The Gary Plutchok Story

 You might say Gary Plutchok’s mission to change the way America snacks began with the very strong contention that existed between his parents. His father was a self-proclaimed ‘health nut’ who imposed a strict healthy diet on his family. But when he was away, his mother would share ‘forbidden’ ice cream and cookies with her four children. It raised a question in the young boy’s mind: was there a way to bring the health conscious puritan and the indulgent snack lover to the same table?

 Gary’s education in the food industry started when he was still a kid, helping with his father’s side-business delivering spring water and other staples to health food stores in New York City. On those runs he witnessed people’s growing interest in health food.  He also learned the value of his Dad’s independent spirit and his strong belief that investing in yourself was the best bet you could make in life.

 After high school, Gary began taking courses at the Rutgers University Food Science Department. “I realized the field of food science was multidisciplinary, incorporating so many of my interests: biology, nutrition, marketing, and engineering. Studying food science gave me an understanding of life.” He went on to earn his Masters of Science, laying the groundwork for a path he had yet to imagine.

 From there he was hired as a food technologist at National Starch & Chemical Corporation, a worldwide leading supplier of specialty food ingredients. Gary consulted with major companies around the country. This gave him vast exposure to the various food production methods utilized throughout the industry. Gary was selected to establish the company’s first South East Asian food laboratory in Singapore. It was a very challenging, exciting and fulfilling project, and one that by all accounts was a great success.

 Once the new facility in Singapore was up and running, and he returned to the U.S. headquarters, Gary found it difficult to maintain the same level of challenge, excitement and fulfillment that he enjoyed during his overseas assignment.  In short, he found working in the corporate environment too constraining. At the same time, his growing interest in nutrition and healthy eating began to come in conflict with the realities of modern food manufacturing he was now an expert in.  He knew it was time for a new challenge, but what?

 The answer came in the form of a pretzel.

 A family friend offered Gary an opportunity to purchase a small snack distribution company focused on a private label line of handmade hard pretzels that were created in a fiery stone hearth by a family-run bakery in Pennsylvania’s Amish Country.  The product was a great-tasting, naturally fat-free snack made by a simple process using simple ingredients. It was a premium offering, but the branding and distribution were lacking. Gary recognized that with some adjustments there would be great potential. Here was his chance to take his father’s advice. It would be a struggle and a risk, but he knew it was time to invest in himself.

 The first order was to create an appealing mascot for the company that would embody the joy and positivity that Gary wanted customers to experience while snacking. In 1991, Happy Herbert, a smiley-faced, overall-wearing guy with a big smile and open arms, was born, and so was Happy Herbert’s Food Company.

To convert that good feeling into action, 10% of the company’s profits would go directly to children’s charities, chosen for maximum community impact. Finally, Gary decided that he would personally handle as much of his company’s interactions with customers as possible. This would not be a cold, anonymous, pass-the-buck corporation. In his own words, “Happy Herbert’s primary purpose was to spread joy throughout the world…one crunch at a time!” Consumers have been responding in a big, supportive way.

 Being ever the ambitious entrepreneur, Gary decided that the best way to distribute his Happy Herbert’s brand was to create a broad-line snack distribution business that would offer not only the Happy Herbert’s line but also snack lines from other manufacturers. By offering a wide assortment of specialty snacks, more retail doors would open, thus allowing him to introduce his own brand to a larger customer base.  Concurrent with launching the Happy Herbert’s brand in the early 1990’s, Gary founded Snacktree International, which presently distributes over 250 different snack items to natural and gourmet food stores throughout the Northeast. More recently, in 2008, Gary launched Jetway Snacks, a specialty snack distributor that focuses on servicing the needs of travel and hospitality retailers national.

 Between 2006 and 2012, Gary’s three snack businesses have just about tripled in overall size and now employ almost 20 people. From the initial original pretzel, Happy Herbert’s now offers over 20 snacks with great taste and excellent ingredients.

Happy Herbert’s delivers a product that would pass the muster of a health-conscious person like his father, while at the same time satisfying the indulgent snack fan like his mother. By bringing those two once-opposing camps to the table, he’s attracted a devoted following to his brand. Happy Herbert’s customers appreciate not only the quality of the products but also the quality of the company behind them.

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