Popcorn is Big Business
3 Jun 2022
There are nine states in America producing popcorn. In 2018, Nebraska was the number one popcorn producer, according to Farm Flavor. Who knew popcorn was such a hot commodity in high demand? Well, Nate and Stacey Freitag knew! Since 2015, their popcorn business, Free Day Popcorn, has been a success story.
Because of their success, TCEDA’s Board of Directors elected Free Day Popcorn to be our first “Thriving in Thayer County'' award recipient. Each year, TCEDA’s Board of Directors will elect a local business to honor at our annual meeting & banquet. Free Day Popcorn is a great example of a local business thriving in Thayer County with a customer base spanning throughout the United States and beyond. In preparation for the annual meeting and to learn more about Free Day Popcorn’s business, we sat down with Stacey Freitag, co-founder and co-owner of Free Day Popcorn.
All About Free Day Popcorn
Hi, Stacey! Between you and Nate, what are your day-to-day duties?
“I mainly handle marketing/sales for the business. Nate, also co-founder and co-owner, handles the farming/growing of the popcorn and warehouse operations. We both handle overall business planning, etc.”
I understand Nate rented acres from his parents. How long did he rent and was that the conception of or inspiration for Free Day Popcorn?
“Nate grew up near Byron, NE. Nate’s dad farms near Byron and has grown popcorn for large commercial processors since the 1980s. In 2015, Nate had the idea to grow 1.5 acres of popcorn on our own and sell under our own brand name directly from the farm. We rented the initial 1.5 acres as a test of the concept and sold out of the popcorn we grew, showing that there was a market for farm fresh popcorn. We have continued to rent additional acres each year as Free Day Popcorn continues to grow and we acquire more customers.”
With Nate having a Masters in Educational Leadership and being an online high school teacher, why popcorn? Was this choice family influenced, a worthy opportunity, or something else?
“It was a natural progression for Nate. For me, as an outsider to farming, I was impressed with the taste of popcorn fresh from the farm which was so much better than the microwave popcorn I grew up with. My background in marketing also impacted the decision to start our Free Day Popcorn brand, as well as developing the brand identity, marketing, and packaging materials to appeal to potential customers.
While farming may seem far removed from education, Nate continues to teach through Free Day Popcorn. Most of our customers and social media followers are far removed from the farming world. He is able to help educate on sustainable farming practices and how we grow our popcorn. Popcorn is an easy crop that has a market direct to consumers unlike typical farm crops like soybeans, field corn, or milo. By cleaning/processing the popcorn and packaging it as a retail-ready product, consumers can take a vested interest in watching their popcorn grow and feel like an active part of the process.”
Does Free Day Popcorn partner in production with other Thayer County businesses?
“We work closely with Nate’s dad and the family farm for production of our popcorn. We do rent some acres of farm ground from other Thayer County farmers. Renting land from local farmers has been instrumental in our continued growth as a business and our ability to grow more popcorn to meet demand.
Regarding popcorn sales, local businesses such as Hebron Majestic Theatre and The Bottle Shop were some of our earliest local customers. We appreciate them taking a chance on a new business venture and value the relationships we’ve developed with them and other businesses in the county and surrounding areas.”
How did receiving the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) help expand Free Day?
“Receiving the VAPG has given us a tremendous opportunity. Through the grant, we’ve been able to put more money into marketing efforts to reach new potential customers. In less than nine months into the three-year grant period, we gained new customers, requiring us to grow additional acres to meet increased demand. We expect through the remainder of the grant period, we’ll be able to continue to grow our operations. This grant program is allowing us to expand more rapidly than we have without it.”
What are the short term (5-year) goals for Free Day? Is there anything the community can do to support and assist with achieving these goals?
“As Free Day Popcorn continues to grow quickly, we’re currently experiencing some growing pains and running out of warehouse space for our popcorn. In the next five years, we’d love to have a larger warehouse facility and perhaps a small storefront for our retail-ready popcorn products. Continued support from the community in purchasing our popcorn and sharing about our popcorn near and far is super helpful. Having our retail packages of popcorn available in local storefronts also helps get our brand out there.”
How far does distribution span from the Kansas/Nebraska border?
“Through our online website, we ship popcorn directly to consumers in all 50 states and beyond. It’s been gratifying to be able to know where the locally grown popcorn goes throughout the world and hear amazing feedback from our customers. The majority of our business is B2B (business-to-business) sales to folks like small local theatres, gourmet popcorn shops, kettle corn poppers, concession stands, etc. We ship pallets of popcorn coast-to-coast every week. We have also exported popcorn to the United Kingdom which has then been shipped around the world.”
How excited are you to be the first recipient of TCEDA’s Thriving in Thayer County award?
“We are truly honored and humbled to be the first recipient of TCEDA’s Thriving in Thayer County award. Nate is a Thayer County native and Thayer County is home for us and our four daughters. We’re excited to be involved in the community and continue to grow our business here. While so many leave rural settings, we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Thanks to the internet, we can live here and work here while connecting with customers far beyond Thayer County. Perhaps, some day our daughters will want to live and work for the “family” business here.
You’ve given such detailed information. Thank you! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
“If the pandemic taught us anything, supply chain disruptions are real and costly. We’ve always said that there is value in knowing where your food comes from and the farmer who grew it. At Free Day Popcorn, we’re taking you back to a simpler time, where you can get your popcorn directly from the grower. We take pride in the freshness and the quality of the popcorn we grow along the KS/NE borders. We think of our popcorn loving friends throughout the planting, growing, and harvesting seasons. As a family and a farm, we’re excited to share our harvest with you. It’s an honor to be a small part of your next movie night, get-together, or mid-afternoon snack!
TCEDA’S Award Ceremony
TCEDA’s Annual Meeting Banquet and Free Day Popcorn’s acceptance of TCEDA’s Thriving in Thayer County award is happening June 16, 2022.
If you would like to attend, click to RSVP and purchase tickets. The deadline is June 10, 2022.