Norman-Based Birch Grove Enterprises Inc. Expands Marketing Reach

Article excerpt

Charles Burklund's Birch Grove Enterprises Inc. has been simmering for about five years, garnering awards for his Sweet Agony Habanero products and slowly expanding his marketing reach.

It's time to turn up the heat.

"It's been slow. I'm working to get into Central market and HEB stores in the Texas market," he said recently at his business office in Norman. "We probably won't make the Christmas shopping rush. - But we'll make it at the first of the year, I think.

"We need a good opening for a new product like this. We'd like to have a little bit of fanfare, because you only get to make a first impression once."

Burklund was first exposed to habanero peppers by a Hispanic friend while serving in the U.S. military. He quickly developed a love for the spicy zing and brought it home where he continued to add the ingredient to other foods and experiment in the kitchen, much to his wife Joy's consternation - she doesn't have the same appreciation for peppers, he said.

In 2000 while he was cooking cranberry syrup to give as Christmas gifts, on a lark he substituted a bunch of habaneros for the cranberries. The result "was a huge surprise," Burklund said - sweet, sticky syrup with a hidden sizzle. It worked particularly well as an ice cream topper.

After more experimentation and gifting to fellow pepper fans, Burklund entered the syrup in the 2003 Chile Pepper magazine- sponsored Fiery Food Challenge. He won the coveted Golden Chile award for best dessert condiment, what he considers "the Emmy Award of spicy foods." That's when he realized he might actually be able to sell his treats as a viable business.

He followed up on the success of the original syrup in the 2005 Fiery Food Challenge with Sweet Agony InCINNerator Habanero Cinnamon Syrup, winning the bronze medal in the best new products category.

But even with his latest victory - a second-place award for his Nuoc Cham dipping sauce in this year's Fiery Food Challenge in the Asian style category - Burklund's distribution is still limited to a few niche retailers scattered across the country.

He distributes out of Ardmore to about 15 diverse outlets, including the Gourmet Gallery in Edmond, the Beef Jerky Emporium and Watonga Cheese Store in Oklahoma City, and Mason's Pecans and Peanuts in Norman. He's also reached the Hot Sauce Shop in New York, Brown's Thrift Store in Nebraska and the Dollywood theme park in Tennessee.

"I didn't know what kind of potential I had when I started this," he said. …