Meet Amanda Henke, an owner of Annie B’s. In Kellogg, Minnesota where the population is a mere 456, the company is making popcorn and caramel that has been named by Oprah as one of her “favorite things” and has become available in all 50 states.
July 4th will be here tomorrow, a day to celebrate the spirit of America and remember its independence with gatherings, all types of events, and lots of foods. So, who better to talk to than an inspirational person who is living the American dream as a business owner with a passion for something we all love? Caramel.
Amanda and Justin Henke are the parents and entrepreneurs that own Annie B’s. Their story began when Amanda was pregnant with frequent cravings for caramel. She didn’t want just any caramel, she wanted the good stuff. This desire led the couple to Annie B’s, a business that had been in operation since 1978. It was owned by a family that enjoyed making homemade caramel as holiday gifts for friends and family members. But, due to its authentic taste and demand, it was launched as a business.
In 2013, the Henkes bought the company as the original owners were retiring, and they continued to take pride in delicious, handcrafted caramel derived from locally sourced ingredients. Amanda then decided to update the brand by refreshing the logo, the packaging, and the colors. “We were honored to be named one of Oprah’s Favorite Things in 2014, and I believe trusting ourselves to update the brand to fit our vision was the initial contributing factor for such great recognition,” she says. The Creative Director of O Magazine obviously shares in this sentiment after being attracted to the Annie B’s booth and enjoying the products enough to take some to Oprah.
Individually wrapped, natural and gluten free, there are currently 18 year-round and seasonal flavors with new flavors being made available 2-3 times annually. Annie B’s also has baking caramel, gift sets, caramel apple kits, and small batch popcorn in a range of flavors. There are recipes along with beautiful images shared on their blog as well.
When speaking with Amanda, her excitement and passion for Annie B’s quickly becomes apparent as she shares inspiration and talks more about the company.
Q: Annie B’s was listed as one of Oprah’s favorite things. That is an incredible honor. What was the first thing you did when you got that call?
Amanda Henke: We were so lucky to receive that call! We jumped up and down and laughed for about 5 minutes, then we got right to work setting up our Pop-Up Shop in St. Paul and prepping everyone for the excitement ahead.
Q: Annie B’s definitely has a very modern and authentic feel to it. I’ve read that when you first took over the company you re-branded it. How nervous were you to take on the task of overhauling the old image? What inspired the choices for the changes you made?
AH: I wasn’t nervous to overhaul the old image, I was really excited to do it. Annie B’s has been in business since 1978 and I believe their image has remained the same for most of that time. Rebranding was a way for me to kick off a new phase in the life of the company, and to put our personality into the brand. I wanted to keep the nostalgic feel that goes so well with caramels and popcorn, but I wanted to give it a more modern design and lighten it up a bit. We went from a very dark red logo to a bright yellow one, with white and grey accents. Our re-branded logo is what attracted Oprah’s team to us in the first place, so I think we made the right decision.
Q: Your company makes sure to use ingredients that are organic and locally sourced. Along with having so many available flavors and often making new ones, you also maintain a beautiful blog. It’s obvious there is a lot of passion in your business. How do you stay so motivated?
AH: While we can’t claim use of organic ingredients yet (that’s a future goal), we use natural ingredients that are locally sourced whenever possible. Thank you for your kindness regarding my blog, I have fun plans for it and I can’t wait to see how it evolves. I think it’s easy to stay inspired when your job is fun, which mine really is. We have an AWESOME team of hard-working passionate people, whose energy and excitement just feed our own. Owning our own business and knowing that we are responsible for our livelihood as well as that of our employees is also really motivating.
Q: What advice could you give other parents who are also entrepreneurs in regards to pursuing their dream business?
AH: If you are lucky enough to work for yourself doing something you love, it’s easy to work more often than you should and to want to take control of everything. Schedule time for work, time with your family and time for yourself. We have a two-year old son who we want to spend all of our free time with, so we make an effort to leave work AT WORK when 5:00 rolls around. We leave our laptops in our office, and we set our phones aside, and just have fun hanging out together. I work much more efficiently and with much better results if I take time to step away from work for a bit and recharge. It helps to have terrific employees who you can feel confident delegating to once in awhile.
Check out these wonderful photographs by Red Bird Hills Photography to see some of what Annie B’s has to offer:
*Many thanks to Shannah Henderson for allowing me to share these.