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Sunday, May 26, 2024

NC trend: Blanket aims to make eating pancakes a healthier choice

When Marquita Carter was pregnant in 2017 with her second son, Nathan, she had health complications that caused her to change her diet. She and her husband, Deven, started looking at ingredients in the food they were consuming. “Everything we were choosing was just for taste,” she says. “We didn’t see the things we could eat” on the labels.

So the couple began making their own food, starting with syrup that didn’t have high-fructose corn syrup. Pancake batter came next, and they started sharing their concoctions with family members and selling products at Charlotte-area farmers markets in 2017. Customers gobbled them up.

Now, the Carters’ Blanket brand pancake mixes and syrups are for sale in 2,000 stores, including Walmart and Food Lion. Their Charlotte business, Home Food LLC, also makes private-label products for other retailers. Revenue has reached seven figures, and the Carters say the business is profitable. 

They’re evaluating additional pancake flavors, as well as a line of protein-based and gluten-free foods. “We want Blanket to be a household name,” Deven says.

Getting their product onto grocery shelves wasn’t easy. Deven worked full time at insurer Allstate while earning an MBA at Wake Forest University. He attended classes on Saturdays while Marquita set updisplays at The Market at 7th Street in Charlotte. “It was a scary time,” says Marquita, a former special education teacher. “We didn’t know a lot about the pancake and syrup industry. We just wanted to make good products.”

The couple
also had trouble convincing lenders to fund their business. They cashed out a 401(k) plan and a pension for about $30,000 to get the operation up and running. “We had the business plan and forecasts, and we’d exceeded expectations,”  she says. “But we couldn’t find a line of credit anywhere.”

By late 2019, Blanket was in a half-dozen local stores. Then COVID hit in early 2020, prompting the closing of farmers markets. The Carters converted their dining room into a studio and started posting online cooking demonstrations on social media, which led to sales through their website. The online presence caught the attention of Salisbury-based Food Lion, which placed Blanket mixes and syrups into 500 stores.

Deven quit his Allstate job in November 2020 to focus on the startup. “It was a bit of a gamble, but it was a calculated risk,” he says. “I felt competent in our abilities to manage our growth.” Deven is chief operating officer and oversees distribution. Marquita is the CEO and leads product development. They both share the taste testing.

The honey butter pancake mix is the top-selling flavor, followed by buttermilk pancakes and vanilla bean syrup. Other pancake flavors include sweet potato and chocolate chip, and there’s a vegan version. A three-pack of Blanket flavors costs $21.75 on Amazon.com. Others selling pancake mix in resealable packets include General Mills’ Betty Crocker brand; Tukwila, Wash.-based Krusteaz, a family business; and Park City, Utah-based Kodiak, which is owned by a private-equity company. 

The Carters say they’re working on a protein pancake, as well as ready-made batter in a cup. “Our pillars are about nutrition and accessibility,” says Deven.

The company’s growth means more staff is needed. They’d like to hire a chief financial officer, a head of distribution and leaders of
other departments. They’re also seeking investors, after relying on organic growth since their launch.

“In the next five years, you’re going to see more flavors and a variety of products,” says Deven. “Blanket is just one of our product lines.”

Chris Roush
Chris Roush
Chris Roush is executive editor of Business North Carolina. He can be reached at croush@businessnc.com.

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