Rob Ehrlich to Take Vegan Food Mainstream With New Snack Line

Carol Ortenberg

Having seen his share of the snack aisle, Rob Ehrlich (the founder of Pirate’s Booty and SexyPop) is ready to take on his greatest challenge yet – bringing vegan food to the masses. The “gourmet snack food visionary” has plans to take the stigma out of “vegan” with the launch of Vegan Rob’s, a plant-based snack line.

screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-5-09-58-pmThe new brand contains 22 SKUs (some of which are updated versions from his previous line, SkinnyPop) and is made up of three product categories: chips, puffs and roasted chickpeas. Thanks to their plant-based ingredients, the snacks boast that they provide consumers with phytonutrients, superfoods and probiotics.

Ehrlich previewed the line at the summer Fancy Food Show in New York, and officially launched the line at Expo East last month in Baltimore. At the natural products show Ehrlich was “blown away by the connection and response,” he told NOSH.

The line has already been authorized by the northeast region of Whole Foods Market, as well as some HEB and Safeway stores and should head onto shelves in the fall. By the end of 2017 Ehrlich says the brand will be in over 10,000 retailers.

Having made a reported $70 million from Pirate’s Booty, which was eventually sold to B&G Foods, Ehrlich believes he has an advantage over other snack food brands when it comes to growth and product development.

“When you look at the market as a whole, it’s rather daunting to see that everyone has jumped into snacks,” Ehrlich said. “But each’s like they’re only doing an inch. We’re doing so much more, and obviously the 30 years experience I bring from Pirate’s Booty is that I understand the consumer’s motivation in terms of buying patterns and really connecting the dots in terms of “what’s this snack really going to do for me?”’

Like Pirate’s Booty’s original merchandising placements, Ehrlich believes that Vegan Rob’s should be sold (at least in part) out of the produce department. Although recent data shows that the perimeter of the store is becoming more trafficked than center store, Ehrlich insists that the produce department can draw even more consumers.

“There seems to be a real need in produce to attract people to that area,” Ehrlich said. “If you walk down that aisle there really nothing that doesn’t have to be made, you have to prepare it yourself.”

To appeal to these customers, Ehrlich and his team have designed a rack that fits into produce displays.

A rendering of the produce rack (provided by Vegan Rob's)

A rendering of the produce rack (provided by Vegan Rob’s)

Creating the vegan line inspired Ehrlich to take a look at his own life, and as a result, he hasn’t touched meat in over eight months. Ever eager to start new enterprises, Ehrlich said he’s also opening two new vegan restaurants, one of which will be “like a Vegan Hooters” with dim sum like serving carts. He added that he’s also looking into both a vegan meal replacement system that offers consumers a meal’s worth of calories for a dollar a day as well as a memory enhancement snack.

Ehrlich believes consumers are at a point where the flexitarian diet makes a vegan product appealing to a wide audience, rather than just a small subsegment. More and more, he believes, consumers are incorporating meatless options.

“If you’ve ever had a carrot stick, at that moment you’re vegan,” Ehrlich said.

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