The best piece of advice I received when I was in the beginning stages of launching my snack company, S’NOODS, came from Helen Park, my judge-turned-mentor on Netflix’s Snack vs. Chef. “Just get out there and start messing up,” she bluntly exclaimed.
Making a consumer product good (CPG) snack company never seemed easy, but you have no idea how hard starting any business is until you’re in it. Queue a flashback to me Googling, “How to start a snack company.” There’s no blueprint for where to begin, things to consider, the legality around it all, or how to protect yourself from others. And while it can be very lonely, I quickly discovered that most budding entrepreneurs were actually asking the same questions I was.
Now that I’ve weeded through some of the processes for launching S’NOODS, I hope to shed light on the development of a snack good—whether that’s for curious snack lovers or founders bringing their own dreams to life. Making a snack is like entering the world’s largest maze with hidden traps placed at every turn and it’s hard asking for directions because everyone's map is extremely different. What I can share are my survival tips and personal anecdotes, so you don’t feel quite as in the dark as I have on this snack highway.
Every Snack Should Have a Purpose. What’s Yours?
It all starts with an idea. This idea could seem revolutionary—something you know all your closest friends will love. Maybe the snack fits seamlessly into your lifestyle, filling the gap in your snack spread. But what about the rest of the market? In the end, you don’t matter. Okay, of course you matter, but the proof of viability you need to get your snack off the ground lies with the consumer.
Some things to consider when fully fleshing out the idea of your snack: Does your snack solve a problem? Does it highlight a growing trend? Does it curb health or environmental issues? Is it practical? And how will eaters interact with it? Ultimately, a purpose is necessary to stand out in the wide universe of snacks and where you must begin in conceptualizing your product.
Get Ready to Research Literally Everything
I truly believe you need to love researching and getting lost in spreadsheets in order to succeed when it comes to creating a snack company. Between investors, retailers, suppliers, consumers, and so many more people in between, there’s a lot to figure out. You won’t always have the answer and that’s okay. It took a long time for me to learn what each of these points of contact needed in order to evaluate whether our partnership makes sense.
Research doesn’t just mean consumer reports, trends, finding sources for money, looking into manufacturing options, or testing the shelf-life of the product—sometimes it can be more creative. One of my favorite memories during the initial discovery phase of S’NOODS was a brand deep-dive, which included countless post-it notes and thought experiments over the course of a day. We looked at what we liked about other brands, what we didn’t like, where we saw our product in a store, the persona of our brand at a party, and even how it would arrive at said party (for the record, I said magic carpet ride).
Test Your Idea Over and Over Again
Start with colleagues and friends, and then head to your local farmers market (many origin stories begin here). You need to find out what doesn’t work in order to hash out the kinks in the product. I would suggest creating a simple tasting form for individuals as they sample, so you can collect feedback on flavor, texture, packaging, messaging, and more. Listen and digest everything even if you don’t necessarily agree.
It may feel like nonstop trial runs during this phase. A small change in the product formulation can cause a huge ripple effect in the COGS (cost of goods sold), which refers to all the costs associated with making the product. Furthermore, it could affect which manufacturer you work with if one is only gluten-free friendly or simply doesn’t have the equipment to make the product as intended.
Get Comfortable With Asking All of the Questions
Maybe it’s because I grew up constantly feeling inferior as a woman in the food industry, but I used to hate asking questions. It felt like I didn’t know what I was doing when I should have. I thought people would judge me and doubt me. Newsflash: they will regardless.
The common theme during my conversations with CPG founders is that you will never feel like you know what you are doing. Founder of Wandel, Stephanie Berlin said she cold-called anyone and everyone that would answer. “Most of the time people are keen to help because they went through the same kind of struggle,” she explained.
I think my biggest regret during this experience thus far is that I was too timid to ask the right questions—or ask the wrong questions that then lead to the right questions. We are all clueless about our own ignorance and part of that is not even knowing what we don’t know.
Surround Yourself With the Right People
This was the hardest lesson for me. I was shocked by the number of selfless individuals that took time out of their day to help me find solutions. But for every one of those people comes another individual that shakes your trust. Just as you evaluate the purpose of your snack, you should evaluate the purpose of the people involved with your product. This includes the people you are paying as well as the people you are listening to.
As I write this, I am currently in the process of buying my back company—and it has yet to even launch! At a point where I should feel joy for winning a competition that I never dreamed I had the talent to win (oh, did I mention I won the first season of Snacks vs. Chefs?), I am paying what feels like an unfathomable amount of money to own and grow S’NOODS. People tell me it’s not personal, it’s business. But it’s both when it’s your snack baby.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned: Do not think you need to maintain connections because you’re scared to do it on your own.
Listen to Your Gut
When I asked Berlin if she regrets anything in her initial launch of Wandel she said, “I could have saved more money on packaging and I should have listened to my gut.”
The big “wow words” across the grocery aisles right now are vegan, gluten-free, keto, carbon-neutral, clean-label, low-sugar, functional, and sustainable. From the start I wanted S’NOODS to launch as gluten-free because it felt like a big win amongst consumers, allowing even more snackers to enjoy the product. Yet I allowed consultants and partners to push this important aspect aside. Months later and almost a year in, I am finally listening to myself, proudly launching a gluten-free chip and it’s already proving to pay off.
There are a lot of gambles in this game, so don’t be afraid to make bets on yourself.
Figure Out Your Goals
What does success look like for your product and yourself? This could be specific store inclusions, launching globally versus nationally, or selling the company within five years.
Goals help set expectations for everyone involved, especially investors. They are also a tool to help you organize and prioritize your to-do list. Is it important to you to hire a co-founder that can better support the long-term goals of your brand, or do you need to hire other roles like a kitchen manager first? Goals can change, but you want to have a handful in place to give you a sense of where to go next.
My Most Important Tip: Be Kind to Yourself
Launching a snack company is hard. You become numb to just how many “Nos” and unkind opinions you receive. In order to avoid burnout, you need to constantly check in with yourself and allow yourself to take a beat. I went hard for about eight months, which then forced me to take a full month off.
The production process in particular has been a big roadblock for me. The S’NOODS I dream of is not necessarily the one I am currently producing—but it’s close. As it stands, I am operating from a multi-faceted production line where I am making everything by hand. For me to get to the manufacturer point of brands like Pipcorn, Paleo Puffs, or Pulp Chips, I need the big bucks, shelf space, warehousing, and more. It becomes a chicken and egg scenario because I need one to get the other.
You will always question yourself, your product, and maybe even your sanity at points. I think that’s good because it means you still care to ask the right questions. It means you understand the importance of every little detail. At the same time, you need to be okay with launching an imperfect product. Things will go wrong, you’ll miss the mark on other things, your packaging will have mistakes, or you simply won’t have the financing. Just know you’re not alone and there’s always a path forward even if you need to backtrack a little to get there.