Food Entrepreneur NEW YORK —Jack & Friends isn’t your ordinary gas station jerky — it’s plant-based jerky formulated with jackfruit and pea protein.

Founder and chief executive officer Jessica Kwong created the plant-based jerky for flexitarian millennial urbanites.

“These are your 25-to 35-year-olds who live in a predominantly urban area, but most importantly they’re living busy lifestyles through their career or a bunch of different hobbies or other activities,” Ms. Kwong said. “When we did our soft launch in 2019, our core consumer was mostly vegan or vegetarian. But we got all this feedback and realized that there are people using the product that aren’t strictly vegan or vegetarian, they’re flexitarians looking to incorporate more plant-based options that have an overall health-conscious look.”

Ms. Kwong founded Jack & Friends while studying food science at Cornell University. After researching and developing new and novel products for her studies, Ms. Kwong learned about jackfruit and soon realized how versatile the ingredient could be.

“As I did more research, I fell in love with it (jackfruit), especially at the time (2017) jackfruit was even less known than it is now,” she said. “It was mainly used in frozen and refrigerated meals and not so much in snack applications. From a food science standpoint, I was really interested in merging this new and innovative ingredient with a category like jerky that was doing really well.”

Jerky, jackfruit and pea protein fell into place for Ms. Kwong’s brand — creating the nutritious, chewy texture she desired for her product.Jessica KwongFounder Jessica Kwong with her Jack & Friends jerky product. Photo: Jack & Friends

“There was a lot of testing and product development; I knew I wanted my brand to satisfy different lifestyles and diets,” she said. “I wanted something that was hypoallergenic from a protein source standpoint. Pea protein compared to soy, wheat or dairy is a really great choice because it’s not one of the top nine food allergens. It also gives you a nutritional benefit in combination with the jackfruit; these two ingredients paired really well together.”

While the products currently come in three flavors — tomato and poblano peppers, sweet barbecue and ginger teriyaki — Ms. Kwong is looking to expand her brand into different categories.

“We’re looking to have a wider range of food product lines, but service difference parts of the meal occasion or consumer lifestyle, so think more center plate like your frozen or refrigerated meals,” she said.

Consumers can find Jack & Friends on Ms. Kwong’s website, and also independent retailers on the East Coast and third-party marketplaces.

“One of our biggest goals is to push more into retail,” Ms. Kwong said. “We’d love to be present in more stores where people can pick us up on shelves, but for right now we’re planning to expand a lot more into independents, especially in coastal areas.”

Doing jerky right is Ms. Kwong’s main goal for her brand.

“We want to build this brand and have our product lines satisfy not only the mission, but give a variety for our loyal consumers,” she said. “We’re going to really lean into this category and develop a few different flavors in the jerky line and develop additional product lines.”

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