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From Pirate’s Booty to SexyPop: In conversation with the 'Shaman of snacks'

By Elaine WATSON , 03-Apr-2014
Last updated on 03-Apr-2014 at 16:45 GMT

From Pirate’s Booty to SexyPop: In conversation with the 'Shaman of snacks'

A former commodities trader with a passion for snacks, Robert Ehrlich turned Pirate’s Booty into a multimillion dollar brand. But can he strike gold again with his latest product, SexyPop? FoodNavigator-USA caught up with the ‘shaman of snacks’ to find out why he’s feeling so confident.

Ehrlich - who founded the Pirate Brands snacks empire that was sold to B&G Foods in a $195m deal last year - is already convinced he’s onto a winner with SexyPop (‘The favorite of sexy people everywhere’).

Made from Japanese white butterfly corn and available in flavors including Bangin’ Cheddar and Brazilian Coconut, with more to come from Dark Coffee to a skin-friendly line with avocados and Sexy Mac & Cheese, SexyPop has only been on the market for four months but has already impressed buyers at major retailers in multiple markets, claims Ehrlich.

“Right now we have KeHE, UNFI and direct store deliveries in all regions in the US. But in 12 months I expect SexyPop to be in every major retailer and club store in the US, UK and Korea. We've also got several new products in the pipeline including SexyPuffs."

Popcorn is white hot

Manufactured in Denver, Colorado; London, UK; and Seoul, South Korea; SexyPop has global ambitions, says Ehrlich, who says it could be a “billion dollar brand”.

Snacks are hot”, says Ehrlich - a serial entrepreneur and ‘genius innovator’ (well that’s what his website says ), “but popcorn is white hot”.  

Unlike 479° Popcorn, which appeals primarily to women, or POP! Gourmet Popcorn , which is going for the premium end of the market, however, SexyPop is for everyone, he says. “It’s going to be bigger than Pirate’s Booty because I’m going after a wider demographic.”

From mindless movie theater fare to gourmet snacking

“A few years ago,” added Ehrlich, who also runs a beverage company and a mobile app startup, “popcorn was a cheap commodity product you ate at movie theaters. It had all these partially hydrogenated oils.

“Then all of a sudden the culinary side came into it, and people started doing gourmet flavors, but also talking about health. Popcorn is loaded with fiber and antioxidants. It’s not a processed product, and it’s a great delivery system for all of these flavors.

“There’s a plethora of designer popcorn brands out there now. But ours taste better. Snacks are my passion, there’s something childlike about them. And popcorn is very addictive, it’s a comfort food.”

SexyPop: ‘The favorite of sexy people everywhere…’

But what’s so special about SexyPop, which was vying for attention with almost 30 other popcorn brands bidding for a slice of the action at the Natural Products Expo West Show in Anaheim last month?

Lots of things says Ehrlich, who has an obvious advantage over most start-ups in that he has already proved himself in the ultra-competitive snacks market.

But while contacts, great packaging, a sense of humor (check out the website - ‘Guaranteed to make you sexy’ - and the company name: ROB'S REALLY GOOD LLC) and clever branding open doors and get you on the shelf, you have to have a superior product if you want to stay there, he points out.

“We only use butterfly white Japanese popcorn and we use a process that filters out all the bits.”

The SexyPop brand name, meanwhile, is a “phenomenon and a catchphrase”, remarks Ehrlich, who has created hundreds of snacks during his 25+ years in the business from Chaos, Power Puffs and Spirulina Spirals, to Moon Chips, Grateful Puffs, and Swag Granola.

“Snacks should be fun. And that's what this brand is all about. Come out of your shell. It's OK to say, SexyPop."

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