By LISA MONTI
Oxford businesswoman Karen Kurr took her Southern-style frozen casseroles up to Bentonville, Ark., and landed a deal in her first meeting with Walmart. Starting in the fall of 2018, Kurr’s No Time 2 Cook family-size meals will be introduced in the frozen food aisles of 250 Walmarts throughout the Deep South.
Kurr’s winning combination of fresh ingredients and snappy packaging helped her strike retail gold in Bentonville, but it all began with some productive networking back home.
Kurr took part in the Big Bad Business Series, a 9-month entrepreneurial initiative presented by the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation in partnership with the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council. Her son, Allen Kurr, is vice president of economic development for the foundation.
Early in the series, she networked alongside other entrepreneurs to find helpful contacts and resources. She soon hit pay dirt.
“I made a connection with someone who works closely with Walmart and he connected me with a consulting group in Bentonville,” Kurr said. “We traveled to Arkansas for a meeting which resulted in a partnership with the group.”
The new sales representative, a former Walmart buyer, “got so excited about our company, product and packaging that she took us immediately under her wing,” Kurr said.
She recommended Kurr apply for the annual open call event held in June. The highly competitive process is part of Walmart’s commitment to sell products made in the U.S. After filling out a lengthy online application, Kurr received the invitation to go to Bentonville to pitch her products.
Armed with advice from her sales representative and carrying piping hot casseroles, Kurr was well prepared for her meeting. She even arrived two days early to make sure everything was right. “The appointment was scheduled for half an hour but the buyer spent an hour with us,” Our sales rep said that’s unheard of. The buyer gave us a deal right on the spot.”
Out of about 500 companies at the open call, only about 100 got a deal that day.
“We hit it out of the park,” Kurr said. “And it all started with networking I was able to do through the Oxford/Lafayette business series.”
At the Walmart meeting, she served eight family-size casseroles including best-seller chicken and dumplings. Beyond the food, the buyer “fell in love with the sustainable packaging and labeling,” Kurr said. A year ago, Mabus Agency of Tupelo rebranded her product line and created the new labels that focus on the whole food ingredients used in Kurr’s recipes.
And those recipes haven’t changed much since Kurr pulled them out of her recipe box to make meals she sold first at farmers markets. “We use real dairy and whole meat chicken, no MSG or hydrogenated oils, and we buy local when we can,. All of our chicken is purchased from a small chicken plant in Mississippi” she said. “We’ve stayed true to our recipes using high quality ingredients all through the years.”
It’s been a heady ride since Kurr turned her hobby into a business 12 years ago. Seven years ago she moved the operation from her home commercial kitchen to a small USDA-inspected food plant with a part time, all-female staff.
About three years ago, her frozen products hit the freezer shelves of Kroger stores. Today No Time 2 Cook can be found in 250 Krogers throughout Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, and west Tennessee.
To fulfill the increased demand, Kurr is considering hiring more people and adding equipment or working with a co-packer to make and package the products for Walmart.
“We have the ability to produce about 1,000 units a day. We could double that by adding another shift and extending the workday,” she said. “We’re deciding what’s best for us.”