Most days are a whirlwind of activity for Pam Netzky (CMN ’98), president and co-founder of SkinnyPop Popcorn. She talks about going “full steam ahead” and learning the business at “Mach speed.” Each morning, Netzky races to her Chicago office as fast as she can, because she can’t wait to get to work. “I’m truthfully so excited about what we do here,” she says.
Netzky’s not the only one who’s thrilled with SkinnyPop. Since launching two and a half years ago, the company’s customer base has grown tremendously. SkinnyPop started as an offshoot of Wells Street Popcorn, a hometown favorite that Netzky co-founded with Andy Friedman, Jeffrey Eiserman and Mike Eiserman. Over time, they realized there was room for improvement when it came to their delicious treat. “Wells Street Popcorn is phenomenal, but it’s very gluttonous,” Netzky explains. “Our best customers were saying, ‘I love this, it’s my favorite thing in the world… I’ll see you next month or in two months.’”
The challenge was clear: create a healthier product that customers could eat every day. Thus, SkinnyPop was born. Unlike other popcorns, SkinnyPop is made in a nut-free facility, and each bag is also gluten free, cholesterol free, preservative free and dairy free, not to mention all-natural and non-GMO. At only 39 calories per cup, it’s a fiber-rich, zero trans-fat snack you can feel good about consuming.
“What we strive for is a perfect bag,” Netzky says. “You open up a bag of SkinnyPop, and it’s a perfect, fresh-tasting bag every time. And I think that’s what differentiates us.” Getting to this point wasn’t easy. When Netzky and Friedman started their SkinnyPop venture in the spring of 2010, the learning curve was steep. “We didn’t have any idea what we were doing,” Netzky admits. “We didn’t know how to find distributors; we started trying to Google people’s names.” Their first shipment of bags arrived – 25,000 of them, which was the minimum order – and the two investment bankers turned entrepreneurs switched on the popcorn machines and started popping.
Later that day, after packing and sealing all the bags, Netzky made a quick visit to Potash Market in Lincoln Park, which already stocked Wells Street Popcorn. “I just sort of put SkinnyPop on the shelf and ran out the door,” Netzky recalls. Looking back, she emphasizes that the process was a fluid one. “It’s important to have a business plan, but it’s just as important to be able to deviate from it… [we were] willing to go in a different direction than where we thought we were going to go.” This perseverance in the face of uncertainty dates back to her time at DePaul University. “School didn’t come easy to me,” Netzky says. “DePaul helped me learn how to get it done… [by giving me] the tools to get it done.”
Today, stores from California to New York showcase the end result of Netzky’s diligence and determination. Within four months of placing those first bags of SkinnyPop in Potash Market, Netzky and Friedman had secured placement in 85 stores. That number has increased dramatically in the past two years. Currently, SkinnyPop is available in 6,000 grocery stores and 7,500 Walgreens across the country. In Chicago, you can find the addictive snack not only at Potash Market, but also at Jewel, Whole Foods, Treasure Island and Dominick’s, including the Dominick’s on DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus.
Alumni and current students may want to take a clue from Netzky’s infectious energy – run, don’t walk, to the nearest grocery store to stock up on your own supply of SkinnyPop. “I eat it every day,” Netzky confesses. “Every single day.”