NECESSITY & FRIENDSHIP ARE THE SECRET INGREDIENTS
Wyandot, Inc. started from a dream to keep the family farm of W. Hoover and Ava Brown going. “With our farm income depressed, and with Ava’s encouragement, I decided to go into the popcorn processing business. We thought this would bolster our income and, at the same time, allow me to continue to operate the family farm. In early May 1936, I planted 100 acres of popcorn,” said Hoover. The idea was sound and Wyandot grew steadily during the depression years, as popcorn became a favorite inexpensive treat for people throughout the country.
Wyandot, capitalizing on Marion County’s rich agricultural heritage, developed special hybrids for popcorn of extraordinary eating quality. They created a subsidiary, Popped-Right Corn Company, to focus on ready-to- eat popcorn for theater chains. Expanding on that is where friendship and know-how came into play.
Around 1950, Popped-Right was interested in developing a line of caramel coated popcorn. Hoover Brown turned to his friend and fellow Marion enterpreneur, Bert Shirk, who had years of experience in caramel corn production for his local confectionary business, Shirk’s Candy. Bert’s knowledge and unique recipe were instrumental in creating a wonderful new product, which Ava Brown named Golden Crisp Caramel Corn.
Through Popped-Right, Wyandot positioned itself as a strategic supplier to regional chip manufacturers, producing a full line of corn-based snacks. And, the basic recipe held its own. At one time, Wyandot was the world’s leading exporter of popcorn, shipping to 75 countries and accounting for nearly one quarter of the total global sales of popcorn.
Wyandot became a multi-generational business for the Brown family. Hoover and Ava’s sons, George, Warren, and David, and grandsons, Brooks and Doug, have all been involved as executives and board members. And, when you have a family business, you understand the importance of taking care of your family.
In 1996, Wyandot suffered a fire at its Marion manufacturing facility. That morning, as hundreds of devastated teammates gathered near the destroyed facility, company leaders quickly reassured them that Wyandot would be back, better than ever. In recognition of their many years of loyalty, Wyandot spent more than $1 million keeping 300+ out-of-work teammates on the payroll, paying 60 percent of their wages throughout the 8-month recovery. And, recognizing the unique skill of their workforce, the company awarded returning workers a $1,000 bonus.
Today, Wyandot remains a family-owned, professionally managed organization led by Rob Sarlls. It is an industry leader in corn and plant-based snacks and has since shifted its main focus to the Better For You snack arena. Wyandot currently supplies products for many well-known names such as McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Bob Evans, Hippeas, and Maya Kaimal. In addition to these private labels, Wyandot also has their own Munch Rights brand that can be purchased in the Dollar Tree and Rural King store chains with other retailers coming soon.
Wyandot, just like popcorn itself, demonstrates how big things can explode from just a kernel of an idea.