There is a good chance that in the average home pantry, there is a snack food that has been invented or influenced by Sara and Warren Wilson.
The Wilsons are currently promoting new flavors and packaging of their latest snack success, Pretzel Crisps. The couple’s company, Snack Factory, is based in the Skillman section of Montgomery, where the duo are “mad scientists in the R&D lab,” according to Perry Abbenante, vice president of marketing.
The couple started its snack empire in the food court at the Paramus Mall in the 1970s, making funnel cakes. They expanded by producing packaged funnel cake mix that was distributed to grocery stores, as well as obtaining patents for machines to make the fried treats.
Since then, the Wilsons have invented, developed and sold major snack innovations like the bagel chip and pita chip. Companies like RJR Nabisco and J&J Snack Foods, in Pennsauken, purchased the duo’s creations, which can be seen at deli counters all over the country.
But Snack Factory is taking an indirect route to selling off their business this time. In 2009, Warren and Sara brought on VMG Partners private equity firm as investors as well as a management team, so they could go on being the idea people, and others could “carry out the details.”
“The Wilsons are still very involved — they’re the founders and they drive the innovation,” Abbenante said. “They decided they had gotten Pretzel Crisps about as far as they could get it, and they were looking for a team to take it to the next level.”
With the new management came an influx of new ideas: repackaging, new flavors and creative marketing strategies. Since September 2010, the brand has increased its U.S. sales by 108.9 percent, Abbenante said.
Abbenante said the company has embraced social media to market their products, and has seen significant results, especially with the new bold and spicy flavor line.
“We’ve really tried to embrace technology,” Abbenante said. “Marketing has changed in the last five years. You’re either a large company with a very large budget to carpet-bomb your message everywhere — TV, print, radio — or you’re a company like (Snack Factory) that doesn’t have that huge budget to get its message out there.”
A Facebook contest has resulted in 100 cases of the new flavored pretzel snacks being sent to fans this week. Abbenante said the company also uses search-related marketing to reach its audience, especially surrounding the search term “healthy snacks.”
“The goal is probably to finish up what we’re doing here and move onto another one,” Abbenante said of the serial entrepreneur team’s plans. “They are constantly bringing us new products to look at … they are back there cooking up all sorts of unique and interesting snack products.”