Krave's success is symbolic of the sweeping changes taking place throughout the food industry. The company took a classic snack, jazzed it up with trendy flavors like grilled sweet teriyaki and garlic chili pepper, and appealed to customers looking for a low-fat, high protein and all-natural treat.
In 2015, Hershey acquired Krave. The jerky maker has since branched into other foods reflective of its consumer's growing appetite for snacks. It released an innovative better-for-you Krave Bar chock-full of protein, dried fruit and quinoa, and will soon launch the Krave Stick that contains protein, sweet potatoes or whole beans —a gourmet take on the classic meat stick.
Krave general manager Shane Chambers spoke with Food Dive about its success, the close relationship it has with retailers and new products the company is planning to introduce this year.
Food Dive: What are your responsibilities at Krave?
Chambers: I spend a fair amount of time thinking about where and when to integrate portions of our business to maximize the benefit from being part of the larger organization. I want to be sure that we take advantage of the scale, resources and tremendous knowledge available at Hershey. But at the same time, I want to try to nurture the culture that has made Krave so incredibly successful. The speed, agility and entrepreneurial spirit of Krave are central to our mission.
Overall, I’m responsible for all aspects of the Krave business, and some take more of my time than others. Thankfully, we have very strong cross-functional business leaders that support Krave’s success. I can tell you that one of the most exciting areas of the business that I enjoy spending time in is the innovation function. At Krave, the entire team meets regularly to talk about snacking trends, and how we can take advantage of them with the Krave brand. We strategize flavor, protein and innovation marketing ideas. Our recent launches of Krave Bar and Krave Stick are evidence of direct output from that process.
Food Dive: Describe Krave’s relationship and the strategy it uses with retailers?
Chambers: Fortunately, the retailer strategy for Krave has been relatively easy to formulate. We have very compelling evidence that the Krave brand can expand category sales for retailers by bringing new users into the meat snacks category. Quite simply, consumers that had given up on the category, who were generally turned off by high-sodium and highly processed competitors, are excited by Krave’s all natural proposition and unique flavor profiles. The Krave consumer has tended to be a higher income individual with a good balance of men and women in the franchise. Again, quite different than the traditional meat snacks consumer.
For that reason, retailers have been very receptive to adding more and more of our Krave flavors and innovation to their portfolio. Once we acquire distribution, we frequently send in our field marketing team to encourage new consumers to sample our products. We have an extremely high conversion rate and repeat rate from that marketing tactic.
Food Dive: What’s the secret for building strong partnerships with retailers?
Chambers: I encourage the Krave team to work with our retail partners in a collaborative way in responding to consumer needs. We have the ability to respond quickly to retailer interest and, in some cases, have collaborated directly with key customers to take advantage of opportunities that we both see in the market. For example, our newest flavor, Pink Peppercorn Beef, was developed in a very fun atmosphere with a very good retail partner and was born from a flavor trend that the retailer helped us to identify.
I think the secret to building strong partnerships is to focus on a common goal. In the case of Krave, it has always been a simple joint mission with our partners—to deliver delicious, healthier snacking choices to the consumer that will grow sales in the category.
We see it happen all too often: CPGs take their eye off the ball when it comes to clearly establishing joint goals with retailers. When that happens, the relationship and the conversation can devolve into constant price negotiation, which really doesn’t benefit either party.
Food Dive: What are some of the new products you plan to release in 2017?
Chambers: 2017 will be an incredibly exciting year for Krave. We will continue to expand our lineup of protein snacks that can be easily enjoyed on-the-go. On the heels of launching the brand’s first new non-jerky product in December 2016 – the Krave Bar – we are gearing up to bring the all-new Krave Stick to retail shelves in late-February.
Each of the three Krave Stick flavors were crafted in collaboration with the Culinary Institute of America and combine ingredients such as beans, herbs and sweet potatoes for an additional nutritional benefit and a flavorful snacking experience that is quite different from other meat sticks on the market. In Q2, Krave will roll out the two newest jerky flavors to be added to the lineup – Pink Peppercorn Beef and our first-ever chicken jerky, Honey Habanero Chicken. Personally, I love Honey Habanero Chicken – once it launches it will be the spiciest variety in our line. Over the years we have had overwhelming consumer feedback asking for a spicier flavor. I think Honey Habanero Chicken will deliver on their expectations.
Food Dive: What’s the innovation philosophy at the company?
Chambers: We have a very robust innovation pipeline for the Krave brand. Strategically, all Krave innovation starts with the consumer. We talk regularly to our consumers, and any Krave innovation concept is rooted in a consumer need. We feel as though all Krave innovation should deliver on one of two pillars. First, we have to deliver a product that has protein to help our consumer “fuel up” for their busy days, weeks and lives. Second, any innovation in our pipeline needs to be created with the highest ingredient and quality standard so we can be sure to deliver on the health and culinary aspects that the consumer has come to expect from us.
Food Dive: How would you describe the meat snack industry in 2017?
Chambers: I think that meat snacks will continue to offer very attractive growth in 2017 and likely for the foreseeable future. Consumers just have less time for traditional sit-down meals and are more frequently snacking. We hear from them regularly that the new varieties of all natural, flavorful meat snacks are the perfect solution for their busy lives. I think that retailers will expand their meat snacks sections to take advantage of the growth the industry is seeing and that new forms of portable protein snacks will continue to drive that growth.
Food Dive: What trends are impacting the segment’s growth?
Chambers: Consumers are increasingly busy and seeking active lifestyles, and they want more snack options that taste good and provide the nutrition they need to fuel their hobbies while they are out and about. The protein snack category has seen huge growth due to this.
Food Dive: What marketing measures has the company employed to better get the word out about its products, and which have been successful?
Chambers: I believe we have a good mix of marketing activity to get the word out on the Krave brand. As I mentioned, we spend a good portion of resources driving trial through our field team at thousands of events across the country. Our field teams go to various events where our consumers are spending their time – like fitness events and culinary events – and set up unique sampling areas with beautiful tents and point of sale material, to attract interest in our brand and our products.
In 2016, we also invested heavily in Team USA as a sponsor of the United States Olympic Committee through the Hershey Co. and utilized relevant, top-tier athletes to help deliver the Krave message. Michael Phelps, Carli Lloyd, and Meb Keflezighi were a part of Team Krave, acting as ambassadors for the Krave brand.
Food Dive: How do you use social media to help the brand?
Chambers: Social media serves as a way to engage consumers with the brand as an extension of in-store promotions, field marketing, Team Krave initiatives, etc., and is also a source of consumer relations. Through social media, our fans can tell us how they feel about the product and we can respond to them directly. This is an extension of how we approach field marketing. We are always listening and every point of view about the product is important to how we continue to grow and develop new approaches to meat-based snacking.
Through our Krave social media channels, we are also able to tell our brand story, whether sharing inspirational posts, featuring Team Krave members enjoying our products, or highlighting various pairings and culinary-inspired recipes. Our Instagram feed is curated to inspire our fans to enjoy Krave in a variety of ways — whether on a trail, after a workout or relaxing with friends.
We also used our social media channels to educate our fan base on new product innovations. For example, we relied heavily on social media to educate fans about our new Krave Bar, highlighting the new product’s key ingredients and a whole new way to enjoy the protein and flavor they have come to love from Krave.