Kirk Muncrief left the security of a financial analyst career with a major corporation to turn his passion for southwestern style barbecue into a business – Albukirky Seasonings – creating his own recipes and mixes for barbecue seasonings, sauces and rubs using the unique flavors of New Mexico’s famous red and green chile’s.
Kirk: I got started with the cooking about twenty years ago. I had worked for the family business – sand, gravel and ready-mixed concrete from the age of twelve. When I got to the age of about twenty seven I started thinking about what I really wanted to do. I had been debating whether to go to culinary school or go for a Master’s Degree – I ended up going back to school to get a Master’s Degree in Economics cos I thought I’d earn more money at that, and that led me to a twenty year career as a financial analyst. But I’ve always been cooking and grilling as kind of a hobby.
About five years ago I had some recipes for barbecue sauces and rubs and all my friends were saying “oh you should bottle this and sell it.”I was just giving to friends as Christmas presents, or sharing it with them if they wanted some. Around 2010 I was between jobs and that’s when I decided it was the time to look at doing this. I couldn’t devote my whole time to it but I thought that at least I could get started and maybe, someday, I could quit my day job and do it full-time.
I spent the last three years developing my product and my brand, all while holding down a regular job. But then the contract with the company I was working for ended. The time I was spending on AlbuKirky Seasonings was already beginning to cut into my work time and I thought the only thing that was stopping this from taking off is time, and as there were no jobs going then with the company I had been working for, I thought now was the time to go for it.
Meredith: Obviously there is a big difference between creating sauces for friends at home and creating it as a product to sell – how did you learn about that process?
Kirk: That was a real learning experience. There is an economic development hub here in Albuquerque where you can rent out proper industrial kitchens to create things like this, but I thought I didn’t really have the time for that. I had the recipe, so instead I started by talking to co-packers – in their FDA approved kitchens they produce their products, but where they have extra capacity they also produce products for other people as well. The first time round I found a guy in Denver who could produce the BBQ rubs for me – that was a big learning experience – the lesson being: don’t do business with people out of town…
I found a place locally that could do it, but I’d been trying to talk to this guy for a year, and I finally got through to him and he told me to come in, and in twenty minutes he had told virtually everything I needed to do and how much it would cost me.
I had talked to another company and they wanted a business plan, they wanted cash up front before they had even looked at my recipe, they wanted a limit on the number of spices I could have in my rub. But this guy locally just said “yes, we’ll do it – here’s what it will cost.” That was it. They said that they like to give little guys a shot because you never know when the next big thing is.
It has been my experience that doing business locally is far better – if you get upset you can go yell at them in person (not that I have had to do that) – but they have all been very helpful, understood my vision and have come up with ways they can help me achieve that. Asking for help was a tough lesson for me because I’d always been an independent, “do-it-myself” kind of guy, but being able to ask for the help where I have needed it has meant getting so much further and so much smoother than if I had tried to figure it out for myself. I still struggle with asking for help on a daily basis, but it always pays off when I do.
Jasper: How did you go about getting your products into stores?
Kirk: That is a very difficult process – one that I am still learning. I started by targeting local, small stores and meat markets that carried specialized products where price was not an issue – and literally just walking in and asking them whether they would stock my products. With grocery stores its a whole other game – they have shelving fees and its a whole other process. There you are competing with barbecue sauces that sell for a couple of dollars, and I can’t compete at that sort of price level. I needed the more speciality type stores where they sold more high quality, premium products at more like the $5 – $7 dollar range. I would literally drive round town, looking at different stores and saying “does this one work – or not work? Is this where I want to be?”
Things really started to take off when I did The Fiery Food Show. That’s how I got into Spouts, which is the first chain type store I got into. And I got enquiries from a lot of other speciality stores in town.
Now I am working with a distributor who is helping me get into stores like Albertsons and Whjole Foods, and I have even had some interest from Costco (which is a whole other step up). If you make yourself visible then the offers start to come in – and that’s why I went full time, because that is the only way that you can make offers like that happen. That’s the kind of deal that could take my business to the next level.
Favorite Book: Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
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Guest: Kirk Muncrief
Owner and creator of AlbuKirky Seasonings.
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