Having had some experience in running her own produce stand and making salsa with her homegrown produce, Carolyn Kraft has been steadily developing a following for her artisan-style Kiki's Salsa over nearly 12 years. But it was an impulse decision to enter the 2012 Minnesota State Fair salsa competition that really changed things for this grandmother of four. Inspired by State Fair legend Marjorie Johnson and her success in the baking world, Carolyn resolved to put her fan-friendly salsa to this ultimate test. We chatted with her about her State Fair experience on the day she and her husband (Kiki's CEO of Procurement and Heavy Lifting) made their very first delivery of 1,200 hand-filled and hand-labeled jars to Kowalski's.
"It was my first entry in the State Fair. Ever. In any category. I'd never even competed in a local or county fair," she said. Apparently her years of practice had paid off, with Carolyn taking home top honors and a beautiful blue ribbon.
A resident of East Bethel, this proud mother of two considers the White Bear Lake Market "her Kowalski's" and said she never considered approaching any other grocer to sell Kiki's Salsa. Not sure what to expect, she called Kowalski's Natural & Specialty Food Buyer, Debbie Leland. She was right to be nervous. Salsa is a tough category in grocery (everyone thinks theirs is the best). In the end, she had nothing to fear. Impressed with her award, Debbie was even more enthralled with the Kiki's product and its creator's story. According to Debbie, "Her product is special and so is she."
Carolyn has been thrilled with the overwhelming response of customers to her product, noting that users are always surprising her with their unique recipe ideas.
"It's so versatile," Carolyn explains. "People use it on everything from eggs to cottage cheese." With its robust flavor, surprising sweet-spicy balance and exacting dice (Carolyn is very particular about the exactness of the recipe), it's no surprise how often she was approached in the last few years about selling her product on a big scale.
"A lot of people have a product and have to look for their customers," Carolyn explains, "but our customers found us."
Kowalski's is happy Carolyn found us.
You can find her blue-ribbon 2012 1st Place Award-Winning State Fair Mild Salsa in the Grocery Department.