Derrick Chiongbian first sampled kettle corn popcorn in the United States in 2003, and he got so hooked on the sweet-and-salty flavor that he found himself eating a bag everyday for weeks. He thought it would click with Filipinos, so in May 2004 he invited a friend, Aristotle Alipon, to pool P500,000 to set up a company, Blue Kettle Corp., and start making Holy Kettle Corn. They used most of the money to fabricate equipment, buy corn, create packaging and hire staff, and in July 2004 they opened their first booth in Alabang Town Center. Holy Kettle Corn hasn’t stopped popping corn since.
Chiongbian owns a children’s salon in the United States, where he has lived for the past 10 years, and is a partner in a restaurant-bar in Cebu, his hometown; but he has relied solely on gut feel to run Holy Kettle Corn—his first foray into the food business. He wanted a product that all income segments could afford, but though he found a local fabricator to make his equipment, he had to buy his corn initially from another firm that imported it from the United States.
“After two weeks, the orders that we forecast would last for a month lasted only five days!” he says. “We found ourselves at the mercy of our supplier, so when I went back to the United States I resolved to find the best kernels that I could bring in myself.”
He used the Internet to reach corn farmers, sampling over 10 bags of popcorn before finally hitting the jackpot with a farm in Nebraska whose kernels popped the biggest: an expansion ratio of 42 to 45 compared with the 40 to 44 proportion that was considered ideal. He closed a deal. “I figured it would only be a matter of time before someone copied my business, but if I was already the exclusive distributor of the best kernels, then the copycats would only be secondary in the business,” he says.