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Krave to leave Sonoma for Austin

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“Straight from California’s wine country. Krave is all-natural and exploding with flavor,” reads the promotional copy for the Krave Jerky brand on the Hershey website.

That copy will need to be edited.

The candy behemoth has told its dozen Sonoma-based employees that its Krave operations are moving to Austin, Texas, sometime this year.

Jon Sebastiani sold his baby, the Krave Jerky line, to Hershey in 2015. Three years later, despite assurances that the company was committed to it remaining in Sonoma, plans are in motion for Krave to leave town.

The press release announcing the 2015 acquisition stressed that, “Krave will remain headquartered in Sonoma, California, and Hershey plans to operate Krave as a standalone business within its Hershey North America division.”

In 2017, the company moved into new office space and announced big plans to open a first of its kind “brand experience center” on the Plaza.

“Customers will be able to sample and buy our products and we expect to partner with local cheese, cider and wine companies in the space as well,” said then general manager Shane Chambers. “And because of Sonoma’s position on the forefront of culinary trends, we have the opportunity to think outside the box with ideas like this retail storefront.”

But Hershey’s acquisitions of the Bark Thins brand in 2016 and then the SkinnyPop popcorn brand in 2017 changed the dynamic.

“We have focused on building our snacking business with the acquisition of several brands, including most recently Amplify Snack Brands, the company behind SkinnyPop, located in Austin, Texas,” explained Hershey Director of Corporate Communications Jeff Beckman. “To bring these great snack brands together as a single business, we have decided to make Amplify the hub for our emerging brands. As a result, we are beginning to plan for an eventual move of our Krave business from Sonoma to Austin.”

When asked about timing, Beckman said that Hershey is just beginning the planning process.

“We do not yet have a timeframe for a move,” said Beckman.

Sebastiani founded Krave in 2009 and it quickly emerged as a leader in the premium jerky category.

In early 2015, Hershey acquired the company for $218.7 million. The candy and snack food company is headquartered in Hershey, Pennsylvania, with approximately 13,000 employees around the world and 80 brands that drive over $7.4 billion in annual revenues.

When reached for comment, Jon Sebastiani was sanguine.

“While I’m disappointed that Hershey will be moving the Krave brand to Austin – alongside their recently purchased brand SkinnyPop – I understand the economic synergies that justify that decision,” he said. “That said, the soul of the Krave brand will always live in Sonoma and will carry with it a renewed spirit of food entrepreneurship that will thrive long into the future.”

Will Lisman, Hershey’s emerging brands unit general manager, oversees the Krave unit from Pennsylvania, while general manager Michelle Villarroel is the most senior employee based in Sonoma.

Lisman said that “many” of the current Krave employees to relocate to Austin.

“We are optimistic that many of them will accept these offers,” he said.

Krave currently rents around 3,500 square feet of newly refurbished office space on the ground floor of 117 W. Napa St., in the same building as the Index-Tribune.

Building landlord Kenwood Investments has not announced any plans for the space when it becomes available.

One thing is for sure. Sonomans should not hold their breath for the previously announced, and long-awaited, jerky “meat to mouth experience center” planned for West Napa Street.

Email Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.