Bojangles, Cheerwine and Krispy Kreme get a lot of North Carolina love, but what other products are made in the state?
Many people were amused by State Farm’s recent commercial in which NBA player Trae Young needed assistance from WNBA player Jonquel Jones to reach an item on a high shelf at the store.
Did you notice what food was on the shelf? A jar of Mt. Olive Pickles, made by a North Carolina-based company that was founded in Wayne County in the 1920s.
With 30% of the market share, there’s a pretty good chance that, if you have pickles in your fridge at this minute, they’re made by the Mt. Olive Pickle Company.
It got us thinking about what other products are made right here in the state, adding flavor and personality to our communities and spreading North Carolinian talent throughout the globe.
We quickly learned that there are too many to include them all, but here are a few worth mentioning.
Concord native Clark Whittington created the first Art-o-mat, a retired cigarette vending machine that’s been repurposed to sell art, for a Winston-Salem coffee shop’s art show in 1997. He saw the potential to make art accessible to all, both in cost and visibility, through these vending machines.
For $5, the public may choose and purchase an original 1.5-inch-by-3-inch piece of artwork from a selection submitted by artists from around the world. “We want to be part of people’s lives, part of the practice,” Whittington says.
Find: More than 200 machines are located around the world including in North Carolina cities like Charlotte, Concord, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem.
Famous customers: Charles Baker from Breaking Bad, Leonard Nimoy from the Star Trek franchise, and Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne.
In 2015, Josh Monahan opened 1 in 6 Snacks, a company name connecting his snack food business to food insecurity. “There was a statistic that one in six people don’t know where their next meal will come from,” Monahan says. “In order to combat that statistic, we donate a portion from each sale to local food banks.”
Having come from 65 years of family experience in the snack food industry, Monahan built his own name with 1 in 6 Snacks, finding a hit with Carolina Kettle Chips. Monahan Down East BBQ, Outer Banks Sea Salt, Sir Walter Cream Cheese and Chive, and other Carolina-inspired flavors come in your average snack-sized bag but also gift and variety packs.
Find: Various breweries, grocery stores, hotels, and sandwich shops carry Carolina Kettle products. Use the store locator to locate some near you.
Famous customer: YouTuber Casey Neistat once unboxed Carolina Kettle Chips on his channel.
Husband and wife team Janelle Doyle and Chef Desmen Milligan opened It’s Poppin! Kettle Korn in 2017. Both wanted to start a small business and agreed that popcorn would give them the opportunity to be creative with flavors. They’ve done just that with sweet and savory kettle corn options like Chicken and Waffles, Honey Bourbon Bacon, Mac N Cheese, and Tomato Basil.
Famous customer: Celebrity chef Darius Cooks visited the market and bought a bag of Cheesy Karamel in February. “He went live and told his over one million followers of how this was the best kettle corn he had ever tasted and encouraged all of his followers to support,” Doyle says. “Within minutes we went viral and had hundreds of orders.”
In 1926, 37 local business leaders formed the Mt. Olive Pickle Company when an abundance of cucumbers presented an opportunity.
Today, the company is deeply rooted in the community, employing 1,250 people and supporting nonprofits such as the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, civic clubs, churches, schools, and youth sports programs.
In fact, it’s become such an important part of the community that Mt. Olivians gather in the center of town each year to watch not a glittery ball but a pickle drop down a pole to count down to the new year each Dec. 31. The event was canceled due to weather concerns for the first time in 21 years last year, but we’re hopeful for its return this year.
Find: Major grocery retailers in the United States
Famous customer: When Dolly Parton opened the refrigerator on her tour bus once, cameras caught several jars of Mt. Olive products inside.
In 2020, John Mallette (aka Captain John) and Randy Mills opened Southern Breeze Seafood in Jacksonville. Two years later, Mallette created a gluten-free breader using heirloom rice flour from the Tidewater Grain Co. in Oriental, the only rice farm in the state.
The breader, seasoned with Mallette’s own recipe, comes in seafood, chicken, and all-purpose blends. “It’s done old-school style like my grandmother did it,” Mallette says. “Bread it, fry it, and eat it.”
Famous customer: “We have repeat customers who love our gluten-free seafood options,” says Chef Keith Rhodes at Catch Restaurant in Wilmington. “People always ask where to buy it. It’s going to be everywhere soon.”
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