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Extension Educators Help Cook Up Business

Kalista Johnston of Garrett knew she had something special on her hands when friends of friends started calling to ask about the crispy cheese snacks she'd created. She was even more certain after speaking with a Purdue University Extension educator.

Crisp Idea

Photo by Tom Campbell

Kalista Johnston perfected the recipe for Baked Cheese Crisps in her home kitchen, and Purdue Extension helped her convert it to a commercial enterprise.

"I was following a low-carb diet, and I just needed to fill that gaping hole for something that crunches," she said. "The traditional snacks that we all grew up on just don't exist in that diet, so I set about making one up."

And she did, with quite a bit of success. Later this year Grace Island Specialty Foods, Inc., will start shipping Baked Cheese Crisps from a production facility in northeast Indiana. "It's not a very fancy or a very original name, but it does give a solid description so that people know what they're getting," she said. Her crisps are made from cheese, sesame seeds, and a few secret ingredients.

While Johnston developed the crisps to help her stick to a low-carb diet, they have other benefits.

"The product has two additional markets: the gourmet market and the health sensitivities market, because it is a gluten-free product. But right now I'm focusing on entering one market first and then expanding into the others," said Johnston.

Purdue Partnership

Marketing’s Four P’s

Making a good product is only the first step. The next—and equally important—step is to sell it. And that means marketing.

These four P’s should work together in a new business’s marketing mix. Selecting an effective marketing mix takes time and effort, but the payoff will be satisfied customers and business profits.

  • 1. Product
    The right product to satisfy the
    needs of target customers
  • 2. Price
    The right product offered at the
    right price
  • 3. Place
    The right product at the right price available in the right place for customers to purchase
  • 4. Promotion
    Informing potential customers of a product’s availability, its price, and
    its place

Johnston is finalizing package designs, deciding which facility to set up in, and taking care of last-minute details. She's already written a business plan, done a market analysis, and had the product tested by a sensory panel, all with help from Purdue, especially from Vickie Hadley, a Purdue Extension educator in Allen County and member of the New Ventures Team.

"It's hard to even begin to list all the help I've gotten from Purdue. Vickie pointed me to the right people and in the right direction," said Johnston. "She also was very instrumental in helping me work my way through the grant writing process."

Purdue Extension educators are often the best way to get to know what kind of help is out there, said David Petritz, director of Purdue Extension.

"Extension educators are the front door to many Purdue Extension and Purdue University programs," he said. "They have the contacts and expertise to really help you get your business off to a good start."

For her part, Hadley said helping Johnston was a delight. She first met Johnston while offering NX Level training. NX Level is a hands-on business plan development 

workshop series designed to help entrepreneurs advance their skills in starting, growing, and managing their business. Hadley is a certified NX Level instructor.

"Kalista came to me as an entrepreneur with several years of experience in business, but no hands-on knowledge of food businesses," said Hadley. Johnston had actually started two successful businesses prior to this venture. One was a theatre set-design company, and the other a proofreading and copy-editing company.

"My role was to make sure she got the help she needed when she needed it, whether that was writing a business plan, figuring out what the packaging should look like, or doing a sensory panel to find out how well people liked her product," said Hadley.

Petritz said that the relationship between Hadley and Johnston is a great example of how an Extension educator and an entrepreneur can team up to make things happen.

"Vickie has been absolutely fantastic," said Johnston. "Her expertise was invaluable."