Oklahoma City resident Gina Hollingsworth never imagined that a bit of leftover fruit would one day lead her to a small business venture.
Hollingsworth was living her dream job, rubbing elbows with some of the biggest names in the music industry in Nashville, when a new career for her husband brought the couple to the Sooner State.
“I had no idea what I was going to do in Oklahoma, but I was curious to find out,” Hollingsworth says.
In Nashville, she worked as the executive assistant to the president and CEO of Sony/ATV Music Publishing. Every week, her former boss brought in fresh fruit for industry meetings, and at the end of each week, Hollingsworth would collect the leftover fruit and use it to bake muffins, pies and other goodies. Eventually, her coworkers began to complain of their expanding waistlines, so she switched to fresh apple spread instead.
“Everyone loved it,” she says. “They wanted me to keep filling up their jars, and lots of people encouraged me to market it.”
After the move to Oklahoma, Hollingsworth decided to make her popular apple spread for a local charity show. With close to 40 jars prepared, she was in for a surprise when more than 500 sold.
“I couldn’t make it fast enough. I was on backorder and people would call me to order more,” she says. “Since then, I never stopped making it. I canned over 2,000 jars of apple spread in about eight months.”
Recognizing the opportunity of a potential business, Hollingsworth contacted the Made in Oklahoma program and Oklahoma State University (OSU) for guidance on how to get her product from the kitchen to the grocery store shelf. She named the business Southern Okie, stemming from her southern Kentucky and Tennessee roots, and new home, Oklahoma.
After talking with Made in Oklahoma Program Director Julie Sears, Southern Okie soon hit the shelves at Whole Foods and was in talks for selling at other locations.
Proud to be Oklahoma Made
Southern Okie is just one of many Oklahoma businesses benefiting from the Made in Oklahoma program. Started in the late 1980s, the program assists companies by collectively promoting awareness and garnering consumer loyalty for Oklahoma products through marketing activities. It currently has more than 350 members statewide.
“Southern Okie is a great example of one of the many companies in the Made in Oklahoma program that has a true passion for what they do. And it shows,” Sears says. “We’ve assisted them by offering opportunities for potential sales through contacts with local retailers, trade show opportunities and media outlets.”
Hollingsworth can’t say enough positive things about the program, crediting it, the resources at OSU and the Made in Oklahoma Coalition, for her success.
“They’ve helped me get into larger trade shows where I picked up two national accounts. I’m also in two stores in Germany,” she says.
Her company has now expanded to four gourmet fruit spread flavors – apple, pumpkin, peach and pear – and Hollingsworth says she plans to launch a strawberry flavor.
She adds that organizations like Made in Oklahoma support the entire economy of Oklahoma, creating a positive effect for all.
“There are a lot of companies here with wonderful food products,” Hollingsworth says. “These programs help small businesses and our economy big time. As I like to say, let’s keep it in the family.”