Besides Thai iced tea, delicious pad Thai and lavish destination weddings, there is a whole lot of Thai-ism that us, Westerners, are deprived of. To expose our taste buds to South East Asia and transport us worlds away, Vincent Kitirattragarn created Dang Foods, based on his mother’s recipe and love for one key ingredient: coconut.
Vincent Kitirattragarn, besides having the coolest last name ever (pronounced as kit-i-ratt-ra-garn), is the Founder and CEO of Dang Foods. Best known for their tasty chips backed by Thai recipes and concocted with globally-inspired goodness, Dang Foods can be found everywhere (from airports to convenient stores to our favorite NYC spot, Public Hotels to most likely on your kitchen counter).
With a range of flavored toasted coconut chips, sticky rice chips and onion chips, priced at $3.99 per pack, Dang Foods is challenging the traditional snack industry with 100% natural ingredients.
Vincent, with Thai roots, grew up in Manhattan, New York. Upon graduating from Cornell University with a double degree in Bio-Engineering and Engineering Management in 2006, he found himself working for the City of New York, helping them invest in greener products. His next gig on the science team at Good Guide, founded by a Berkeley professor to catalogue different ingredients and consumer goods in the market, may have been the early inklings in starting his own food brand.
In fact, Vincent has always had a serious passion for food. “My friends used to mock me because I would come to them with lollipops to try. I traveled back to Thailand quite often and had thought about what we sell over there that we don’t over here in the U.S.”
While Thai iced tea and pad Thai are at the center of Thai food experience here, Vincent wanted to elevate this using authentic ingredients. So, his first attempt included pop up restaurants in San Francisco, where he would experiment dishes and see what people enjoyed. Two pop-ups later, Vincent caught himself cooking his mother’s recipe of miang kum, a Northern Thai lettuce wrap with shredded coconut. As he fondly reminisces, “We bought some coconut from the grocery store and toasted it, as per the instructions. My roommate (and eventually other friends) just started snacking on this on its own.” Realizing this newfound #snackvention, Vincent called up his brother, who was at the time visiting Thailand, to pick up a few things. The rest was history.
“Coconut chips were our first product and helped us establish ourselves as an innovative brand.”
Dang Foods officially launched in 2012 after a year of packaging, market research and testing at trade shows. The brand name pays homage to Vincent’s mother (it’s her name) and because the chips are synonymously that darn good!
As a certified B-corp company, all Dang Foods’ better-for-you snacks are made in Thailand and are Non-GMO Project Verified, gluten-free, dairy-free and cholesterol-free, with the majority being vegan and good sources of fiber. What started as a by-chance success story in Vincent’s kitchen has turned into a booming business within five years, while being distributed across 10,000 stores nationwide, including Whole Foods, Kroger and Target.
The Business Model
Like any other CPG brand, Vincent faced many challenges when it came to selecting the right partners overseas. “In the beginning, we weren’t as experienced. We started buying from a supplier and found out later that they were the middlemen, not the manufacturer.” To be sure this wouldn’t happen again, Vincent asked his cousin (who lived in Thailand) to check on any future partners. “Having someone there to personally check on the shipment and find out as much as possible was incredibly helpful in optimizing our sourcing.” Lesson: Keep your family close!
Beyond cross-border confusion, Vincent and the team have grown the company through word-of-mouth marketing, sampling, in-store demos and social media campaigning. “The most important thing about food is the eyeballs and how people taste it so we really focused on our distribution strategy.” Their breakthrough moment came when reps from Safeway tried their product at a trade show and instantly invited them to 1,000 of their stores. It was also this moment when Vincent’s brother officially left his Big Four accounting job and joined Dang Foods.
In building a product-driven business, Vincent has learned a few things. His first piece of advice? “Don’t go into the food industry! It’s a very tough market and one must really nail the 4Ps of marketing, not just the product, to succeed.” But if you must follow your foodie dreams like Vincent has, here are some tips:
- Margins are razor thin so focus on optimizing the product and packaging. Indeed, Dang Foods’ success can be catered to their eye-catchy packaging.
- Know the category you are going into, including regional preferences and trends.
- Know your customer.
- Start small and nail every aspect of the business before you scale it.
Recently adding an award-winning product, Coconut Crunch Sticky-rice Chips to its portfolio, Dang Foods is on its way to launch in a major coffee chain by January 2018 (any guesses who the chain could be?). In the meantime, shop their products here and thank us for your new hot dang snack addiction later.
Photo courtesy of Dang Foods.