GIBBON, Neb. — Tucked behind a small storefront in downtown Gibbon, Cheryl Hughes' HR Poppin' Snacks is a wholesale gourmet popcorn company that is gaining national attention.
The company produces more than 100 flavors, many seasonal, and can do custom flavors and colors.
Hughes provided toy producer Mattel with special pink popcorn for Barbie's 53rd birthday party in 2012.
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Given a color swatch, she can whip up popcorn to match the bridesmaids' dresses for a wedding. She supplied red, white and blue popcorn for a veteran's funeral.
Hughes, a native of Grand Junction, Colo., has been in the popcorn business since 2000, when she purchased an old hot-air popper and a cooker/coater from a popcorn company that was going out of business.
“I just dabbled as I learned more about the business and more about popcorn and developed and redeveloped my recipes,” she recalled.
In 2003, she moved her company to Gibbon and jumped into full-time wholesale business. At first, she was selling just a few standard flavors, but her creativity fueled new experiments.
“I quickly developed up to 25 (flavors) or so, then we kind of hung in there, and then we just kept adding and adding and now we basically have over 100 flavors that are in our repertoire,” Hughes said.
Some of those flavors are seasonal specials, such as Egg Nog and Peppermint Stick. Hughes has also developed a division of wine-flavored popcorn, Vin de Mais. This “Wine of Corn” line contains flavors such as Crisp Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Merlot.
Her personal favorites include Cinnamon, Butter Pecan and good ol' Butter. She also enjoys the newly developed Birthday Cake and an award-winning Cashew Almond Toffee.
She plans to expand her flavors to include more sugar-free and gluten-free options.
Hughes estimates that she and her two full-time employees bag 150 to 200 pounds of popcorn per day.
A giant air popper pops the corn. Then the popcorn is mixed with coatings in large metal cooker/coaters. Hughes is particular about covering every kernel.
“I don't want any half-coated popcorn kernels,” Hughes said.
“I want them to buy something in the quantity that they have a chance (to sell), and if it doesn't sell they're not out a bunch,” Hughes said. “I'm really all over trying to help the small businesses.”
Some of those businesses are local mom-and-pop stores, and some are high-end specialty shops. She supplies the Old Town House of Jerky and Root Beer in San Diego with Caramelized Jamaican Jerky and Root Beer Float popcorn.
A shop in Manitou Springs, Colo., buys bags and bags of her Mountain Dew popcorn.
Hughes also sells popcorn through Cash-Wa Distributing Co., her largest distributor.
“They only carry five or six of the basic flavors, but it's still really good for me,” Hughes said.
She has a broker covering Colorado and Montana and has showrooms in Kansas City, Minnesota and Denver.
Hughes also sells her snacks in the Grow Nebraska retail stores at the Conestoga Mall in Grand Island and at Omaha's Eppley Airfield. She'll have a booth in the 4-H Building at the State Fair, she said.
Hughes also bags up popcorn for local fundraisers.
“We pride ourselves on extraordinary customer service,” Hughes said.