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Southern Cooking Turns Commercial For Hometown Girl

Shirley Riley displays her famous sweet potato cake, which is now offered commercially as a cake mix. She will offer samples of her product at Turnage Drug Store on Saturday, from 10 a.m. until noon for the public to enjoy. – – Photo Provided

Shirley Riley’s first shipment of her new product was sent in early June. The logo was designed during a food seminar held at Mississippi State University. “I doodled the design during the class,” Riley recalls. The package also touts the recipe’s first place finish in last year’s state contest. She has several trademarks on the box design, including her logo and brand name. – Photo Provided

By David Howell

WATER VALLEY – A Water Valley gal has turned a prize-winning dessert recipe into a commercially offered cake mix marketed in five states – accomplishing the feat in just over a year.

    Shirley Riley entered her favorite recipe, sweet potato cake with lemon cream cheese frosting in the Mississippi Magazine recipe contest in the spring of 2008. Her recipe captured the overall grand prize and the experience inspired her to try and package the tasty treat for others to enjoy.

    She attended a food workshop last August at Mississippi State University and the rest is history – and a lot of hard work.

    Early in the process, Riley recognized one of the more difficult challenges would be to make dehydrated sweet potato mix – a key ingredient in the cake mix – as tasty as the real potatoes that were used in her prize-winning recipe.

    With local food connoisseurs providing feedback, Riley prepared the sweet potato cakes using her award-winning recipe, but tweaked the ingredients to find the perfect combination to take the product to the commercial market.

    After fine tuning the recipe, her next step was to send the ingredients to a blending company in Hattiesburg. The company would mix the ingredients for Riley’s soon-to-be commercial operation, but there was still a little more fine tuning remaining.

    “It took five tries to get it right,” Riley explained. “The last change I made was switching flour and everyone agreed we had a success,” Riley continued.

Easy Enough For A Man

    Baking the delicious cake using the mix is extremely simple, according to Riley. You simply add three ingredients, warm water, cooking oil and eggs. However, there is one special direction that must be followed.

    “You have to stir it with a wooden spoon,” Riley explains, an important step that keeps the texture just the same as when her recipe won the Mississippi Magazine recipe contest.

    “I sent instructions with my recipe for the contest that you had to use a wooden spoon, no blender,” Riley recalls.

    With the ingredients mixed properly, you pour it in a pan and cook at 350 degrees. Also included are separate directions for the lemon cream cheese frosting which is also very easy to make, according to Riley.

Reaching Potential Customers

    Riley received her first shipment from her blending company on June 2, just two days prior to the annual Mississippi Market Wholesale Show.

    “I picked up 14 customers in three states,” Riley said about that first weekend she introduced her brand new product to potential vendors attending the Jackson show. Since June, that list has climbed to almost 30 customers including one location in Water Valley.        “You can buy it in your hometown at Turnage Drug store and get a great deal,” Riley explains.

    “I target gourmet shops and specialty stores,” she explains of her marketing strategy. One of her early customers, Indianola Pecan House, was the first to request a second case of her product to resale. Each case contains 24 boxes.

    The product is also offered in neighboring towns including Oxford at Provisions, located in the Oxford Marketplace Shopping Center, Town Square Gifts and the Market Place in Grenada. The most recent store added to the list is Uniquely Southern in Batesville.

    “Uniquely Southern is owned by another hometown lady, Shirley Vaughn,” Riley said.

    She is distributing the product from a space rented from Cayce Washington at Valley Tool.

No Stopping Now

    Riley is already working to expand her food line. She has several new and exciting products in development, including Cranberry Bar Mix and Apple Brown Betty Mix for the fall and two more surprise mixes for the Spring of 2010.

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