SHIAWASSEE TOWNSHIP (WJRT) - (05/11/16) - It's become the go-to popcorn for several hundred movie theaters across the United States - "I'm All Ears Premium Theater Popcorn", made in Shiawassee Township.
"I just love to see how excited they are when they take that first bite, and the looks on their face when they go 'mmm'. I'll say, 'That's my popcorn! I grew that,'" laughed co-owner, Shannon Hinterman.
I'm All Ears is the product of Mark and Shannon Hinterman, now one of only 75 or so popcorn growers in the entire world.
"It's been great. In the winter time, it's when we're in this building processing and bagging and so on, and when it's nasty out and cold, it's good working conditions. It kind of brings me back to the old days of working in Buick City," said co-owner Mark Hinterman.
The Hinterman's had been farming soy and field corn since the late 1970's. That all changed a few years ago when the Geiger family, owners of Owosso-based NCG Cinemas approached them about growing popcorn.
"We were hoping to start retiring in about five years, so it was like, 'Really?' This is a big project and really expensive, but as we investigated and the Geigers got on board with us, everything just fell into place," Shannon said.
With that, NCG was able to stop buying popcorn produced out of state, some of which may have even come from overseas.
"We take a lot of pride in being Made in Michigan. This machine was built in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan and it was well over $100,000. We like to keep the business here," Mark said.
That philosophy helped create three full time jobs at Hinterman Farms, jobs that require some scientific thinking.
"It's all about handling gently, planting it on time, harvesting it on time," Mark said.
The Hinterman's attention to detail and goal of producing the perfect popcorn has caught the attention of a growing list of theaters. In fact, calls from potential customers come in every week.
"So far, we're getting about 100 percent pop out of it. That's selling itself. It's a no-brainer when we're sending samples to movie theaters and say, 'Just go ahead and pop it and see what you think,'" Mark said.
Last year, I'm All Ears produced one million pounds of popcorn out of their facility. This year, they're looking at four million pounds. As for 2017, that number is going to jump up to eight million pounds of popcorn.
"That's a lot of popcorn, definitely a lot of popcorn. I couldn't tell you how many people that would feed. Thousands and thousands of people," Mark said.
If all goes as planned, more jobs will soon be popping up at Hinterman farms, thanks to all that popcorn. Before you know it, I'm All Ears could expand from being primarily a wholesale theater product to a product found on store shelves, ready to pop in your own kitchen.
"We're making our moves on them right now and they're very interested in what we've got. There's still a lot of story to be told after today. Come back in a year and probably can tell you something better, I hope," Mark said.