SuckerPunch Gourmet: Interview with CEO Alok Advani

0
SuckerPunch
SuckerPunch Gourmet is a pickle company that is proud to produce the boldest, more flavor-packed pickles on the market, hand-crafted with an 11-spice blend.



SuckerPunch Gourmet is a pickle company that is proud to produce the boldest, more flavor-packed pickles on the market, hand-crafted with an 11-spice blend. Equipped with travel-friendly products, bold flavors, and forthcoming delicious boozy collaborations, SuckerPunch Gourmet’s full line-up of products includes:

Pickle Juice Shots – The Invigorating Dill Hydration shot features calcium, magnesium, and potassium for the electrolytes your body craves with the added benefit of cramp relief. The Rejuvenating Ginger Digestion shot features 500mm CFUs of probiotics to get you regular. Think of it as a gut shot that you actually want! At just 2oz in size, they are the perfect travel and workout companions.

Pickle Pouch Snack Packs – Launched just last year, they are the new on-the-go snack; shelf-stable and perfect for snacking anytime, anywhere. All three flavors come in resealable pouches. Why get caught in a snack-related pickle when you can just bring the pickle with you?

Jarred Pickles – Available in 7 flavors, they are all-natural, non-GMO, with no added preservatives, and kosher-certified pickles that feature their signature 11-spice blend. Snappy, crunchy, and flavorful – try the Fiery Spice Garlic Dill, Tangy Snap Sweet Onion Spears, or the Three Pepper Spears.

Bloody Mary – This award-winning vegan Bloody Mary Mix only has 7 simple ingredients and is available in original and spicy. The 32oz bottle is perfect for entertaining, while the three-pack of 12oz bottles are great for those who make the occasional Sunday bench beverage.

SuckerPunch Gourmet was established in 2011 and began selling out of local farmer’s markets. It has since risen to the top 10 in the market and is available in 18,000 stores nationwide. The brand prides itself on having fun and getting creative – from the products themselves to unique ways to use them like pickle BBQ sauces and spicy bloody mary popsicles to Pickltinis.

Alok Advani is the CEO of SuckerPunch Gourmet. Prior to working at SuckerPunch, he held positions in finance and brand management at a variety of CPG companies, including Conagara Brands and Anheuser-Bush inBev. He holds an MBA from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and a Bachelor’s degree in economics from Northern Illinois University. In his free time, Alok mentors young CPG professionals is active in the Chicagoland Food & Beverage community, and enjoys cooking and baking new recipes in his kitchen. He is also an avid woodworker – and has even taught hand-tool classes at the Chicago School of Woodworking. He is a Chicago native and still resides in the greater Chicago area.

Recently, Alok discussed the SuckerPunch brand via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover for passion for pickles and how did you break into the food industry?

SuckerPunchAlok: My passion for food came first. My older brother was my idol growing up, and he loved cooking from an early age. As a teenager, I loved to work on new recipes with him and try new restaurants here in Chicago. In high school, I worked in the food service industry, and when I graduated college, Kraft Foods seemed like a fun place to work where I could talk about food all day long. As my career progressed, I took a special interest in natural and organic food. My last role at Conagra was in our “gourmet foods group,” which was the in-house premium brand portfolio. We were tasked with acquiring and building new gourmet food brands and using what we learned to help the entire organization level up how we thought about food.

MM: How did you get involved with SuckerPunch?

Alok: At Conagra, we acquired a brand called Frontera Foods, founded by Rick Bayless. During that time, I worked closely with the Frontera team to integrate the brand and launch new products to drive growth. I was exposed to an entirely new side of the CPG food industry. It was scrappy, entrepreneurial, and food-first, so I was so excited to be working on such an amazing brand. One of Frontera’s investors had recently invested in SuckerPunch, and they wanted someone to lead the company into the next phase of growth. I originally came on as the COO with the idea that I’d become CEO quickly, but small brands don’t work in siloes, so I took that leadership role right from the start. Within six months I was promoted to CEO and started to make significant changes in the company.

MM: What do you most enjoy about working for this organization?

Alok: I love that every day is different. One day I’ll be in our warehouse helping build in-store displays, another day I’ll be at a Venture Summit pitching for investment, and I might end the week on a call with one of our freelance marketers working on a creative idea. But what I love most is how people’s eyes light up when I let them taste our product. Those are moments where all the hard work is worth it. At a small company, you feel the wins and the losses so clearly, and there is a lot of pride in our product.

MM: You have many flavors, so how do you select them?

Alok: We made our name on bold and spicy flavors – and our goal was Pickles Done Differently. When we looked at the shelf, we saw so many of the same old flavors, and we wanted to breathe life into this category. So, we focus on sweet, sour, and spicy. We want to make sure that we have a pickle for every palate. As we expanded out of “niche” flavors, we wanted to make sure that even our tried and true had that SuckerPunch edge. So even our kosher dill line takes it one step further. It’s not just dill seeds or dill sprigs. We also add dill oils to ensure that we have the perfect dill flavor to play against our 11-spice blend.

MM: Which flavors would you like to add in the near future?

Alok: We’re always on the lookout for new flavors and we are exploring the possibility of new, limited-time offerings to keep things interesting. Not everyone loves horseradish – but we do, so we’re developing it and we have several new ideas for holiday flavors in the works. We also know that many consumers love REALLY spicy pickles, so we’re experimenting with ghost pepper and Carolina reaper.

MM: What have been the highlights of your career as an entrepreneur?

SuckerPunchAlok: I come from a family of immigrants, and many of them made their way in life as entrepreneurs, without formal education. They worked hard to give their kids a chance to go to college, and my cousins and I took more traditional paths. We had a family business called ABC Wireless growing up, which was my first experience with entrepreneurship, and I always knew that I wanted to get back to it. For me, the highlights have been the people. I’ve met so many interesting people from all walks of life, but the common thread has been the growth mindset. It doesn’t matter where people went to college or how much formal training they have. For people to thrive in an entrepreneurial atmosphere, they need a growth mindset, and I’ve been fortunate to work with and learn from so many inspiring people.  

MM: How do you hope that SuckerPunch and career will evolve over the next ten years?

Alok: New products in new categories and a much bigger team! My favorite thing is when a new team member joins us. I’m proud that we’ve been able to give people the opportunity to experiment with their careers and try new things. I think that we will be THE name in pickles, and then what’s next? We have a memorable brand that can exist in many product categories, and since I’ve joined, we’ve more than tripled our sales footprint – so let’s show the world what we can do.

MM: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?

Alok: Just that we’re proud that our products are resonating with consumers and we’re very excited that everyone has a chance to enjoy these unique and bold flavors. You can find us at suckerpunchgourtmet.com or on Instagram at @suckerpunchgourmet