Herald Journal Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, March 18, 2002

Red, white and blue popcorn is signature of Lester Prairie farmer

By Ryan Gueningsman

Lester Prairie area farmer Larry Michaletz was the talk of WCCO's "Snacks and Facts" segment recently.

This program features two state legislators who come in to discuss current issues ­ as well as a unique snack.

Senator Steve Dille was one of two featured legislators last Friday. He brought Michaletz's unique brand of Nature's Prairie red, white, and blue popcorn with him to the studio in Minneapolis.

"Lester Prairie is in my senate district," Dille said on the show. "There is a farmer and his wife, by the name of Larry and Catherine Michaletz, who are producing a red, white, and blue popcorn. It's very patriotic."

Although it comes unpopped, Dille made some the night before and brought it in for people in the studio to try out.

"When it pops, it comes out white, but it's red, white, and blue naturally," Dille said.

The red, white and blue corn is a product that was developed by the Michaletzes at their farm outside of Lester Prairie.

"We took three types of popcorn to make this blend. We got the idea about 10 years ago ­ to add value to the products we produce. We looked for something we could do that would complement our corn, soy bean, and grain farm. At that time, we were thinking about popcorn as an alternative," Michaletz said.

The Michaletzes knew that competing with the traditional brands of white and yellow popcorn would be tough.

"We started throwing the idea around of colored popcorn. We wanted something that not only had a good look to it, but would have some food value, too," he said.

"The red, white, and blue seemed to work the best," Michaletz said.

From there, it was ­ and continues to be ­ a process of learning marketing, distribution, packaging, name identity, and just ensuring people that it's a natural product.

"Now, consumers want to know a little bit more about where their food is coming from, the quality of it, and the safeness of it. I think one of the ways we can improve that is to make the traceability back to the farmer," he said. "It's important to me to have that interaction with the people that are buying my popcorn."

Michaletz refers to the book The Encyclopedia of Farm Knowledge, that he has used as reference for many aspects of business that make sense even in today's world, even though it was copyrighted in 1919.

"It's basic stuff ­ but it tells me a lot of things about marketing today," he said.

With the events of Sept. 11, Michaletz feels it is ironic that they decided to stick with the red, white, and blue colors through the years because of the amount of patriotism that has been shown since the attacks.

"We've always tried to say that we produce something in the hometown, here in the United States," Michaletz said.

A majority of the business the Michaletzes get is from small retail shops across Minnesota that offer their popcorn for sale.

Lester Prairie's own Prairie Gift Shop has been a provider of the delicacy for several years.

"We appreciate the small towns. My farm is my storefront. It's just easier this way to have the retailers out there," he said.

What also makes the Michaletzes' business unique is that popcorn is rarely grown in Minnesota.

"Most of the corn is produced in some of our neighboring states ­ mostly because the growing season is a little longer."

Right now the Michaletzes consider their popcorn a family business, doing most of the work at their farm themselves.

"As we expand, we'll have to do other things, but it's mainly a family business right now," he said.

Expanding is going to take some time, but already they have created two seasonings ­ butter seasoning, and caramel seasoning, he said.

"We always got to keep thinking ahead. We find our product fits the buyer that wants something unique," Michaletz said.


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