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Founders Chat with Jessica from Jack & Friends Jerky

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Check out IG live chat between our co-founder, Heather, and Jessica:




Tell us about yourself.

I’m Jessica Kwong, the founder of Jack & Friends, a company creating plant-based jerky for any lifestyle. My background is a little less traditional than most food entrepreneurs, as I graduated with a bachelor's in Food Science from Cornell University after learning about technical areas like sensory analysis, quality, safety, etc. During my four years there, I led Cornell’s IFTSA & Mars product development team to national and international wins, and gained R&D and commercialization experience in everything from yogurt to baby food to baked goods at companies ranging from startups to multi-billion dollar corporations like Hain Celestial and Mondelez International. In 2018, I actually turned down a full-time offer from Mondelez to pursue Jack & Friends immediately after graduation! Personally, I’m also a born-and-raised New Yorker, foodie, avid traveler, and concert junkie.

What inspired you to start the brand and how did you land on using jackfruit?

The initial concept for a jackfruit-based jerky stemmed from a product I created as the leader of a product development team while still a student at Cornell, and I felt there was a huge amount of potential for continued development. The plant-based market in general was so attractive as a food scientist because there's an incredible amount of opportunity for product innovation, and jackfruit as an ingredient is extremely versatile in terms of its flavor capacity and textural properties. I really fell in love with jackfruit when I stumbled across it during market research at that time and kept discovering how amazing of an ingredient and crop it is. Although it is used in meat alternative meals, jackfruit was underutilized, in my opinion, in snack applications. More importantly, I was (and still am) passionate about establishing a brand that embodied inclusivity, and it seemed like a perfect ingredient to serve as a foundation in creating products that fit under this platform.


Tell us about your mission and values.

Jack & Friends believes in inclusivity—especially when it comes to food. We are committed to crafting products you can feel good about eating, regardless of your lifestyle or diet, so you can enjoy food without compromising on quality. Too many foods (especially snacks) force us to sacrifice one benefit for another: high protein but not allergen-free, low fat but not low sugar, plant-based but inconvenient. Even within the vegan jerky category, consumers are forced to choose between high protein content and allergen-friendly status among the current options. Whether you’re a vegan fitness enthusiast in need of plant-based protein, an overworked analyst looking for convenient desk snacks, or anyone in between, Jack & Friends jerky can seamlessly and deliciously fit into your lifestyle as a product that is not only vegan and top 9 allergen-free, but also a good source of protein and fiber with no added sugar.

Where did the name “Jack & Friends” originate from? Who is Jack and who are the Friends?

As the foundation of our plant-based jerky, it seemed only right to honor jackfruit with the permanent place in our name—the “Jack.” Each Friend is then named after the predominant flavor in that jerky: Jack & Tom is tomato & poblano pepper, Jack & Barb is sweet barbecue, and Jack & Teri is ginger teriyaki. I wanted our branding and nomenclature to be fun and friendly, but also personify our products and ingredients to inspire a sense of community that aligns with our brand’s mission and ethos of inclusivity.

How did you find your supply chain partners and how important are those relationships, especially with the very specific ingredients you used.

Some of our current supply chain partners came from the experience and referrals I had from working in R&D in the food industry prior to founding Jack & Friends, but honestly, the majority of our suppliers were the result of very extensive Google searching. It was a long process of searching, testing samples from various suppliers, and then determining the best fit based on product quality, pricing, and order volume. Developing and maintaining good relationships with our partners–especially for the suppliers of our more niche ingredients–is critical. We’ve been fortunate enough to work with great partners that were flexible with a small startup but still have the capacity to satisfy our needs as we continue to grow.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced since starting the business?

My journey through entrepreneurship has definitely not been a smooth one—and I’m sure almost all founders will feel the same! There haven’t been many days where I’m not putting out some sort of fire (especially as a young, solo founder), but the most challenging aspect of growing Jack & Friends has been the scale up process, as our product is unique and comes with non-conventional manufacturing compared to many other CPG products. Finding a contract manufacturer that not only has the capabilities to produce our jerky at scale and at the desired quality, but is also open to working with an early-stage startup was not easy. Now, four years after our soft launch, we have finally transitioned to a wonderful partner to scale up our production. In general, navigating the first major inflection point or growth phase—and all the manufacturing, marketing, fundraising, etc. that comes with it—as a brand that has largely been bootstrapped to date is a constant (and demanding) learning experience.

Favorite flavor from your brand?

It really depends on my mood because each flavor brings something different to the table, but if I had to choose, I’d probably go with Jack & Barb (sweet barbecue). Don’t tell the other two flavors, though!

Can you give us an example of the benefits of Jack & Friends jerky?

Where do I begin?! Jack & Friends’ jerky is: vegan, top 9 allergen-free, a good source of protein and fiber, low fat, keto-friendly, cholesterol-free, nitrate-free, preservative-free, and contains no added sugar. Coming from a food science background, I really strived to formulate our jerky to be a snack that is lifestyle- and diet-inclusive without sacrificing nutrition, quality, or convenience.

Other female-founded brands that inspire you?

Fly By Jing and Partake Foods are two female-founded brands that I greatly admire and look to for inspiration. Their branding and product assortment are very different, but both are amazing at fostering community around core values and missions with cohesive messaging. Perhaps even more important, their products are delicious! Jing and Denise are true trailblazers, and I’m sure many other founders also find inspiration in their work.

What can we expect to see from the brand this year?

Now that we’ve finally transitioned production to a co-manufacturer, Jack & Friends has a LOT of plans for growth this year! Our brand refresh should be complete in the next couple of months–same great name and products, but a totally new visual identity to dial in on our brand values in a cohesive and engaging manner. With our production capacity constraint alleviated, Jack & Friends is also looking to expand sales online and in retail. I just hired a content creator to help us lean into TikTok and Reels for organic social media, and we’re in the midst of executing strategies to increase our footprint in independent retailers and follow up on conversations with some chain stores.

What advice do you have for early-stage entrepreneurs?

Be persistent, but patient. Everything—and I mean everything—will take twice as long as you originally anticipated, especially if you’re starting as an early-stage, bootstrapped company through a pandemic! It’s easy to feel like you’re falling behind when schedules are delayed or every other company in industry news appears to be hitting major milestones everyday, so it’s necessary to learn patience with the process and your progress.

How can our readers follow and connect with you?

To continue supporting and following our journey, find Jack & Friends (@jackandfriendsjerky) on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. Feel free to connect with me directly on LinkedIn as well! For more information on Jack & Friends and to purchase our plant-based jerky, head to our website.



Check out our previous blog on "10 Eco & Ethical Women-Owned Businesses"