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Miller’s BBQ Baked Beans Expanding Market Footprint & Eyes Canada

While Kansas City and Memphis may be known for great barbeque, Melody McCray-Miller has grown her Wichita-inspired barbeque baked beans product distribution to over half of the country.

Millers, Inc.’s Bar-B-Que Baked Beans have captured a niche market in the refrigerated, deli isles of grocery stores in 28 states. Miller’s Inc. Co-Founder, Melody McCray-Miller is now poised to expand her market further within the U.S. and recently gained new fans in Canada.

In early 2019, Miller was seeking guidance on how to grow her business. When she heard that SBA’s Emerging Leaders Program was designed to help owners of established businesses create a three-year strategic growth action plan, she applied.

Humble Beginnings   

In the early 1990s, Melody and her late husband, Larry Miller, started Millers Bar-B-Que in a small carry-out establishment in the Ken-Mar Shopping Center. The business grew into a 150-seat restaurant on East 13th Street in Wichita. The restaurant enjoyed success for over a decade selling prepared barbecued meats, sauces and its signature baked beans. In the early 2000’s, the Millers decided to pivot from the labor-intensive restaurant and focus on packaging its barbeque baked beans for distribution to grocery stores. Running the restaurant was a labor of love and not easy. The Millers enjoyed brisk sales of their barbeque baked beans and realized the demand for them was strong enough to grow the business beyond the walls of a restaurant.  

Creating and marketing a food product like refrigerated barbeque baked beans was daunting. Miller reached out to local resources for assistance, including the SBA and the Kansas SBDC at Wichita State for marketing and financial guidance. Miller also took her baked bean recipes to Dr. Fadi Aramouni, a professor of food services at the Kansas State University Food Science Institute. The university’s Value Added Foods Lab helped the Millers with the product development, processing, packaging, and labeling for cold-chain distribution to grocery stores.

The next task was finding a contract packer (co-packer) to produce and package the barbeque baked beans per Millers recipe specifications for distribution to grocery chains and food service companies like Sysco.  

Miller's Barb-B-Que Baked Beans market share grew from sales in eight states to 28 states. Melody McCray Miller managed the business while serving her community as her father Billy McCray once did. Miller became the first female African American to represent the 4th District on the Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners. She later was elected as the state representative for the 89th House District, from 2005 to 2013.

Refocus on Growth

In 2018, Miller felt the time was right to focus more on growing her barbeque baked beans business. She participated in the 2019 cohort of executives in SBA’s Emerging Leaders Program with the goal of developing a strategic growth plan.

She graduated Emerging Leaders with a plan to test her products overseas to gauge the potential for exporting, as well as tapping new grocery markets within the United States.

Miller took advantage of USDA’s Agriculture Trade Program that provided some cost-sharing assistance to have her baked beans featured in a trade show in Canada.

In November 2019, Miller’s baked beans were sampled by attendees at the WBE Canada’s Annual Conference and trade show in Toronto, Canada. In late December, Miller received very positive feedback from the trade show. “I was nervous about opening the review documents from the Toronto conference, but was very pleased with the market validation the baked beans received,” said Miller. “The reviews were objective and indicated our barbeque baked beans had strong appeal there,” added Miller.

Miller is thankful for the opportunities and resources available to small business owners in Wichita. When she co-founded Miller Bar-B-Que over 20 years ago, she didn’t have access to the resources and networks that exist today. "We know that the majority of our jobs are created by small businesses, and that more women are leading in entrepreneurship - especially, women of color,” said Miller.

When asked to give some advice to a business owner that wants to scale-up their product distribution, Miller said “Make up your mind about scaling-up the production yourself or have a capable third party manufacture the product for you. Also, be sure to understand all the details in a contract agreement, to ensure the right outcome.”

Company Name: 
Millers Inc.
Location: 
Wichita, Kansas
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