St. Louis Park, Minn. — Kari Lee Beutell appears undaunted by the 60,000 pounds of apple crisp baking mix behind her, waiting to be put in one-pound packages.
After all, that’s how she and husband Tom started Kari Lee’s Country Mix Company eight years ago. “We swept the floors, cleaned, hand-scooped and filled every package that left our place,” Beutell says. “You have to do everything at the beginning yourself. … If you don’t, you can’t teach others how you want it done.”
Today, Kari Lee’s manufactures in a 4,500-square-foot building and has 15 employees, yet the Beutells keep eyes and hands on every detail. Attention to the little things goes as far as how employees roll the coffee-style bags closed or how many decorations to attach with a glue gun.
Flavors and easy fixin’s
The fixation on fine points has landed a dozen Kari Lee home-baking products in stores such as Williams-Sonoma and Cracker Barrel.
“We have 13 different products,” Beutell says. “The biggest seller is Apple Crisp Mix. We do have a company that blends it. … We get a truckload of Apple Crisp Mix every week, and we re-package it, from 50-pound bags to one-pound packages.” Other mixes, from Apple Cinnamon and Blueberry ’n Bran muffins to Fruit Cobbler and Cinnamon Swirl Coffeecake, are manufactured on site.
Packaged in plaid bags and aimed at family cooks who want time-saving ways to fresh-baked goods, the mixes sell at farmers markets, gift shops and other niche markets. Even the print on Kari Lee’s Country Mix products is a carefully crafted appeal. “Nothing is more comforting than our homemade Apple Crisp still warm from your oven. Juicy apples, tucked under our oat crumble topping, make a perfect treat year-round.”
Pinpoint your prospects
“You have to really research your customers and make sure that you have a product needed in the marketplace,” Beutell says.
“We didn’t go out and try to get as many accounts as we could. We pinpointed our market — ‘this is a product that would be good in Cracker Barrel.’ We didn’t spend a lot of money on direct mailings; we chose the customers we thought our product would work for, and it did work. It grew fast at the beginning.”
That fast growth was difficult, especially with children ages 2 and 4, Beutell says. She and Tom tried to balance work with family, even as Tom’s job moved him around the country.
Now Kari Lee’s is permanently based in St. Louis Park. Tom “runs the business,” Beutell says, “and my side is product development, sales and marketing. He loves doing production and managing people. I bring in sales and promote the company.
“For us, it was always our dream to do a business together and work together.”