Things are looking sweet for Raglan businessman Bill Neal, as his popcorn company rockets from market stall to supermarket shelf.
The Sweet As kettle corn maker has hit the big time by supplying Hamilton Pak’n Save stores.
The first bag of Mr Neal’s home-made, slightly sweet and slightly salty kettle corn was sold at the Frankton markets just eight months ago, but now he had a dedicated popcorn lab to develop his flavours and a $400,000 popcorn maker from Chicago.
Hailing from San Diego, the keen surfer moved to Raglan six years ago and began working as a contractor before a back injury left him looking to try something else.
Bringing kettle corn to New Zealand had crossed Mr Neal’s mind, but it was not until his then-one-year-old son Ryan chose “popcorn” as his first word that he knew it was the right move.
Within five months, the popularity of this gluten and dairy-free snack meant that Mr Neal’s one-man show in the garage at his Raglan home could no longer keep up with demand.
Now with a fully automated production facility he has gone from turning out 32 bags an hour to 100,000 bags a week, and supplies not only supermarket demand but school shops and has even expanded his flavour range with a kiwi-style light caramel corn.
“Everyone loves it and this is the funnest thing I’ve ever done, I get so many smiles and I make people’s day. I’m living the dream,” said Mr Neal.
Kettle corn takes its name from the giant cauldron-style kettle used to make it. Once popped, the corn is caramelised with just the right amount of sugar – 30 per cent less than Americans like – and finished off with a good dash of salt.
Sweet As Popcorn kettle corn maker Bill Neal has gone from backyard popcorn maker to major supermarket supplier.