Q&A Klondike Kettle Corn

Katie Young built her business, Klondike Kettle Corn, from the ground up, starting with small batches sold in community markets. Now, her popcorn comes in more than 50 flavours and is a favourite local snack, found in grocery stores and gift shops across the Yukon. Young describes Klondike Kettle Corn as a family business, and, here, she shares how her love of family and community have inspired her entrepreneurial spirit.

How did you end up becoming a maker in the Yukon?

I started the business back in 2010, at the Fireweed Community Market. It's a good jumping point for a lot of small businesses, and we've had a lot of success stories come out of it. We had a big, giant Black Kettle that we would cook our sweet and salty popcorn in. We did that for a few years and it grew from there. It was along the same time that I started having kids, so the kids have grown up with the business, which is pretty cool.

Once I started having kids that became my only gig for making money. So it started really small. My first son was born in 2011. The Fireweed Community Market also has a Christmas market. So I thought it'd be fun to try it out. That was my first experimentation with packaging and labels — and marketing the product because, all of a sudden, I didn't have my big, giant kettle to attract sales. 

I had my second son in 2013, in May. So he came to his first market at seven days old. In the summer of 2015 was the first summer we tried out the wholesale side of the business. We started selling in one of the local grocery stores, a gas station and a brewery. That’s how we figured out what wholesale pricing looks like and what it looks like to take orders and deliveries and all that kind of stuff. Now, wholesale is the majority of our business.


Where do you sell your product?
Wholesale is mostly in the Yukon right now but we're working on an expansion plan. We've got a new building we're moving into, and we'll be able to start exporting more outside the territory. For now, all of the grocery stores in the Yukon and gas stations, coffee shops, tap rooms, and gift shops. We have worked with a couple of companies outside of the Yukon — we worked with Wonderkind in Toronto that does curated gift boxes. In Alberta, we have one brewery that sells popcorn along with a couple gift shops. In 2019, we built an online store that ships across Canada. Other than the market that was our first direct to customer sales, and it’s now about 13 percent of our sales.


How did you come up with the flavours?
Since I started my business at the Fireweed Market, I got a lot more involved with them. I've been on the board since 2017. And, as a community market, we were really trying to push the local made goods, local harvested goods and local consumption. So, we started what we call the Blue Ribbon challenge. The goal was to get vendors shopping at other vendors — for example, the burger truck shopping to get their lettuce at the farmers stand. As a board member, I felt it was important to support my peers, but I didn't really know if I could do that with popcorn. At the time I only made sweet and salty popcorn, so it was a bit of a challenge to myself to see how I could do that. One of our first flavours was dill pickle — we got fresh dill and the chives from the local farmers. Pumpkin Spice was another one of our first flavours. Once you started experimenting, it got the ball rolling. Today we have over 50 flavours


How does the Yukon inspire the ingredients you use?
We have a really strong community up here, and a really strong business community. One of my favourite parts of my job is just making connections with people. That leads into using each other's products as well. There are a couple of products that I've worked on with other small businesses — my favourite is probably the birch caramel. We work with Uncle Darwin's birch serum. He's a super small harvester, we're lucky to be able to work with him. Their syrup has an amazing and unique flavour. It truly is a taste of the Yukon.

One of our other popular flavours is the Dill and Spruce Tip. Although spruce tips grow all over Canada, it’s not super common to eat them. But in the Yukon it is, and they’re used in a lot of different products. The closer you get to the coastal forest, the spruce tips are bigger and a lot more citrusy. So sometimes we go down there and harvest them.


How does your business allow you to connect with your community?
The reason that my husband and I, and our family, are up here is for all the access to the outdoor activities that the Yukon has. So we're all about getting out and spending time on the ocean or in the mountains, and we share that with so many other Yukoners. Long weekends are when the grocery store gets raided for popcorn — everyone's going to be grabbing a bag, hitting the road, getting out of town, sitting around a campfire with a bag of popcorn. That's why, last year, we actually had a contest that ran through the summer. It was called #kkcadventure. We got people to share pictures of them eating our popcorn on their adventures. It was so cool. We had so many people from our community, and across Canada enter the contest. It was really exciting to see people enjoying our product and sharing their stories. 


Where does the popcorn production happen?
Right now production is in the shop on my property, which is about 20 minutes outside of town. But we've got a new building being built that's in Whitehorse. That extra space means we'll be able to purchase more equipment, so we'll be able to actually start implementing our marketing plans. It's a really exciting time for us because we're growing so much. When we think back to how small we started, now I have two full-time girls working for me, they're both also moms. So they can work the same hours that their kids are in school and they can still pick up and drop off. They can take off PD days, they can take off holidays and it's is the same values that I built the company on. It feels really good to be able to now provide that employment opportunity to other people.


How do you cultivate joy?
Definitely maintaining that work-life balance, getting outside and enjoying the outdoors. It’s also super fun collaborating with different businesses. We love experimenting with different flavours. Just making coffee dates, and going out for lunch with people, and building honest relationships. That's definitely how I've built community around my business — just being open to people and sharing my story. It’s been wonderful.

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