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Virginia company acquiring W.Va.'s Blue Smoke Salsa

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A salsa company that started in a West Virginia basement is being acquired by a family-owned food products company in Virginia, the salsa maker's founder said Thursday.

Blue Smoke Salsa's Robin Hildebrand said the tentative deal with Winchester, Va.-based White House Foods is expected to be completed by early June. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

Hildebrand said the company's salsa-making operations will stay in Southern West Virginia and she'll remain as president of Blue Smoke Salsa.

"It's very exciting," Hildebrand said. "It's been some kind of journey."

One that almost ended two years ago.

Hildebrand, one of 14 children, began the business in her Fayette County home in 1993 as a way of working while raising her own kids.

The growing business eventually moved into a rented building before she bought a former hardware store in Ansted in 2002.

In 2011, she declared Blue Smoke Salsa a victim of the sluggish economy. With high costs, she planned to shut it down.

"I was just so trapped," Hildebrand said, "and the pressure was just incredible."

Her followers would have nothing of it, though.

A "Save Blue Smoke Salsa" movement started on a social-media site. Customers began placing huge orders. Hildebrand received encouragement from members of West Virginia's congressional delegation, whom she had served on panels involving entrepreneurship and small business.

Ultimately, Hildebrand decided to close a coffee shop and gourmet cafe, but the salsa-manufacturing operation and retail store would go on.

"Everyone just gave me a super boost in sales and got me over that hurdle," Hildebrand said. "Things just continue to get better."

In addition to her retail store, Blue Smoke Salsa is sold by several grocery and convenience store chains. Hildebrand would not disclose her privately held company's sales figures or number of workers, and a call to White House Foods for comment on the acquisition wasn't returned Thursday.

Last year, Hildebrand hired John Yates as an operations consultant and he's now Blue Smoke Salsa's production manager. Yates was a plant manager for White House Foods before leaving to return to his home state of West Virginia.

He introduced Hildebrand to White House Foods CEO David Gum. Meanwhile, a member of White House's acquisition-and-development team, who already knew about Blue Smoke Salsa from Hildebrand's previous marketing trips to Arkansas, talked to her again while doing business-development work in West Virginia, Hildebrand said.

Among White House Foods' products sold in the southeastern United States are apple juice, applesauce, vinegar and cheese sauces. Owned by the Gum family, White House Foods is a subsidiary of Winchester-based National Fruit Product Co.

Another company owned by the Gum family, A.G. Capital LLC, recently bought Winchester furniture maker Henkel-Harris.


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