a business that pops

Other options:
Windows Media / MP3 Download (4:54)


For Bath resident Jim Burkett, the sound of popping corn is the sound of money.
“There. They’re all popped up. It took about 2 minutes for us to do that.”  

And not one unpopped kernel.

“If we had one kernel that didn’t pop, that would be a serious concern for us. It’s not happened in a few years.”

Burkett’s adept now at popping corn, but he wasn’t always.

“I have to be honest. Popcorn wasn’t even on our list of foods we enjoyed as a family.”

Not a farmer, not a cook, but a corporate-turnaround specialist
What he has always enjoyed, though, is turning failing companies around. He’s president of Corporate Turnaround Consulting and he’s written a book: "The Learned Disciplines of Management."

 “We buy under-performing and troubled companies, and in 2004 I had sold a company and was looking for a new opportunity.” 

Enter: White Cat gourmet popping corn.

Williams Sonoma had been stocking it for almost two decades when the company abruptly folded.

A tip from a friend paid off
Jim Burkett’s good friend, a higher-up at Williams Sonoma, heard the news at a board meeting.

“My friend hurried home knowing that we were looking for a company and said, ‘Jim, I don’t know much about White Cat, just that Williams Sonoma carried it for 18 years and can no longer get it. So if I were you I would track it down.'” 

Burkett discovered that the company’s founder, a former University of Arizona art professor, had been on a quest for perfect popcorn. In 1977, he’d resigned his tenured post, moved back home to Illinois, and bought a 200-acre farm. He brought along his pet, a white cat who was too blind to catch mice. 

The brand’s namesake wasn’t much of a hunter
“All he could do is grab an old corn cob, and that he deposited on the front porch every day.” 

While the cat played, the professor worked, experimenting with seeds, soils and growing conditions.

“What happened in 1997 is he had arrived at what was the final formula for White Cat Popcorn. Ironically, he turned 65 in 2003 and told all his customers including Williams Sonoma, ‘You’ll have to get your popcorn somewhere else. I’m retiring.’ And of course they asked him, ’Where can we get popcorn as good as White Cat?’ and he replied ‘You can’t.’”  

Of course that’s open to question.

Good but not cheap
White Cat is not a top seller. Orville Redenbacher, the biggest producer, is the Harris Poll’s brand of the year and has been for three years running. Pop Secret and Act II ranked Nos. 2 and 3 in this year’s poll.

But for the most part, that’s microwave corn. White Cat sells only loose kernels that have to be popped on the stove top.

Burkett knows most consumers don’t want to take the trouble.

 “The trouble and the cost, because frankly unpopped popcorn is a little more expensive than microwave or a commodity brand like Orville Redenbacher.”

Much more expensive, actually.

You pay $7.50 for a jar of Jim Burkett’s White Cat popping corn, enough for 18 to 22 servings.

Thirty-two servings of Orville Redenbacher gourmet popping corn sells for less than 5 bucks.

Is it worth the higher price?

Before he bought the company, Burkett was skeptical.

 “When we went into the taste-testing we said, ‘OK, come on it’s popcorn. How good could this be?’  And as it turned out we tried our first bowl. We said, ‘Wow.’” 

The taste is slightly sweet.

The corn comes from the Mississippi valley
Burkett’s corn is grown in Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. He says he wishes he could use Ohio corn.

“But the growing season’s so short here.”  

Burkett hires contract laborers to hand pack the kernels at Canal Place in downtown Akron. They’re shipped to 4,000 stores nationwide, sealed tight in glass jars.

“It’s got to maintain a moisture content of 13 or 14 percent, or it doesn’t pop as it should.” 

He says it’ll keep for three years sealed in your cupboard, but don’t put it in the fridge or freezer.

“Those act as a dehumidifier, and they draw the moisture out of your corn which is the last thing you want.” 

Jim Burkett’s 8-year old daughter, Keira, can hardly wait for the next bowl.

 “I like putting butter and honey in the microwave and melting it and then drizzling it on my popcorn.”

It’s her own recipe.

And that’s this week’s Quick Bite. Next week we’ll take you to a rib burnoff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Click image for larger view.)

Add Your Comment
Name:

Location:

E-mail: (not published, only used to contact you about your comment)


Comments:




 
Page Options

Print this page

E-Mail this page / Send mp3

Share on Facebook






Stories with Recent Comments

HOF's Canton expansion could take an island and make it a village
I live in the block from Broad St to the Hall of Fame and will be impacted by the expansion. I am in the process of selling my home and planned to long before i...

Cleveland redeploys police to replace rejected red-light traffic cameras
Periodic rotational enforcement without warning does NOT change behavior and the city officials know that. This is the basis of all officer-run enforcement trap...

New enrollment period offers more insurance options
The removal of federal funding for healthcare CO-OPs may limit the growth of the CO-OP movement. http://www.healthcaretownhall.com/?p=6381

The family of Boardman vet killed in Vietnam receives his medals
My name is Mike Eisenbraun. I am Larry's brother. I was 14 years old when Larry was killed in Vietnam. He has been gone for 46 years but it seems like yester...

Cleveland seniors are creating new wealth -- and facing new challenges
Why is anyone surprised that we people over 65 are not retiring? If you have been paying attention, defined company funded pensions were phasing out in the eigh...

Ohio company cuts off a dairy supplier after allegations of animal abuse
these people should be held accountable for their actions. i would be more than pleased to see a year or more behind bars. i will NEVER eat anything that comes ...

Goodyear recruits thousands of vets
What a wonderful interview! Excellent reporting skills by a talented young reporter! I look forward to hearing more from Ms. Schley!

Ohio Democratic Party begins the rebuilding process
I agree 100% with Sen. Brown. I think it is absolutely critical for the Democratic Party in Ohio to engage in the long, tedious, hard task of re-building from t...

They're talking again in the Macedonia bridge dispute
Norfolk Southern says the Ledge road bridge meets regulations for train traffic, however it was built as an overpass for a roadway and/or farm usage. I think t...

Cleveland City Council to consider transgender public restroom law
this is sick. I do not want my daughter in the same bathroom as a perverted 45 year old man. this proposed legislation could seriously damage the security of ch...

Copyright © 2014 WKSU Public Radio, All Rights Reserved.

 
In Partnership With:

NPR PRI Kent State University

listen in windows media format listen in realplayer format Car Talk Hosts: Tom & Ray Magliozzi Fresh Air Host: Terry Gross A Service of Kent State University 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. NPR Senior Correspondent: Noah Adams Living on Earth Host: Steve Curwood 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. A Service of Kent State University