By Phil Wieland, Times of Northwest Indiana

VALPARAISO | Jim Brocksmith knows how the owners of Valpo Velvet feel.

Brocksmith is owner and president of Katie's Potato Chips of Hobart. Like Valpo Velvet ice cream, Katie's was recently removed from the shelves at area Walmarts.

"It wasn't because of the sales," Brocksmith said. "They were one of the group of customers considered to be large. My space was purchased by a large company out of New Jersey, Indiana Popcorn. Kettle Chips, of the west coast, also got space.

"What it came down to is Walmart is not interested in what the customers want but what Walmart will provide them. We've always had a good working relationship with Walmart, and it just seems they want more and more. We've done everything they asked us to do. It's kind of a kick in the face," he said.

Katie's chips were removed from the Walmarts about two months ago, the same as Valpo Velvet.

Walmart spokesperson Ashley Hardie defended the move.

"What we carry is dictated by the customers' purchases. They vote with their dollars, and we review and reassess our product offerings regularly," Hardie said.

Mike Brown, whose family owns and operates Valpo Velvet, said sales of the ice cream increased about $2,000 in the past year at the Valparaiso Walmart. The company had only been in the Portage and Michigan City stores a short time, but sales were increasing in Portage. Brown said they had a full door in Michigan City, then it was cut to half a door although sales weren't declining.

A spokesman for El Tenampa, which makes the Nuevo Leon brands of tortillas in Hammond, said Walmart cut back the space they had, removing a couple of their products from the shelves in recent months.

Another local product that disappeared was the Strongbow Inn turkey pot pies, but Russ Adams, owner of the Valparaiso restaurant, said the company that made the pies for the mass market went out of business.

Brocksmith said the ouster "caused me to go out and get more customers." He and Brown said Walgreens, Jewel, WiseWay and others are helping by putting signs up saying they sell both Katie's and Valpo Velvet or by having specials on the products.

"We're grateful to the retailers that still carry our product," Brocksmith said. "Customer request is what got us into the business, and kept us in the business since 1983. Walmart will survive and so will I."

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