Dustin Finkel, founder and CEO of KaPop!, sat down with Team Sorghum to talk about his products and his innovative use of sorghum in snack foods.
I am a certified personal trainer, foodie and proud dad to two amazing little boys. Like most of us, I love snacking. However, as an avid health and wellness focused individual, I could never find something that my family, friends and neighbors would crave while meeting my incredibly high health standards. My goal was simple – simple ingredients, nothing added and amazing taste! It was also imperative we could help better our environment through our products.
After eating one of the so-called ‘healthier’ popcorn options, I had the light bulb moment – could I pop ancient grains, like sorghum, in the same way we pop corn? I placed sorghum on the stove and discovered it was possible! My kids, friends and family loved it, and I loved that it met the highest taste trepidations and my stringent nutrition requirements. We created popped chips, puffs and rings from those initial oven top batches.
Sorghum was a clear choice to be the foundation of our new business. It is full of protein, whole-grain fiber and antioxidants, and its proteins are “among the highest in nutritive quality of vegetable origin and close to those of animal origin products.” Further, the U.S, is the largest grower of this incredible grain which contributes to regenerative farming and increased agricultural sustainability. Sorghum fits the bill.
Too often, natural food products make inauthentic claims, follow an outdated old paradigm of health or just plain don’t taste good. Founded in April 2018, Ka-Pop! is the very first 100 percent super grain snack on the market. Ka-Pop! delivers the trifecta of benefits consumers are looking for – authentic nutrition, great taste and simple ingredients.
Ka-Pop! was featured on Shark Tank in 2020, and we’ve seen over 300 percent growth year over year since launch. We have a powerful differentiator in bringing joy and unbelievably craveable taste back to healthy snacking. We are seeing so much success with 100 percent retailer acceptance and nearly perfect five-star reviews.
We are the only company to use 100 percent ancient grain sorghum with no fillers, no rice, no wheat, no corn, nothing else. We are gluten-free, top-12 allergen free, vegan and non-GMO – but not taste free! We believe everyone should be able to eat food that tastes delicious without compromise – indulge fearlessly!
We have evolved in many ways in the past four years and even before we officially launched in the market. Here are a few of my favorite changes:
From a business perspective, there is nothing else like Shark Tank for a smaller brand – it is a long-form Super Bowl commercial. Nine minutes on national television in front of a 40 million plus audience! We sold more in nine days after airing than the entire previous year combined! People love the story and experience, and it provides proof of concept for a brand.
It validated we were on the right track on a personal level. The sharks universally loved the product, the brand and me personally. Anyone who has started a business knows it is a lonely road, and you live for validation. Validation can come in sales, reviews, investment and in my case, Shark Tank feedback. Rohan, one of my Sharks and a stalwart in the food industry said: “Great product…I like you, and I’ll take you anywhere. I would hire you…I would put you in to run any one of my companies.”
While it is rare to get on Shark Tank, I always share with brands that they need to find their own “Shark Tank Moment” to move the needle and separate yourself from the pack.
The CPG industry, specifically in food, has changed drastically over the past 15 years. While big brands dominate volume, small brands drive growth and innovation. You see innovation and value being created in the marketplace. However, there has been little development in distribution, retail acceptance and the like with that growth. It is more complex, more complicated and more expensive than ever to drive retail growth. However, large retailers, like Kroger, are giving smaller brands a genuine opportunity to drive growth in their stores.
A critical driver of small brand growth is introducing new(er)-to-the-market innovation, including ingredient innovation. Ka-Pop! is incredibly proud to have launched the first national brand with 100 percent sorghum as its base. It’s been fascinating to see the growth in awareness of grains like sorghum in both product development and consumer awareness. We want to show farmers sorghum is a viable commercial grain and continue converting acreage to this fantastic crop.
My favorite response is from those who grew up in the southeast. They are way over index on familiarity with sorghum. They’ve grown up with it as a syrup – so while the awareness is there, I have to educate them that it is not just a sugary treat! It’s also incredible to meet others who are super excited we are using such an incredibly healthy and sustainable crop for our products.
Once those who are less aware learn of the benefits, you can see their eyes widen with excitement. Sorghum is not a trendy grain – it has shown its importance for thousands of years and continues today.
My primary mission is to continue driving consumer trust in Ka-Pop! and sorghum. There is no reason consumers need to trade health for taste. We will continue to look for products consumers love but perhaps don’t feel great about eating. That’s how we came up with our latest Supergrain Rings. Additionally, I want to continue finding partners, like Kroger, interested in supporting the growth of fundamentally great tasting and sustainable products.
It’s hard to grow big brands in CPG without significant investment. So we are constantly on the lookout for great financial partners, as well.
It starts with our purpose, mission and values – make healthy eating fun and delicious through innovative foods that celebrate the innate nutrition and taste potential of ancient grains. Values:
We will offer a 30 percent discount to any Sorghum Grower readers at our website kapopsnacks.com by using the code “Sorghum” at checkout.
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2022 Issue of Sorghum Grower magazine.