'We’ll be incubating our own brands and investing in other early stage brands'

KRAVE Jerky founder to depart Hershey in New Year and launch incubator to foster new CPG brands

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Jon Sebastiani: 'I am only interested in things that are entirely new'
Jon Sebastiani: 'I am only interested in things that are entirely new'

Related tags Entrepreneurship

KRAVE Jerky founder Jon Sebastiani - who sold his business to Hershey in January – is going back to his entrepreneurial roots next year with the launch of a CPG incubator he hopes can recreate the magic he felt in KRAVE’s early days with groundbreaking new food brands.

Sebastiani, who has stayed with KRAVE/Hershey this year to help manage the transition, told FoodNavigator-USA that several products are already under development at his soon-to-launch Sonoma, CA-based incubator, which will nurture his own brands and those developed by other entrepreneurs.

He added: “From a personal standpointI think entrepreneurs have favorite moments in the timelines of their companies, and for me, that time was the formulation to early commercialization phase. Designing, developing, creating a product that visually we believe the consumer would believe in.

“The real magic occurs in the beginning, and I am excited to start all over again, although I am not unaware that a repeat performance ​[of the meteoric success of KRAVE – which went from zero to $80m in less than five years] will be a challenge.”

I am only interested in things that are entirely new

He is not yet disclosing what’s in the pipeline, but said several concepts are in the final stages of flavor and packaging development, adding that a “material​” amount of capital has been raised to take these brands to market.

He told us: “We have no boundaries or set formulas, but I am only interested in things that are entirely new, that stretch the boundaries of better for you foods, not launching me-too concepts.  I am tracking many emerging trends and have developed several concepts that I intend to introduce in the first half of next year.”

He added: “We’ll be incubating our own brands and investing in other early stage brands. We’re looking for strong leaders and unique – but high velocity – products versus differentiated products in very slow moving categories.”

I applaud Hershey for keeping KRAVE in Sonoma

While Sebastiani has continued to drive KRAVE from its Sonoma head office this year, Hershey was always aware that he had aspirations to incubate his own - and other people's - new brands following the deal, he said.

“I applaud Hershey for keeping KRAVE in Sonoma and I’ll continue to consult with them.

“I remain extremely hopeful that Hershey remains steadfast in its commitment to pursue qualitative innovation in the portable protein snacking segment and retain the soul of the company. KRAVE has been instrumental in driving real change in meat snacking, and I believe the brand has the potential to stretch into additional categories of healthy/better-for-you snacking.”

Asked when KRAVE would be entering the meat bar category, something it had originally aimed to do by the end of this year, he said: “The integration​ [of KRAVE into the Hershey business] has been relatively complex as Hershey is not used to working with meat and USDA regulations, so both KRAVE and Hershey wanted to make sure that the supply chain work was in place and the quality was right before launching a new product, but I can say it will be launching in the very very near term.

“There are also other very innovative new products in the pipeline.”

2015 has been a year of integration

He added: “The KRAVE brand has grown significantly since the deal ​[with Hershey] but 2015 has been a year of integration. 2016 is when you’ll really see things happen. You'll see KRAVE penetrate on an ACV basis​ [eg. grow distribution] much more aggresively next year.”

Asked why he wasn’t planning to simply sit back, cash in his check from Hershey and retire, Sebastiani said: “It’s not even an option. It doesn’t interest me whatsoever.”

Click HERE​ to read our interview with Jon Sebastiani after he sold his business to Hershey.

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