Suan Grant’s friends often said she should bottle her hot pepper jelly and sell it.
Grant took that suggestion to heart after her husband passed away following an eight-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Her determination, plus the invaluable help from Oklahoma agencies, made her dream a reality.
Today, the owner of Suan’s Foods credits statewide resources for molding her business. She says that the Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center at Oklahoma State University provided the education that solidified her business foundation, and the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the Made in Oklahoma Coalition gave her the means to market to the public.
In fact, these organizations funded a booth for her and other food makers at the Dallas Gourmet Market, a national food show in Texas. Grant’s jelly won the Gold Award for Best in Class, which introduced her products to small businesses across the country.
“It was like a springboard for my business,” a grateful Grant says.
More like a catapult. Today, her Jamaican-inspired Scotch bonnet pepper jelly is sold at more than 170 stores in 17 states. The business opportunity enriched her life and widened her horizons. She gives credit to her home state.
“I know that I’m fortunate to be in Oklahoma,” Grant says. “I don’t think we realize the resources we have here. The Food & Agricultural Products Center and Made in Oklahoma Coalition are two of the most outstanding programs in the United States, and we should be very proud of what they do and how they promote the state.”
The center at OSU provides resources to businesses resources to businesses and entrepreneurs as it strives to keep jobs and revenue in Oklahoma.
Benefits of the Coalition
The Made in Oklahoma Coalition partners with the ODAFF to promote awareness and consumer loyalty for Oklahoma food, says David Brooks, spokesperson for the coalition. The collective marketing project started in 2000, when six food manufacturers worked together to increase sales. Today, 42 dedicated food companies, about 100 restaurants and more than 100 retailers take part.
Company membership is exclusive to Oklahoma food makers who market their products to retail grocers and food service establishments. With minimum annual dues, the members receive public relations and marketing services to help them grow their businesses. They range from ice cream companies to natural beef products to sauces and salsa of all types.
Restaurants that feature Made in Oklahoma Coalition products on their menus can be considered a Made in Oklahoma Restaurant. Likewise, retailers that sell these products can become Made in Oklahoma Retailers.
The coalition website features links to all the Oklahoma businesses, restaurants and retailers that participate in the program, as well as recipes that utilize these products.
An iPhone application makes the connection even easier. Oklahoma-made products are organized by category and full searchable, and you can find local restaurants near your, wherever you may be in the state. Search “Made in Oklahoma” in the Apple Store to download the app.
Studies show 87 percent of Oklahomans would support local products if they knew about them, Brooks says. At the start of the marketing campaign, only 3 percent of respondents could name multiple Oklahoma food companies. By the 10th year, nearly 30 percent named multiple companies.
“Our mission is to remind Oklahomans what companies are Oklahoma companies, and it apparently is working,” Brooks says.
Today, those food companies employ about 25,000 people and generate $3.5 billion in annual sales, he says. About 15 percent of their business is in the state and 85 percent exported, credited in part to out-of-state marketing campaigns.
A solid relationship with customers and meetings among members give the program its successful foundation, Brooks says. Company representatives continue to meet face-to-face on a monthly basis.
Even Grant joins in.
“Where a lot of small companies go wrong is they don’t join the coalition,” she says.
Grant credits 95 percent of her business sales to accommodations of the Made in Oklahoma Coalition and the Food & Agricultural Products Center.
“I could not ask for better support,” she says. “Just the richness of knowledge and mentoring, I could not have done what I have done without the two of them.”