April 24, 2014

Better Jerky

Jon Sebastiani ’12 (EMBA) is bringing jerky into the healthy snacks category.

Print this story

Jon Sebastiani ’12 (EMBA) was snacking on jerky as he prepared for the New York City Marathon when he realized that the old-school snack had the potential to be healthy and popular — and that the industry was ripe for disruption. Here, he talks to Columbia Business about his company, Krave Pure Foods, and the next big thing in healthy snacking.

From Liability to Opportunity
The meat snacks category has a negative stigma — people associate jerky with junk food. We had the courage to separate the product from this stigma, swap artificial ingredients for healthy ones, and reposition it for today’s consumers — including women. Since companies in this category had been doing the same things for decades, it was easy to jump in and disrupt the industry very quickly.

Don’t Say the M-Word
When we talk about our products, we focus on their health benefits compared to, say, a Cliff Bar. We almost never say the word “meat” because we see ourselves in the healthy snacks industry. How we marinate our meats, our flavors — cherry barbeque, chili lime, and others — and our packaging all appeal to today’s health-conscious consumers. When someone as iconic as Oprah recommends our products, we know that we’re changing this category — and that’s really gratifying.

Live Case Study
You don’t just wake up one day and aspire to be in the jerky category. If it weren’t for Columbia, I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to take my idea seriously. The business evolved over the course of the MBA Program. The opportunity to have a new business concept and be in a room full of incredibly smart people from Microsoft to eBay to Apple and Goldman Sachs provided tremendous feedback. Steve Blank, whose entrepreneurship class I took, is still an advisor to the company.

What’s Next
We believe that over the next several years, protein-based snacking will be a large new industry. We expect to introduce meat-based bars with ingredients like oats, quinoa, and dried cranberries. We’ve raised two rounds of institutional capital with ACG [led by Julian Steinberg ’05]. We believe we will become a $100 million company within the next 24 months.

—as told to Simone Silverbush