From pound cake to produce to honey sriracha potato chips, meet a few of the CALS students and young alumni who are taking the North Carolina food industry to the next level.
BY STACY CHANDLER
North Carolina is known for a lot of famous foods — Mt. Olive pickles and Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Pepsi and Cheerwine — but when he was still an undergraduate, Josh Monahan noticed something missing: potato chips.
An agribusiness management student, Monahan decided to fill that niche by founding his company, 1in6 Snacks, in 2016. Three years later, 1in6’s Carolina Kettle Chips are on grocery store shelves across the tri-state area.
“I’m involved with a little bit of everything,” Monahan says, from strategic planning right down to driving the delivery truck.
1in6 Snacks takes its name from a statistic that caught Monahan’s attention back in his dorm room at CALS: at the time, he read, 1 in 6 people in the U.S. didn’t know where their next meal would come from. He already knew he wanted to start a company; now that company had a cause.
A portion of the proceeds from every 1in6 snack sold is donated to a local food bank. So far, that’s over $40,000, Monahan says, which covers more than 175,000 meals.
With 1in6 headquartered in a storefront on Hillsborough Street, Monahan travels to trade shows and festivals to get his product in the hands of potential new fans.
“It’s fun,” he says. “It doesn’t seem like actual work.”
He’s also had a hand in developing the (for now) 13 flavors of Carolina Kettle Chips, from Bee Sting Honey Sriracha to The “Mama Gin” Dill Pickle, named after Monahan’s grandmother.
“The part that I like best,” he says, “is dealing with different seasoning companies to really perfect the flavors and figure out what’s trending and what would really do well where we are.”
Besides, he adds, “Who doesn’t like samples?”
Other snack food forays are on the horizon. As the company grows, Monahan can refer back to lessons he learned as an agribusiness management student not so long ago.
Some classwork, he admits, didn’t seem terribly pertinent at the time, “but a lot of it comes in handy,” he sees now. “You’ll be like, ‘Oh wait, I learned this in class.’”
BY KATELYN FERRAL
Baking pound cakes to the sound of soul music: It’s Southern, it’s sweet and it’s the inspiration behind junior Kye Parker’s first business venture.
After a breakup, childhood memories of baking as a form of Southern food therapy sparked Kye Parker’s idea for a business. The 24-year old junior from Raleigh recently launched a pound cake company using a new twist on the Southern staple.
“I didn’t want a traditional recipe, story or even business model,” Parker says. “I wanted to challenge myself by using a poor man’s baking technique similar to what they used during the Great Depression. … For me, it was about going back to the roots.”
Baking-centered entrepreneurship runs in Parker’s family. Her great-grandmother whipped up sweet potato pies to sell to the butcher. Her grandmother sold cakes to folks from church.
So, when her relationship ended, Parker marched into the kitchen to concoct the cake that began her love affair with them all: butter vanilla. She tinkered with the recipe for several weeks – the batter had to be right, the flavors balanced. After hitting the mark, she came up with a business name from the “tender loving care” she says she did not get from her ex-boyfriend. This cake would instead be a TLC: “Taste Like Carolina.”
Soon after, Parker transferred to NC State. Last year, she joined the Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program, a hands-on business training initiative of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and the Poole College of Management that gives students access to the expertise of local business owners.
Taste Like Carolina cakes are baked in small disposable containers that look like hockey pucks. Parker is working with restaurants and grocery stores who plan to sell her cakes throughout the Triangle. A basic cake without icing costs about $5. She’s also working on a skincare line.
“The business has evolved from a simple concept to a triple bottom line model,” Parker says. “Learning how to structure the business has been challenging, but the professors at NC State have helped me in so many ways.”
Because her work with the business management program was so helpful, she plans to transfer into the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics in the spring. Having mentors with real-life business experience has been crucial, Parker says.
“The professors here are absolutely amazing at taking the material and applying it to a real-life situation,” Parker says.
BY KATELYN FERRAL
Seven years ago, growing vegetables on an acre of family farmland was just a way for Collin Blalock to earn some summer cash.
Now, the 22-year-old from Wilson is leading a produce and flower enterprise, Collin’s Produce LLC, spanning 25 acres.
Don’t get him wrong; that first summer was real rough. No tractor, no extra hands. Blalock planted and picked vegetables by himself and wanted to stop when the season ended. His father convinced him to try it for one more year and, with the help of a tractor, things improved.
Collin’s Produce now has four employees and offers 15 different types of fruits and vegetables, including watermelon, cantaloupe, cabbage, corn, collards, kale, cucumbers, squash, butter beans and peas. Sales have increased by more than 100 percent in the last two years.
“The only thing we sell is what we grow,” Blalock says. “Everything the customer gets is picked within a short amount of time before they take it back to their house … like if they were to pick it from their own garden and bring it back to their table.”
He provides produce and flowers to five grocery stores and four florists in the Wilson area. His newest addition is a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program at NC State, the Centennial Campus Produce Box.
Blalock graduated from CALS in May and is now heading into a master’s program in crop science. His undergraduate degree has been fundamental to his business, he says, teaching him some core skills for running an agriculture-based business: how to efficiently grow and manage crops, effectively use fertilizer and manage pests.
Blalock says he has been surprised and humbled by the support people have given him and his business.
“I didn’t expect it,” he says. “Expanding the farm would be my dream … to support my family and build a career.”