SWAPPING GIGS: Sterling Riggs learns the popcorn business from "Cousin Willie"
Huge machines harvest Cousin Willie's popcorn in Ramsey, Indiana
Workers on the line watch the popcorn roll out to consumers
Microwave popcorn has changed the company business
There are dozens of varieties of Cousin Willie's Popcorn on store shelves
Wilfred Sieg, Jr. a.k.a. Cousin Willie shows some of their line of products
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Indiana is the popcorn capitol of the country. So Sterling Riggs went to work with Cousin Willie at Ramsey Popcorn to see how kernels of corn are transformed into tasty treats sold around the world.
The sound of a combine harvesting corn in southern Indiana is a sure sign that it has been a good season for farmers.
A 300 acre farm in Ramsey, Indiana is about a mile from Ramsey Popcorn and is just one of the farms spanning 6 states which supplies corn for the company each year.
Company president Wilfred Sieg Junior or "Cousin Willie" as he's known around southern Indiana gave us an inside look at his family business. It has weathered the test of time and been in operation since 1944.
"We farm about 7-thousand acres in Indiana. Nationwide, we farm about 15-thousand acres. We farm multiple states because of changing weather patterns and we rely on a plentiful harvest," says Sieg.
The company processes and sells 50-million pounds of corn a year. The corn is first unloaded into a sifter at the plant to remove any trash. It's then dried out and stored in one of 50 silos. Sieg added, "It comes in at about 18 percent moisture and we dry it down to 14 percent moisture. That's the optimum moisture for popcorn to pop."
When the corn's ready, it's pumped into the plant where it's sifted by size where a machine discards any discolored or unusual kernels. From there it's off to the test lab to see if it passes inspection. Employees take multiple samples to test for things like quality, moisture, mold, pop volume and taste. "We do a ton of research and development and that includes the best part; tasting it. You have to taste a little and then taste more. We are constantly eating popcorn around here," says Sieg.
Sieg's grandfather started the company which has changed quite a bit over the years. In the early days, Ramsey popcorn was sold to movie theatres. The invention of the microwave in 1987 then changed the company's business model. Now Cousin Willie's brand popcorn and popcorn packaged for fundraisers makeup a large portion of the company's sales.
"The most butter is always the best seller. When you get away from that, the kettle corn is probably our next best seller," says Sieg.
Although every kernel passes through the plant in Ramsey, Indiana, the finished product is packaged 30 minutes away in New Albany, Indiana. Clark's Snacks, another longtime family business is responsible for putting the right about corn and flavoring into each bag.
Clark's cranks out an average of 1.2 million bags of Ramsey popcorn a week.