By Paul T. Choate
Aug. 6, 2012. When High Country resident Liz Riddick started making kale chips four years ago she never imagined what a commercial success they would be. Now, only three months after starting her new business, she is selling out of around 300 bags of “Kale Yeah” dehydrated kale chips every week.
Riddick founded Alive and Kickin Foods, INC. on May 5, 2012 to start commercially marketing her kale chips and it has truly been a small business success story so far.
“About four years ago I did a raw foods diet and I came upon a recipe on the Internet for kale chips – dried, dehydrated kale chips – so they’re not cooked above 115 degrees. So, they maintain their nutritional value and enzymes for digestion. I did it and I was like, ‘Well this is pretty good, but not good enough,’” said Riddick. “So I kept playing around with it and adding different ingredients over the last three years. Last fall I made the best batch and I was like, ‘This is it.’”
Riddick said her chips gained tremendous popularity among her friends. They would frequently ask her when she would be making another batch and eventually encouraged her to start selling them.
When she began selling them at the Watauga County Farmers’ Market she said she was initially going through about 100 bags per week. She is now selling around 300 bags per week and going through about 150 to 200 pounds of raw kale per week to make them.
She is no longer just selling them at the Farmers’ Market either. Her kale chips are now available at local retailers such as Bare Essentials Natural Market, Grandfather Country Store, Maw’s Produce, the gift shop at Mast Farm Inn, Blowing Rock Market and Blowing Rock Produce and Provisions.
So how would Riddick describe her first few months in business? “It’s incredible! I just shipped my first online order to Louisiana. I’ve had them shipped to France by people at the Farmers’ Market. I had a lady from Russia want me to ship them there. I’ve had stores in [Washington] D.C. and Greensboro request them. If I could triple or quadruple my production I could go crazy.” She added that about 80 percent of the people at the Farmers’ Market who try a sample buy a bag afterward and also that, based on her observations, even young children enjoy the snack.
Based on the local success of the chips, Riddick said she is hoping to expand business to the Asheville market as the next step.
Riddick is a supporter of shopping local and makes sure to get her kale locally. The majority of it comes from Matt Cooper of Lively Up Farm in Valle Crucis and from Brooke Kornegay of Appalachian State University’s Sustainable Development farm. She also occasionally gets kale from a local distributor, Lett-Us-Produece.
There is about a half a head of kale – the equivalent of about two kale salads – in every bag and Riddick feels strongly about the importance of kale in a healthy diet.
“It’s one of the healthiest things you can eat,” she said. “Kale is considered one of the super foods and because it is a dehydrated, raw food it’s like eating a raw kale salad with nuts and vegetables in it – but it actually tastes really good.”
In addition to “Kale Yeah,” Riddick also takes broken chips and bottles them. She calls this “Shake” and says of it, “It is good on so many things like popcorn, and potatoes and pasta. You can mix it with sour cream and make dip. It’s good on everything.”
“Kale Yeah” is currently made by Riddick in the Ashe County Commercial Kitchen – a location she expanded to upon realizing how many bags of chips she would need to produce each week to meet the growing demand. She hopes to continue to expand her business as time goes on, saying, “I’d like for it to be a household staple.”
And as for the humorous name?
“When you taste it you’re like, ‘Wow, Kale Yeah!’”
“Kale Yeah” is available for $5 at the Watauga County Farmers’ Market. You can also pick up a bag for $5.99 (before tax) at several local retailers (listed above). T-shirts are also available for $12.
For more information about “Kale Yeah,” visit kale-yeah.com.
Correction: A previous version of this article said “Kale Yeah” chips were available at the Blowing Rock Farmers’ Market. “Kale Yeah” chips are not available at the Blowing Rock Farmers’ Market, but rather at the Blowing Rock Market. The story above has been revised to reflect this correction.
Video by Jyoti Suri & Daniel Paustian