CREATING A CRAZE FOR KRAVE (From the Summer 2011 issue of SONOMA)
Jon Sebastiani with a platter of "flavor profiles."
Jon Sebastiani doesn't know this, but the first time I tasted Krave jerky I took about two bites and tossed the bag in the trash. It was sweet and seemed to be marinated in pineapple juice with an orange finish. As a jerky-junkie, I found it inedible.
My jerky baseline had always been Angelo's, the little roadside deli on Arnold Drive. Angelo doesn't put pineapple in his jerky. What was Jon thinking?
Fast-forward several months and someone tells me Krave jerky is jumping off the rack, Sebastiani is selling bags by the thousands, it's already in more than 1,000 retail outlets, including Sonoma Market. Are they all crazy?
There are still sample bags in the office, so I snag one, tear it open and pull out a piece of moist, tender, smoky grilled teriyaki pork and take a tentative bite.
Hmmm. Interesting. I taste it again. And again. In a matter of minutes the bag is empty and I'm beginning to suspect that Jon Sebastiani is on to something. So we talk.
Jon is lean and intense. He looks like a guy with body fat under 10 percent. He says his exercise of choice is running, and when he began training for the New York City Marathon jerky became his default snack food. Nothing else was as healthy, he says, and that's a nutritional revelation because in some fitness circles eating beef is one step above a cholesterol IV drip.
But Jon has researched the world of jerky, he knows whereof he speaks, and he even has a nutritional comparison chart ranking Krave jerky against everything from Doritos Cool Ranch tortilla chips to everybody's default bar snack, Slim Jim's.
It turns out that jerky, almost by definition, has very little fat because fat doesn't cure-it just gets rancid. So you have to use lean beef.
Sebastiani says Krave has less salt, less cholesterol, and fewer calories than its major competitors, and it's 97 percent fat-free.
What it also has is flavor, or as Jon says, "flavor profiles," imbued through a proprietary marinating process and using carefully selected meat, to create a "mass premium" snack food that, Sebastiani expects, will create a market all its own.
A combat medic stationed in Afghanistan could be the brand's ambassador. He wrote Jon to say, "I just wanted to let you know that this is the best jerky I have ever tasted in my life!!!... I am snacking on some right now, trying to take little bites so that it will last longer."
High praise, but the world is awash with jerky. It's a $4 billion business dominated by corporate giants like ConAgra and Oberto. How do you squeeze into that game?
By disrupting it.
Jon Sebastiani is not a marketing novice. He grew up with an iconic family name, with parents and an uncle and multiple cousins all of whom have pushed a whole lot of wine-along with other food products-into the global marketplace. Jon already knew how to market outside the box.
"I've grown up in business just doing things that are unconventional, " he says. "I call them disruptions."
Disrupting the jerky market means capitalizing on three national trends Krave is designed to tap into: healthier eating, more active lifestyles, and what Jon calls the "expanded taste palate" of American consumers.
In other words, because everyone is becoming a foodie, old-fashioned, shoe-leather jerky with the usual pepper or teriyaki flavoring is no longer enough. So Jon is offering softer, moister meat with flavors like curry, sweet chipotle, lemon garlic, chile lime, garlic chile pepper and-the one I haven't been able to wrap my tongue around-pineapple orange.
For those who need choices, Krave covers the flavor spectrum from sweet to spicy.
With virtually no advertising, just viral marketing, Internet sales and direct-to-market distribution, Krave will sell a million bags of jerky in its first year, with more than 2,000 points of retail distribution. In 2012, he expects to sell 3 million bags. If Krave can keep growing, it may create a market all its own.
(From the Summer 2011 issue of SONOMA)