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The Importance Of Supplier Relationships In Building A Food Brand


Sometimes popping a hot, buttery bag of popcorn is all you need to complete the perfect night in. But what if your favorite snack is hard on your stomach? 

For Jen Martin, finding alternative heirloom popcorn kernels was her saving grace. Not only were they easier to digest, but they tasted better too. 

Jen, her brother Jeff, and Jeff’s wife, Teresa, launched Pipcorn in 2012 and found immediate success. The brand was included in Oprah’s Favorite Things, the founders pitched on Shark Tank, and in 2019, they raised more than $6 million in VC funding. 

Jen sat down on the Shopify Masters podcast to explain how Pipcorn established meaningful relationships with suppliers in order to grow the brand and create opportunities for the business. 

Forging family-like bonds with suppliers

Establishing deeper relationships with the farmers who supplied Pipcorn’s raw ingredients was important for the founders. “We flew out to our farm really early on, played basketball with the kids, and had lunch and dinner with the whole family,” Jen says. 

Jen has always chosen to work with family farms, because they can deeply relate to her experiences of being in business with family. These bonding moments helped Pipcorn establish strong relationships and get to a place where their partners wanted to help them early on. 

A bowl of Pipcorn sea salt popcorn next to a full bag rests on top of a red and white checkered tablecloth, with fruit and cheese laying around it.
Pipcorn’s first snack was its staple product, its heirloom popcorn, which it offers in sea salt, spicy cheddar, and truffle.  Pipcorn

Communicating expectations every step of the way

Once Jen and her co-founders saw the traction Pipcorn was having, they went back to the farm to order larger quantities to keep up with demand. They were always upfront and honest about their needs, which made it easier for the farm to plan and support the demand. 

“We could ask to buy a lot [of heirloom kernels] and scale really, really quickly,” Jen says. Having open communication helped the farming team plan for future orders. And, the Pipcorn team was able to map out clear timelines and requirements for new retail opportunities.

A handful of Pipcorn cheese balls pictured over a bag of Pipcorn cheese balls, a bowl of blueberries, a bag of oranges, a soda, and sunglasses, all resting on a picnic blanket.
Pipcorn launched more than a dozen new snack flavors over the past seven years. Pipcorn

Leaning into supplier networks to expand reach

“I met one farmer who had a large community of farmers around them. As we grew and they couldn’t grow anymore in their farm, they would work with their neighbors, friends, or family, Jen says. Once she started working with one farmer who grew her heirloom ingredients, the doors to other growers and relationships opened up too.

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Jen says it’s key for business owners to find a partner that will understand how special your product is, so when it comes time to expand product offerings, they support the growth of your business, and introduce you to new partners or possibilities.

With the help of these advantageous relationships, Pipcorn has been able to develop 12 new snack flavors, including cheese balls, corn dippers, and twists, as well as grow into an established brand with a strong social following. 

Tune in to the full Shopify Masters episode to learn more about Pipcorn’s approach to farming, the team’s time on Shark Tank, and how they raised more than $6 million in VC funding.

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This originally appeared on Shopify and is made available here to cast a wider net of discovery.
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