“We’re continually adding value…” – Sean Kelly, CEO and Co-founder of SnackNation

By Aarthi Rayapura May 23, 2017

If your office is well-stocked with snack options such as protein bars, dried fruit, granola and other healthy food, you should probably thank SnackNation for it. Since 2014, the California-based company has been offering businesses easy access to healthier foods. Clients include leading brands such as Microsoft, Uber, Marriott, Travelocity, NFL Networks and others whose employees benefit from the company’s nutritious, whole ingredients and taste-tested snack boxes. And last year, SnackNation launched a home delivery service — healthy snacks delivered right to your doorstep.

Aarthi Rayapura had a few questions for Sean Kelly, CEO and Co-founder of SnackNation.

You were running a successful healthy snack vending machine company H.U.M.A.N…what inspired you to start Snack Nation?
Our experience with H.U.M.A.N. Healthy Vending definitely provided inspiration. It’s actually a separate company but it helped us learn a lot about what resonates with the health-conscious consumer. One thing we saw early on was that healthy vending machines and micro-markets were perfect for places like gyms, hospitals, and large corporate clients, but not always the right solution for small to mid-sized businesses. We developed SnackNation specifically for this underserved market. The rapid growth and enthusiasm we saw for the product made it pretty obvious that we were onto something with SnackNation.

Why did you opt for the membership model for SnackNation?
We see ourselves as a membership model which means that we’re continually adding value for our members. The key here is that the relationships and the value we provide to members gets better over time, creating a level of loyalty and stickiness you can’t get any other way. A membership model also provides a level of convenience that no other model can — a true set and forget solution.

Tell us a little about your customers. Are they predominantly millennial-driven startups in big cities?
Yes, two thirds of our members are affluent or “upscale millennials,” a term coined by Nielsen to describe millennial-aged professionals. This is one of the reasons brands are so eager to partner with us — access to this coveted market where they spend the majority of their time, at the workplace.

That being said, you’d probably be surprised at how diverse our member base is. We serve everyone from Fortune 500 companies, to more traditional corporate customers like accounting firms, law firms, and financial institutions, to advertising and marketing agencies, to local governments and school districts. One of the coolest things about our business is that we get to learn about and serve some of the most talented and creative people in nearly every industry.

What about the home subscription service, who’s your target customer for it?
One target customer is certainly families with young children who want to provide snacks that they know their kids will love, but who don’t want to give them products with too much sugar, or those that contain GMOs or other harmful additives.

Another less obvious customer base are millennial consumers, who not only snack more than any other generation, but who also care about things like health and sustainability and are always on the go. They’re spending less and less time in grocery stores, and love the convenience of ordering online and the thrill of discovering their next favorite snack via our subscription boxes.

You operate in a very interesting space of catering to individual needs via large companies. What’s your subscriber acquisition strategy?
A big part of the value our snack boxes provide is in creating the right company culture, one that fosters growth and productivity, and helps with things like recruiting and retention. So part of our acquisition strategy is to create a community and a dialogue around office culture. We do this through our content marketing — through channels like our blog, social media, video content, email marketing, webinars, and even a podcast. In fact, up to one half of our acquisition comes from inbound marketing, which is content driven.

The idea is to be a resource for the stewards of company culture in these offices, and provide so much value via our content that we’ve influenced them well before they become a member.

Tell us a little about your Snack Concierges and other personalization strategies and how they help you boost customer engagement.
Our Snack Concierges are there to make sure that the SnackNation experience works for each individual office. Their goal is to have a better understanding of our members snacking preferences than they do themselves. While snacking is obviously a primary concern (we want to make our members smile through their stomachs, so to speak), our overarching goal here is to help our members create an awesome office however we can. Very often, our Snack Concierges are answering questions and providing solutions for things that have little or nothing to do with snacks.

One of the keys is to establish consistent communication.Every new member has a kickoff call, during which the Snack Concierge learns more about the office’s taste preferences, consumption habits, and general culture. This is followed by a check-in after the first delivery to make sure the experience went smoothly and the office was excited about what was in the box.

We also have a Do Not Send list that ensures that if on the rare occasion a member doesn’t love a particular product (or
if there are dietary restrictions to consider), they won’t receive that type of snack again.

What were some of the challenges you faced early on and how did you overcome them?
Our biggest challenge is always finding the right people. I truly believe there’s nothing that determines the success of your business more than the caliber of the people you bring into your organization. That’s even more true in a predominantly B2B space like ours, where customer acquisition relies so heavily on great inside salespeople and member success reps.

What’s your most popular snack? Was there one that simply flopped?
The great thing about our platform is that not only do we collect feedback that we service right back to the brands, but if a particular product resonates with our members, they see a lift in sales and are able to scale more quickly themselves. We’ve seen this first hand with brands like Dang Coconut Chips, Paqui, and Ag Standard Almonds.

Hippeas, an organic puffed chickpea snack is hugely popular.Likewise, Skinny Dipped Almonds just won our “Munchie Madness” competition (narrowly beating last year’s finalist Jackson’s Honest), a snack bracket competition where consumers
voted for their favorite snack online.

Our products team does hundreds of tasting panels, so very rarely do we include a snack that totally flops.

What are your future plans?
We’re opening a new fulfillment center on the East Coast which will improve our experience for members in that region
of the country, and will soon be soft-launching additional services like beverage and coffee delivery in select markets.

Are there any other Subscription Economy companies that you find inspiring?
Sun Basket provides a fantastic customer experience. Five Four Club has superb curation and great branding. Dollar Shave Club really helped everyone understand that upstart membership companies can take on the giants of their industries.

Continue reading success stories from the Subscription Economy in the latest issue of Subscribed Magazine!