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Archive for Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The true story of Hippie Chow

A Lawrence-made granola gains overnight success with Dean & Deluca pairing

Valerie Jennings has come up with a crunchy delight called Hippie Chow that was recently picked up by Dean & Deluca and is being sold nationwide. Seventy-five percent of her ingredients are locally purchased.

Valerie Jennings has come up with a crunchy delight called Hippie Chow that was recently picked up by Dean & Deluca and is being sold nationwide. Seventy-five percent of her ingredients are locally purchased.

September 21, 2010

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Valerie Jennings has come up with a crunchy delight called Hippie Chow that was recently picked up by Dean & Deluca and is being sold nationwide. Seventy-five percent of her ingredients are locally purchased.

Valerie Jennings has come up with a crunchy delight called Hippie Chow that was recently picked up by Dean & Deluca and is being sold nationwide. Seventy-five percent of her ingredients are locally purchased.

Valerie Jennings mixes her sweet topping. Everything is weighed out for the right recipe.

Valerie Jennings mixes her sweet topping. Everything is weighed out for the right recipe.

Overnight success is the stuff entrepreneurs dream of, but that wasn’t on Valerie Jennings’ mind when she stepped into her kitchen to make a batch of granola for her snack-loving boyfriend, Joe Parrish.

No, it was the mile-long list of ingredients on a bag of everyday snack mix he’d bought.

“I just casually picked up the bag and was reading the ingredients and I was like, ‘I don’t know what this stuff is.’ It’s really kind of scary. I said, ‘Don’t eat this, I’ll make something for you,’” Jennings says. “So, I started making granola.”

In just a few short months Jennings went from whipping up that first batch to owning a business with hundreds of loyal fans and a product on the shelves of gourmet retailer Dean & Deluca.

If that’s not an overnight success story, what is?

But that is the true story of Hippie Chow.

Snack attack

It all started in July 2009, when after Jennings started tweaking the recipe for that first batch of granola until she had family and friends raving.

Soon, she began daydreaming about selling her product. A financial analyst living in Lenexa, Jennings, 28, was looking for a hobby that would take her mind away from the rigors of her job.

“One of us probably said, maybe you should just try selling it as a joke ... kind of like, ‘Ha, ha, you should probably try and sell this,’ because it was so good,” says Parrish, who came home one night to find Jennings awake and excited because she’d thought of a product name. “She said, ‘I want to call it Hippie Chow,’ and I remember thinking ... ‘Wow, that’s actually a pretty good name. I like that.’”

Once she had the name, everything began to fall into place. Jennings was finishing up her MBA at Rockhurst in Kansas City and decided to use an independent study course to help write her business plan. By April, she was ensconced in the incubator kitchen at Building 21 of the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds, packaging her product for her first day at the Overland Park Farmers’ Market.

Extension agent Susan Krumm tried an early sample of Hippie Chow while showing Jennings the kitchen, which is designed to help launch small food businesses. Krumm was impressed not only with the product, but also with Jennings’ marking savvy.

“So often, people have this great idea, but marketing is not part of their forte,” Krumm says. “She obviously has the marketing perspective down.”

One lucky hippie

She’s also had a bit of luck, too. The Dean & Deluca connection came just weeks into her debut at the farmers’ market, when Jennings and Parrish attended a dinner function and met a food writer who was eager to talk up Hippie Chow to the general manager at the Dean & Deluca store in Leawood. By the next morning, General Manager Josh Hodapp called Jennings and asked for samples. Less than 24 hours later, she was told that not only did he want to sell her product, so did the whole company.

“He said he’d already run it up the flagpole with their corporate hierarchy and they wanted to put it in all their stores and put it online at their website,” says Jennings, who uses local and regional ingredients in the granola. “My jaw just kind of dropped.”

Ironically, Hippie Chow’s success has thrown Jennings’ business plan for a loop. Originally, she’d planned to branch out into Lawrence stores right away, but because of her deal with Dean & Deluca, she won’t be able to make enough volume to get into Lawrence until the wintertime. That’s when the farmers’ market will be over and she’ll have more time to devote to regional production.

So, for now, anyone in Lawrence interested in trying Hippie Chow’s original blend or new chocolate or peanut butter flavors can buy it online at www.hippiechowgranola.com, Dean & Deluca’s website, or in person the at the Overland Park Farmers’ Market, Foo’s Fabulous Frozen Custard and Dean & Deluca, both in Leawood.

The fact that the granola is anywhere but just in his lunch box is still a shock to Parrish.

“I told her if you’d asked me on May 1, which was our first (market) day, if I thought by August or September we’d be selling at Dean & Deluca, I’d be like, ‘You’re crazy,’” he says. “The success we’ve seen has been awesome.”

Comments

pizzapete 4 years ago

Very cool, I'd like to try a bag of that.

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Sigmund 4 years ago

Wow, far out. -Anonymous blogger

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Kyle Neuer 4 years ago

Gotta love it. Just don't let Purina anywhere near it.

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Christine Anderson 4 years ago

Ha! Now I know exactly what to get my former beloved for Christmas. LOL.

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bearded_gnome 4 years ago

“I just casually picked up the bag and was reading the ingredients and I was like, ‘I don’t know what this stuff is.’ It’s really kind of scary. I said,

---and I was like, ohmygosh! gag me witha bong, reeeeeeeeeally! let's go to la gahleria!

---"marking savvy" wow, she's good and knows how to mark???

so if I give this to my wife, after a while she gets an irresistable urge to wear Patchouli and sandals then? wow mann.

“I just casually picked up the bag and was reading the ingredients and I was like, ‘I don’t know what this stuff is.’ It’s really kind of scary. I said,

---sad! so many people in our culture are now taught to walk around with a highstrung fear of so many things! this is not what has made amerika a great nation, at least it used to be one.
locovore=loco

carbon footprint is a sham. western carbon guilt is a ripoff mann.

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overthemoon 4 years ago

but yet you enjoy fearmongering with a myopic vision of politics on a regular basis...so,....

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pace 4 years ago

Sounds like a good product with good ingredients. Cute name. I am tired of Americans not looking at labels. I want to buy food with my food dollars, not shelf life and artificial color.

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deec 4 years ago

I agree. If people really paid attention to what was in their food and how it is manufactured, they might make better choices. HFCS, anyone?

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number1jayhawker 4 years ago

Yep, don't eat foods or drinks with HFCS in it anymore. Lost 10 lbs and my bad cholesterol level went way down. Coincidence?

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mothernature 4 years ago

The headline to this story should really be " Local girl sells out to Corporate Big dogs...Can't Produce enough to Sell to Locals, Real Hippies, or the Lower Class." As much as I would be tempted to cash in on rich white Americas new found obsession with all things "hippie" too, I find this to be symptomatic of many problems with the food system in this country.

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overthemoon 4 years ago

Shame on you! She happened on to a great situation with a company that sells only the best of the best. What would you do, say 'no thanks, I'd rather sweat out farmer's markets and just sell to a few local outlets?' You did notice that she's in finance and getting an MBA, right?

I just hope she is able to maintain control over the company and turn it into a 'new business' that keeps a focus on quality and treats employees well. You know the really big dogs will be knocking on the door soon...Kraft, Nestle, etc. Then all will be lost. More sugar, more chemicals, and ad campaigns that drive up the cost.

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mothernature 4 years ago

I agree with you on product integrity and control, great point! What I don't agree with is that Dean and Deluca represents the best of the best. What they do represent, and what I was trying to get at above, is upper class America. (and over priced kitchen ware) We are talking about a company that caters to the upper crust and makes no bones about it. The ironic thing with this particular product is the name is a slap in the face to the natural food movement. The movement that represents a need for healthy food for all people not just the rich. I applaud Ms. MBA for her marketing smarts, but she inadvertently hurt her credit with the "granola munchers."...just opinions. I think there are bits of truth in everyone's opinions.

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overthemoon 4 years ago

There are lots of businesses that cater to people with money, that's their prerogative. Should we mandate that the rich shop at Aldies? D&D also caters to the foodies who may value unusual and rare items no matter what their 'class' is. Like me. I'm hardly upper class, but I do like browsing the racks at D&D and I bought some specialty bakeware when they sold it. They don't sell kitchen ware anymore. (I go there maybe once a year)

And since the article didn't mention what the cost of a bag of 'hippie chow' is, I don't know that it is exclusive at all. Neither do you. Besides, you can still go buy it at the farmer's market she sells it at without betraying your anti-D&D values. Frankly, farmer's market prices everywhere are higher. I understand all of the reasons why this is the case. This is partly an economic issue, but also an education issue in terms of letting people know the value of eating better and eating less.

I'm not sure how you can say that "Hippie Chow" is a slap in the face. Its funny. Sometimes things are just funny or clever. Walk through the Merc and you'll find all sorts of product names that are humorous that someone might take the wrong way.

BTW, I've been a Merc shopper since the 70's, fully support the whole foods movement, actively try to eat well, support local businesses and growers and all the rest. I am thrilled at every success each and every one of them has. A broader market for authentic good food is good for all of us.

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mothernature 4 years ago

Cheers my love....you are like a breath of fresh air!

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Mark Jakubauskas 4 years ago

Oh, c'mon. What a lame comment... no, a mean, hurtful comment. Take a deep breath. She's a successful entrepreneur who planned to start out small and got a great opportunity. Congratulate her, be happy for her success, and go take a long walk.

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booyalab 4 years ago

I just think it's funny that 1. apparently a food product that's sold nationally can be "local", do they leave that part out when they sell it in Florida grocery stores? Should us Kansas be concerned that local food producers are infringing on other local markets or that they're not saving all of their production for local markets (an economic fallacy, yeah, but then so is the whole "buy local" philosophy) ? Where do you draw the line with local righteousness? 2. when you can't be sure of..? or can't afford..? something locally made, per se....apparently locally purchased is good enough. Way to support local middle men!

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overthemoon 4 years ago

There are a lot of baseless assumptions being made here. One, Ms. Jennings does not appear, as a financial analyst and MBA candidate, to be anyone's stereotype of a 'hippie'. She simply makes a healthful and successful product with a cute name that includes that word. Two. Being aware of what one is eating, trying to cut the crud out of your diet, and living a healthy life is not a series of choices made only by 'libruls' or tie-dyed, dreadlocked, Grateful Dead groupies. Three. Ms. Jennings has only joined with the growing movement toward sustainable and healthful approach to our food supply is becoming more mainstream every day. It is ironic that those who promote initiative and entrepreneurship as a great American Virtue will knock those who are doing exactly that if they feel the product is the least bit threatening to their CheezWhiz and chemical laden red meat diet. Ms Jennings is showing that there is a free market demand for good food...and for that she is demonized. Get outa here!!

For those who do care about what they eat and drink, www.foodandwaterwatch.org is an excellent source of information.

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sherbert 4 years ago

Will 75% of ingredients still be purchased locally? Or, did locally just get bigger? Either way, WTG!

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dogsandcats 4 years ago

Where can I find a list of ingredients in this stuff? I went to her website and couldn't find it there. Irony?

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dogsandcats 4 years ago

Also, if she's so interested in serving the local Lawrence market, why does she sell at Overland Park farmer's market and not the Lawrence farmer's market?

Kind of odd to write a big feature story in a Lawrence newspaper about "local" product but you have to drive to Overland Park or buy it online to actually get the product.

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overthemoon 4 years ago

Maybe cuz she lives in Lenexa?? She is in town using the 'incubator' kitchen at the fair grounds which is an ingenious use of otherwise idle commercial grade kitchen. People can apply to use it to develop a food related business without having to invest in all that equipment on start-up money.

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booyalab 4 years ago

This article just proves the buy local philosophy now almost exclusively serves as a marketing tactic, and a pretty shrewd one at that. Although I think it's beginning to wear thin. Soon it will be sufficient for something to have been "locally shipped".

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