I take 5 minutes in the morning to write out my schedule for the day, and I do my best to stick to that schedule.
Amanda Henke is the owner of Annie B’s popcorn and caramels. Handcrafted in small town USA, these treats are sure to be a hit at any celebration! Annie B’s caramels and popcorn is a family-owned company located in Kellogg, Minnesota. This isn’t just any caramel company; Annie B’s prides itself on using natural ingredients and offering a completely gluten-free line of products. Each beautifully wrapped caramel is made using local products including milk, butter, sugar, condensed milk, and natural flavoring. The caramel is slow cooked in copper pots through small-batch cooking. Each piece is made by hand, with the exception of cutting and wrapping of the caramels. Handcrafted candy the way it used to be made in eras bygone, Annie B’s is so good, that Oprah named them one of her “favorite things.”
Where did the idea of a handcrafted caramel and popcorn company come from?
The company’s founders, Tom & Carol, liked to make caramels out of their kitchen as holiday gifts for family and friends. Everyone thought the caramels were so delicious, that they convinced Tom & Carol to start selling them, which they finally did in 1978. My husband and I were interested in caramels because I was craving them like crazy when I was pregnant but wanted to make them using natural or organic ingredients. After many attempts to make caramels in our own kitchen, we were introduced to Annie B’s and the timing seemed perfect, so we purchased the company in 2013.
What does your typical day look like?
Every day is different and we are as organized as we can be, but we have to be flexible. I’m in charge of Marketing and Product Development, so today I’m answering emails and social media messages in the morning, then I’m working on designing some personalized labels for custom orders. Following that, I will work on a blog post for our blog, asweetasalt.com, and then I’m meeting with Justin and our VP of sales regarding an update on our website and also plans for a new building location to accommodate our recent growth. Justin is CEO of the company and oversees day-to-day operations, so he is typically in a number of meetings each day, either with our internal teams regarding sales, production, etc, or external sources regarding growth opportunities and new plans. This evening, we are attending the taping of a podcast that we are sponsoring called ‘The Weekend Starts Now,’ but we usually spend our evenings with our 2-year-old son, August.
How do you bring products to life?
This is one of the best parts of the job. I love cooking and reading cookbooks, food blogs, food magazines, and anything food-related that I can. These offer a lot of inspiration for recipes that use our baking caramel, which I test and share on our blog. We also love trying new caramel flavors, which I gather inspiration for in everyday life. I can pinpoint lightbulb moments in particular that inspired our flavors Egg Nog, Cinnamon, and Coconut (brand new as of June!). We are also working on some new products too, which will be different than anything else out there as far as I know. A focus on texture is guiding us as much as flavor.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Making ice cream at home! Maybe it’s because we’ve had a few hot days here in Minnesota, but I’m really inspired by all of the possibilities with this trend. We have a delicious recipe for salted caramel ice cream that is up on the blog for the Fourth of July, and it’s totally customizable. You could even add a little rum or bourbon for an adult-friendly treat.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I take 5 minutes in the morning to write out my schedule for the day, and I do my best to stick to that schedule. I have a certain time set aside to check emails, and, when I’m working on other things, I keep my email closed so I don’t get distracted. This habit is awesome because I LOVE crossing things off of a list, as it makes me feel accomplished.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I’ve loved most of my jobs! However, I was a breakfast waitress at a golf course, which meant 5:30 a.m. start times and hungry golfers in a hurry to make their tee-times. I learned that smiles and good manners go far, but what everyone really wants is exactly what they order, relatively quickly. In other words, put your energy toward listening and getting it right for your customer and if for some reason you don’t get it right, apologize and cut them a deal.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Take the time to sit and really plan things out, which we are getting much better at doing now. When we took the business on, we were so eager to make some changes to fit our vision, that we made some quick decisions that ended up being just ok, not great. It’s easy for me to be impatient and want to launch something as soon as it is truly ready. However, when it’s well thought out and properly planned, it is easier and more successful in the long run.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
We are trying to keep it exciting! People love new stuff, so don’t let your customers get bored.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
When we took the company over, we refreshed our branding with an updated logo and new colors. We kept the nostalgic feel of the previous look but made it a little more clean and modern. This has opened doors to companies and influencers who may not have noticed us before. Our new logo and look are what attracted O Magazine’s Creative Director to our booth at a trade show, and once he tasted our product he was hooked. We were eventually given Oprah’s stamp of approval!
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
We are still learning how to delegate responsibility and trust others with big jobs. It’s easy to want to do everything yourself and take total control, but we are finding that it’s much more effective to hire people who are smarter than we are and let them take control in their areas of expertise. It’s really fun and inspiring to learn from them too.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
This is one I’ve been mulling over for a decade and would love to devote time to it if I could. A fast food option that is actually fast, healthy, delicious, and reasonably-priced could be huge. It would have to be something that people want to eat, look forward to eating, and crave. That means it should be filling and should be flavorful. Not a place that counts calories, but rather a place that feeds nutritious and wholesome foods, like vegetables, fruits, and lean protein. I’d be a regular customer, for sure.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I will eat almost anything, but I will not eat a banana.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
We use Google for calendars, email, and sharing files, which we find to be really seamless and user-friendly.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recommend ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’, which was recommended to me by a former boss of mine. This is a great read to help stay ahead of the game. It doesn’t let you get too comfortable with your business practices.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
I have always looked up to Diane Von Furstenberg. She’s a strong, beautiful woman whose goal is to encourage other women to feel confident and beautiful as well. She was very successful at a young age but isn’t big-headed about it. She always gives pragmatic and clear advice that seems to genuinely stem from her own experiences. Plus, her dresses really are brilliant.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.