Jon Sebastiani: 'It was always going to be a bittersweet moment'

KRAVE Jerky founder on why he teamed up with Hershey: 'I like speed. I like things to happen big and bold and fast'

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

KRAVE Jerky founder on why he sold to Hershey

Related tags Entrepreneurship

The day when any entrepreneur decides to sell his business is “always bittersweet” KRAVE jerky founder Jon Sebastiani tells FoodNavigator-USA. But joining a company with the horsepower of Hershey will enable it to lead, rather than follow, the renaissance in the meat snacks market.

Speaking to us after Hershey announced plans to buy KRAVE for an undisclosed sum (click HERE​), Sebastiani said: "Every founder is different. Some people want to build and build steadily and I respect that. ButI like speed. I like things to happen big and bold and fast.”

He added: “We’ve been growing triple digit year over year, but if you keep raising more equity the more diluted you are. Icould have slowed down and built the company with cash-flow, but I really believe that the window is open for meat snacks right now.

“KRAVE is a pioneering brand that has changed this category and we have a real opportunity to compete for that number one brand position and lead this renaissance.

“While we have an incredible team and we’ve done great things with partners like Jillian Michaels, with Hershey it takes things to a whole new level. If anyone ever thought that the meat snacks business was stale, well this is a whole new world.”

The trajectory that KRAVE has been on has been breathtaking

So what does Hershey bring to the table?

“Horsepower”, ​said Sebastiani, who worked in the family wine business in Sonoma, California, before turning his entrepreneurial talents to meat snacks in 2009/10.

“I always wanted this brand to be a real true category disruptor and the trajectory that KRAVE has been on has been breathtaking.

"But when you think about taking this to the next level with the best-in-class supply chain, supply side management and merchandising that Hershey brings to the table in 10s and 20s of thousands of stores, there is no question that the horsepower of that company will enhance our ability to meet our goals.”

Krave jerky new
Jon Sebastiani: 'If anyone ever thought that the meat snacks business was stale, well this is a whole new world.'

There’s never a perfect time to sell

That said, selling your business is “always a bittersweet moment”, ​said Sebastiani, who has not revealed the size of the deal (which Reuters pegged in the $200-300m range). 

It’s not like we reached a moment in time where we said well, that’s about all we can do.

There’s never a perfect time to sell and it was a long and hard decision for me to make, but I couldn’t think of a more iconic brand that will take care of KRAVE better than Hershey.

“We’re agile and forward thinking and it’s important to them to keep that spirit alive, which is a big reason why they want to keep the business in Sonoma.”

KRAVE meat bar to launch in second half of the year

So what’s coming up next for the company, which generated revenues of $35m in 2014?

“We do intend to launch a KRAVE bar in the second half of this year,” ​said Sebastiani, who said the success of brands such as EPICbar showed that consumers are open to meat-based snacks in all kinds of formats.

Meat snacking is a hot trend

“The consumer is ready for all kinds of interesting shapes and sizes, jerky, sticks, bars, nuggets, trail mix. It’s portable protein with less sugar and fat and fewer carbs than other protein options that are out there.”

Hershey: We couldn’t be more excited

Speaking about the rationale behind the deal on Hershey’s Q4 earnings call, North America president Michelle Buck (to whom Sebastiani will report) said protein-based snacking was a hot trend that Hershey wanted to tap into.

She added: “The meat snack category is one of the fastest growing, growing double digit in the U.S. this past year and over the past several years.

"And as we look to that category KRAVE was interesting to us because it is really playing in the fastest growing segment of the meat snacks category, the better for you premium segment.

“So we really like the brand, we think it has tremendous potential, the product proposition has a unique point of difference with a great taste, a texture, it's a culinary inspired kind of profile, and we think that there is a lot of potential as they can continue to bring new consumers into the meat snacks category.

“We couldn’t be more excited.”

Click HERE​ to watch our video interview with Jon Sebastiani at the Winter Fancy Food Show.

Click HERE​ to read our story about the deal with Hershey.

Sebastiani is on our expert panel at the FoodNavigator-USA Snacking Trends online forum on March 18. Register HERE​.

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