KW Collards began in 2009 when Kizito Wademi formulated a special recipe to make his collard greens tasty and delicious without meat products. He had been cooking his greens for five years when his then fiancé, Patricia, tasted them and convinced him that they were a unique taste. One year later, in 2010, their product was on the grocery shelves of four local health food stores, and the following year, in 2011, KW Collards was named the Top Selling Item of the Year in Charlotte, North Carolina’s largest health food store chain. Newspaper interviews, magazine articles and social media reviews followed, and soon customer patrons of larger grocery retailers began asking for the product to fill their shelves.
KW Collards expanded and was invited to supply its product to Whole Foods Market. KW Collards’ philosophy to provide healthy and flavorful locally-produced products has created an initiative to work alongside local communities and advocates that will not only help take KW Collards’ unique recipe nationwide, but also bring spectacular revival back to rural farm communities and re-employment to hundreds of people throughout several counties in the state of North Carolina.
Carolina Small Business Development Fund provided KW Collards with a loan for equipment that allowed them expand the preparation of their main product ingredient.
“The equipment provided by Carolina Small Business now gives us the capability to hire more workers and expand into new territory to begin to accomplish our goal of becoming a national brand,” said Kizito Wademi.
Originally from Kenya, Kizito has over 35 years of management experience in corporate sales and marketing with firms such as Pepsico International, NCR Computer, and Ogilvie and Mather. He was responsible for increasing bottle sales for Pepsico as Country Manager over East and Central Africa, and held leadership records in top sales of computer systems to hotels and restaurants for NCR Computer as its regional head over Kenya.
We talked with Kizito, and here’s more about him and his life as a successful business owner:
CSBDF: Tell us about your business
Kizito: KW Collards was founded in 2009 in Columbus Ohio (I later moved moved to Charlotte, NC the same year). We manufacture, package and market THE best tasting collard greens on the planet. (This is the name our customers gave to us!) Our collards are vegetarian and vegan and they have a meaty flavor without any animal products or by-products. They are also pre-seasoned and already cooked so that they are convenient to just heat and eat. My wife and I started off selling them at festivals and expo shows, and then we were offered the opportunity to sell in grocery stores. After successfully completing some regulatory hurdles, we started with just one store, Healthy Home Market in Charlotte in 2010, and by 2011 we were the top selling product in the grocery section. Other stores in the state began to order our collards, and in 2012 Whole Foods took an interest in our product. We initially started selling in just the Charlotte store, but within six months by the summer of the same year, we were invited to their Regional Managers conference in Atlanta GA that enabled us to get into five states within their South Region of stores. We have also been invited to join their Mid-Atlantic Region.
CSBDF: How did your business get started? What was the inspiration that started it all?
Kizito: I had been cooking for years for myself and I never considered starting a business until my fiancé Patricia said to me, after tasting my greens, “Honey, we can sell these!” Having been in sales and marketing for over 30 years, I took this as a challenge to apply the knowledge acquired over those 30 years to start my own business.
CSBDF: Where do you see your business going in the next five years?
Kizito: We fully expect to be a nationally recognized brand, available in all 50 states.
CSBDF: How do you define success in your life?
Kizito: If, at the end of my life, I have successfully transferred to my three children the Christian moral values that define my life, I would consider my life to have been a success. When I stand before God, I want to be able to stand before Him with a checklist of everything He asked me to do and show Him that I accomplished those things. That would be success to me. And to pass on what I believe to my children so that they fulfill their purpose in their life and then transmit the same to their children so that we have generations of children who fulfill God’s purpose for their lives. It doesn’t just end with my life, but with generations of children who can stand before God as having fulfilled their mission in life.
CSBDF: What is your ultimate goal for your business?
Kizito: My ultimate goal is to create a top-rated business with first class products that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren can inherit and leave to their own children.
CSBDF: How has CSBDF helped you?
Kizito: A friend of mine who had benefitted from your program told me about it. CSBDF has helped us tremendously by loaning us the capital we needed enabling us to expand by automating the preparation of our main ingredient. This equipment now gives us the capability to hire more workers and expand into new territory to begin to accomplish our goal of becoming a national brand.
CSBDF: What were the most difficult challenges you faced in the process of opening your business?
Kizito: There are several different challenges when you own your own business. The first is to maintain perseverance to keep going even when others tell you that you cannot or should not do it. And you also need perseverance to keep going when you encounter unexpected events that affect your business (like hurricane storms that wipe out your profits during a festival, or buildings where you produce your product being sold out from under you leaving you no place to keep producing). Perseverance to continue in the face of setbacks that may make you doubt your ability is crucial. The very first time that we produced an order for sale at a local church festival, 30 percent of the cases of jars that we had spent so many long hours cooking rolled off of the loading dock and broke into pieces. That was a very stressful setback. In addition, most of the first places we approached to sell our greens told us no. Friends and relatives told us we were being unrealistic to do what we were doing. All along the way there were many justifiable times that we could have thrown in the towel and quit.
Now that we are successful however, the most difficult challenge we face is dealing with the exponential demand for our product. We manufacture an exclusive product that makes meaty flavored collards without using any pork or animal products in the process, and this appeals to a broad spectrum of people, including vegetarians, vegans, those with dietary concerns, the health-conscious, ethnic groups and religious groups, and also the general population that would like to enjoy collards greens conveniently without all the fuss involved in making their own. We have barely scratched the surface of fulfilling orders for grocery stores and other venues that want our product, and finding or building a large enough manufacturing facility to produce our product and getting the funding to obtain such, while at the same time sustaining the current production and going after available markets that are open to us has been our greatest challenge.
“The equipment provided by Carolina Small Business now gives us the capability to hire more workers and expand into new territory to begin to accomplish our goal of becoming a national brand. ” - Kizito Wademi