Jessica Kwong is the Founder of Jack & Friends, a plant-based jerky line with rich flavors like Tomato and Poblano Pepper, Ginger Teriyaki, and Sweet Barbecue. Jessica spoke to us about crafting her signature brand and flavors, her advice for CPG brands, and her hopes for growth.
- What inspired you to start your brand?
“I was inspired to found Jack & Friends because I wanted to create a brand that embodied inclusivity. Our mission is all about creating food for anyone and any lifestyle.”
- Which flavor of Jack & Friends Jerky is your favorite?
“It’s a tough decision, but I think my favorite flavor of jerky is Jack & Barb, which is our sweet barbecue flavor. I like really bold and savory flavors and sometimes I’m not in the mood for something spicy like our Jack & Tom flavor, so I think Jack & Barb is my favorite.
- What is the most rewarding part of running a small business?
“It’s definitely super rewarding to have complete ownership over your work. Knowing that you created something start to finish and that you are completely managing your own business, as well as making your product and seeing actual customers enjoying it.”
- Which flavor of jerky has been the most fun to make? Do you hope to have more flavors coming?
“I think our Jack & Tom flavor, Tomato and Poblano Pepper, was the most fun for me to make because it was our very first flavor and we were just getting started so everything was brand new. It was the very first product we were releasing under Jack & Friends. And yes, you can definitely look forward to more Friends, or flavors, in the future!”
- What advice do you have for anyone who wants to start a business in the CPG space? Or challenges nobody talks about?
“My advice for anyone trying to get into food CPG is don’t underestimate the amount of time it takes to do initial R&D before you launch. A lot of people are inpatient and want to get their product out as soon as possible, which is totally understandable because you want to see your baby come to light. But definitely take some time in the beginning to make sure that you have done some extensive R&D and you make sure the product is as good as possible before releasing because it is so much harder to make changes once you have gotten going versus doing a lot of the leg work pre-launch.
In terms of stuff that you don’t see, entrepreneurship is not all sunshine and rainbows. There are a lot of dark days where you are staying awake at 3am making jerky or just doing work in general. Keep in mind that there is a lot that you’re not seeing on pretty Instagram feeds that goes into owning a small business.”
- What are some lessons you’ve learned from starting a business from the ground up?
“Starting a business from the ground up, I’ve learned that things take way longer than you anticipate, especially as a small business that is boot-strapping. You have so many different functions and people that you have to coordinate to get one task done. Everyone else has their own timelines, and when you are super small, you are most of the time not someone’s number one priority. Any time you think it’s going to take a certain time period to get something done, probably double that, or at least add on a lot of extra lead time.”
- What are the biggest challenges you faced during COVID?
“The biggest challenge during COVID and still now is figuring out which channels are best to sell in. From the retail standpoint, we are in many specialty independent grocers which definitely took the biggest hit in terms of foot traffic when the pandemic started. So, figuring out how to combat that with our wholesale strategy. From the e-commerce standpoint, it was really about shifting our digital marketing efforts as everyone was jumping on the D to C bandwagon and driving up CPMs and other marketing costs. We had to figure out how to lower our customer acquisition costs and still reach our target market.”
- What is your vision for Jack & Friends in the future?
“My vision for Jack & Friends in the future is to not only create plant-based jerky, but multiple product lines that fit under our platform of inclusivity and our mission to create food for anyone and any lifestyle. So obviously, everyone eats food outside of just snacks, so we would really like to have different meal occasions and food applications within the Jack & Friends line that still utilizes jackfruit as a versatile ingredient and maintains our embodiment of inclusivity.”
Want to hear more from Jessica? Find her at jackandfriendsjerky.com and on Instagram @jackandfriendsjerky.