Meet a Maker

Meet a Maker: Jessica Kwong of Jack & Friends

With a degree in food science from Cornell University in hand, this founder dove into the world of plant-based snacks.

Meet a Maker: Jessica Kwong of Jack & Friends

Safe to say that eating plant based isn't going anywhere anytime soon*. You can eat fruits, veggies, grains and nuts to your heart's content, but sometimes finding a snack option that satisfies cravings for the salty bite of jerky can be hard to find. Enter: Jack & Friends. Sure, there are a number of other vegan jerky brands on the market, but Jack & Friends is the first to uniquely combine jackfruit and pea protein to remain vegan and top 8 allergen-free, while also providing a good source of protein and fiber with no added sugar.

Founder and CEO Jessica Kwong spoke with Foodboro about her background in food science, her journey to entrepreneurship, the challenges of the CPG industry, how she manages work/life balance while growing a brand, and what she recommends for other early-stage food founders.

*disclaimer: Foodboro does not support exclusively plant-based products. We beleive that the plant-based diet is just one way to support a sustainable food ecosystem, along with regenerative agriculture, upcycled ingredients, pasture-raised meats and eco-friendly packaging.

Want more maker interviews in your inbox? Check out our weekly newsletter!

Before starting Jack & Friends, what were you up to?

I was a student! I graduated with a B.S. in food science from Cornell University in 2018, and jumped into entrepreneurship at the age of twenty-two. Most of my time during those four years was spent learning about technical areas like sensory analysis, food chemistry, safety and quality, etc., but I also led our department’s largest product development team to national and international titles as well as developed everything from yogurt to baby food to baked goods at companies ranging from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations.

What led you to entrepreneurship, and why now?

I’m passionate about not only product development and innovation (especially coming from a technical background), but also lifestyle inclusivity as it pertains to food. Having already developed the concept for a plant-based jerky made from jackfruit while still a food science student, I was confident I could refine it into a product fit for market while also building a brand that embodied a larger platform and mission centered around inclusivity. However, starting a business straight out of college is risky to say the least, and I already had an offer for a full-time R&D position from a multi-billion dollar snack company early into my senior year. What led me to turn down the offer and take a non-traditional career path was my passion for the mission and values I would build Jack & Friends upon, as well as the realization that even if Jack & Friends was a complete failure, the knowledge and skills I would have gained from the experience would be invaluable.


Any other brands in the industry that you admire?

Fly By Jing and Partake Foods are two brands that I greatly admire and look to for inspiration. Their branding and product assortment are very different, but both are amazing at fostering community around core values and missions with cohesive messaging. Perhaps even more important, their products are delicious! Jing and Denise are true trailblazers, and I’m sure many other founders also find inspiration in their work.

What sets you apart from other plant-based jerky or snacks?

While there is no shortage of plant-based jerky or better-for-you snack brands, Jack & Friends differentiates itself with its complete combination of taste, texture, nutritional benefits, and lifestyle inclusivity. The most popular vegan jerky products can be mostly divided into two categories: soy- or wheat-based and dehydrated fruits/vegetables. Soy- and wheat-based jerky are typically the most popular, as they usually better mimic the chewy texture of meat and have high protein content. However, both soy and wheat are two of the top 8 food allergens, which alienates the millions of consumers with those allergies or sensitivities, as well as those who choose to exclude those foods from their diet for personal reasons. Jerky made from dehydrated fruits/vegetables—like banana and mushroom—avoid the allergen issue, but have little to no protein content in a category expected to deliver such nutritional benefits. Jack & Friends takes the best of both worlds by uniquely combining jackfruit (the “Jack” in our name) and pea protein to remain vegan and top 8 allergen-free, while also providing a good source of protein and fiber with no added sugar. The ingredients and proprietary processing also help our product better mimic the texture expected of jerky and allow for limitless flavor options for future expansion.

What have been the challenges of navigating the CPG industry?

The most challenging aspect has been the scale up process, as our product is unique and comes with non-conventional manufacturing compared to many other CPG products. Finding a contract manufacturer that not only has the capabilities to produce our jerky at scale and at the desired quality, but is also open to working with an early-stage startup was not easy. In general, navigating the first major inflection point or growth phase—and all the manufacturing, marketing, fundraising, etc. that comes with it—as a brand that has been bootstrapped to date is a constant (and demanding) learning experience.

As a founder, what do you do to take care of your health?

This is still a work in progress because I’m prone to being a workaholic, but I try to set aside time to relax with family and friends as well as by myself. Whether that’s splitting a bottle of wine while chatting, playing volleyball in Friday night leagues, or falling down a YouTube video blackhole, I’ve found it’s important to actively pursue ways to decompress. Running a business often feels like a never-ending sprint, so finding ways to “slow down” has been critical for my mental and physical health.

Be persistent, but patient.


What advice do you have for early-stage entrepreneurs?

Be persistent, but patient. Everything—and I mean everything—will take twice as long as you originally anticipated, especially if you’re starting as an early-stage, bootstrapped company. It’s easy to feel like you’re falling behind when schedules are delayed or every other company in industry news appears to be hitting major milestones everyday, so it’s necessary to learn patience with the process and your progress.

What does the future of Jack & Friends look like? What are you currently working on?

Jack & Friends is currently undergoing its first major growth phase as we are in the midst of transitioning manufacturing to a co-manufacturer, fundraising, implementing new marketing initiatives, and other projects. It’s definitely an extremely busy (but very exciting) time! Looking towards the future, I am focused on growing Jack & Friends into not only a leader in plant-based jerky, but also a larger lifestyle brand centered around inclusivity with multiple, innovative product lines. 

Connect with Jessica on LinkedIn

Follow Jack & Friends on Instagram

Read more Meet a Maker interviews here!

Safe to say that eating plant based isn't going anywhere anytime soon*. You can eat fruits, veggies, grains and nuts to your heart's content, but sometimes finding a snack option that satisfies cravings for the salty bite of jerky can be hard to find. Enter: Jack & Friends. Sure, there are a number of other vegan jerky brands on the market, but Jack & Friends is the first to uniquely combine jackfruit and pea protein to remain vegan and top 8 allergen-free, while also providing a good source of protein and fiber with no added sugar.

Founder and CEO Jessica Kwong spoke with Foodboro about her background in food science, her journey to entrepreneurship, the challenges of the CPG industry, how she manages work/life balance while growing a brand, and what she recommends for other early-stage food founders.

*disclaimer: Foodboro does not support exclusively plant-based products. We beleive that the plant-based diet is just one way to support a sustainable food ecosystem, along with regenerative agriculture, upcycled ingredients, pasture-raised meats and eco-friendly packaging.

Want more maker interviews in your inbox? Check out our weekly newsletter!

Before starting Jack & Friends, what were you up to?

I was a student! I graduated with a B.S. in food science from Cornell University in 2018, and jumped into entrepreneurship at the age of twenty-two. Most of my time during those four years was spent learning about technical areas like sensory analysis, food chemistry, safety and quality, etc., but I also led our department’s largest product development team to national and international titles as well as developed everything from yogurt to baby food to baked goods at companies ranging from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations.

What led you to entrepreneurship, and why now?

I’m passionate about not only product development and innovation (especially coming from a technical background), but also lifestyle inclusivity as it pertains to food. Having already developed the concept for a plant-based jerky made from jackfruit while still a food science student, I was confident I could refine it into a product fit for market while also building a brand that embodied a larger platform and mission centered around inclusivity. However, starting a business straight out of college is risky to say the least, and I already had an offer for a full-time R&D position from a multi-billion dollar snack company early into my senior year. What led me to turn down the offer and take a non-traditional career path was my passion for the mission and values I would build Jack & Friends upon, as well as the realization that even if Jack & Friends was a complete failure, the knowledge and skills I would have gained from the experience would be invaluable.


Any other brands in the industry that you admire?

Fly By Jing and Partake Foods are two brands that I greatly admire and look to for inspiration. Their branding and product assortment are very different, but both are amazing at fostering community around core values and missions with cohesive messaging. Perhaps even more important, their products are delicious! Jing and Denise are true trailblazers, and I’m sure many other founders also find inspiration in their work.

What sets you apart from other plant-based jerky or snacks?

While there is no shortage of plant-based jerky or better-for-you snack brands, Jack & Friends differentiates itself with its complete combination of taste, texture, nutritional benefits, and lifestyle inclusivity. The most popular vegan jerky products can be mostly divided into two categories: soy- or wheat-based and dehydrated fruits/vegetables. Soy- and wheat-based jerky are typically the most popular, as they usually better mimic the chewy texture of meat and have high protein content. However, both soy and wheat are two of the top 8 food allergens, which alienates the millions of consumers with those allergies or sensitivities, as well as those who choose to exclude those foods from their diet for personal reasons. Jerky made from dehydrated fruits/vegetables—like banana and mushroom—avoid the allergen issue, but have little to no protein content in a category expected to deliver such nutritional benefits. Jack & Friends takes the best of both worlds by uniquely combining jackfruit (the “Jack” in our name) and pea protein to remain vegan and top 8 allergen-free, while also providing a good source of protein and fiber with no added sugar. The ingredients and proprietary processing also help our product better mimic the texture expected of jerky and allow for limitless flavor options for future expansion.

What have been the challenges of navigating the CPG industry?

The most challenging aspect has been the scale up process, as our product is unique and comes with non-conventional manufacturing compared to many other CPG products. Finding a contract manufacturer that not only has the capabilities to produce our jerky at scale and at the desired quality, but is also open to working with an early-stage startup was not easy. In general, navigating the first major inflection point or growth phase—and all the manufacturing, marketing, fundraising, etc. that comes with it—as a brand that has been bootstrapped to date is a constant (and demanding) learning experience.

As a founder, what do you do to take care of your health?

This is still a work in progress because I’m prone to being a workaholic, but I try to set aside time to relax with family and friends as well as by myself. Whether that’s splitting a bottle of wine while chatting, playing volleyball in Friday night leagues, or falling down a YouTube video blackhole, I’ve found it’s important to actively pursue ways to decompress. Running a business often feels like a never-ending sprint, so finding ways to “slow down” has been critical for my mental and physical health.

Be persistent, but patient.


What advice do you have for early-stage entrepreneurs?

Be persistent, but patient. Everything—and I mean everything—will take twice as long as you originally anticipated, especially if you’re starting as an early-stage, bootstrapped company. It’s easy to feel like you’re falling behind when schedules are delayed or every other company in industry news appears to be hitting major milestones everyday, so it’s necessary to learn patience with the process and your progress.

What does the future of Jack & Friends look like? What are you currently working on?

Jack & Friends is currently undergoing its first major growth phase as we are in the midst of transitioning manufacturing to a co-manufacturer, fundraising, implementing new marketing initiatives, and other projects. It’s definitely an extremely busy (but very exciting) time! Looking towards the future, I am focused on growing Jack & Friends into not only a leader in plant-based jerky, but also a larger lifestyle brand centered around inclusivity with multiple, innovative product lines. 

Connect with Jessica on LinkedIn

Follow Jack & Friends on Instagram

Read more Meet a Maker interviews here!

Safe to say that eating plant based isn't going anywhere anytime soon*. You can eat fruits, veggies, grains and nuts to your heart's content, but sometimes finding a snack option that satisfies cravings for the salty bite of jerky can be hard to find. Enter: Jack & Friends. Sure, there are a number of other vegan jerky brands on the market, but Jack & Friends is the first to uniquely combine jackfruit and pea protein to remain vegan and top 8 allergen-free, while also providing a good source of protein and fiber with no added sugar.

Founder and CEO Jessica Kwong spoke with Foodboro about her background in food science, her journey to entrepreneurship, the challenges of the CPG industry, how she manages work/life balance while growing a brand, and what she recommends for other early-stage food founders.

*disclaimer: Foodboro does not support exclusively plant-based products. We beleive that the plant-based diet is just one way to support a sustainable food ecosystem, along with regenerative agriculture, upcycled ingredients, pasture-raised meats and eco-friendly packaging.

Want more maker interviews in your inbox? Check out our weekly newsletter!

Before starting Jack & Friends, what were you up to?

I was a student! I graduated with a B.S. in food science from Cornell University in 2018, and jumped into entrepreneurship at the age of twenty-two. Most of my time during those four years was spent learning about technical areas like sensory analysis, food chemistry, safety and quality, etc., but I also led our department’s largest product development team to national and international titles as well as developed everything from yogurt to baby food to baked goods at companies ranging from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations.

What led you to entrepreneurship, and why now?

I’m passionate about not only product development and innovation (especially coming from a technical background), but also lifestyle inclusivity as it pertains to food. Having already developed the concept for a plant-based jerky made from jackfruit while still a food science student, I was confident I could refine it into a product fit for market while also building a brand that embodied a larger platform and mission centered around inclusivity. However, starting a business straight out of college is risky to say the least, and I already had an offer for a full-time R&D position from a multi-billion dollar snack company early into my senior year. What led me to turn down the offer and take a non-traditional career path was my passion for the mission and values I would build Jack & Friends upon, as well as the realization that even if Jack & Friends was a complete failure, the knowledge and skills I would have gained from the experience would be invaluable.


Any other brands in the industry that you admire?

Fly By Jing and Partake Foods are two brands that I greatly admire and look to for inspiration. Their branding and product assortment are very different, but both are amazing at fostering community around core values and missions with cohesive messaging. Perhaps even more important, their products are delicious! Jing and Denise are true trailblazers, and I’m sure many other founders also find inspiration in their work.

What sets you apart from other plant-based jerky or snacks?

While there is no shortage of plant-based jerky or better-for-you snack brands, Jack & Friends differentiates itself with its complete combination of taste, texture, nutritional benefits, and lifestyle inclusivity. The most popular vegan jerky products can be mostly divided into two categories: soy- or wheat-based and dehydrated fruits/vegetables. Soy- and wheat-based jerky are typically the most popular, as they usually better mimic the chewy texture of meat and have high protein content. However, both soy and wheat are two of the top 8 food allergens, which alienates the millions of consumers with those allergies or sensitivities, as well as those who choose to exclude those foods from their diet for personal reasons. Jerky made from dehydrated fruits/vegetables—like banana and mushroom—avoid the allergen issue, but have little to no protein content in a category expected to deliver such nutritional benefits. Jack & Friends takes the best of both worlds by uniquely combining jackfruit (the “Jack” in our name) and pea protein to remain vegan and top 8 allergen-free, while also providing a good source of protein and fiber with no added sugar. The ingredients and proprietary processing also help our product better mimic the texture expected of jerky and allow for limitless flavor options for future expansion.

What have been the challenges of navigating the CPG industry?

The most challenging aspect has been the scale up process, as our product is unique and comes with non-conventional manufacturing compared to many other CPG products. Finding a contract manufacturer that not only has the capabilities to produce our jerky at scale and at the desired quality, but is also open to working with an early-stage startup was not easy. In general, navigating the first major inflection point or growth phase—and all the manufacturing, marketing, fundraising, etc. that comes with it—as a brand that has been bootstrapped to date is a constant (and demanding) learning experience.

As a founder, what do you do to take care of your health?

This is still a work in progress because I’m prone to being a workaholic, but I try to set aside time to relax with family and friends as well as by myself. Whether that’s splitting a bottle of wine while chatting, playing volleyball in Friday night leagues, or falling down a YouTube video blackhole, I’ve found it’s important to actively pursue ways to decompress. Running a business often feels like a never-ending sprint, so finding ways to “slow down” has been critical for my mental and physical health.

Be persistent, but patient.


What advice do you have for early-stage entrepreneurs?

Be persistent, but patient. Everything—and I mean everything—will take twice as long as you originally anticipated, especially if you’re starting as an early-stage, bootstrapped company. It’s easy to feel like you’re falling behind when schedules are delayed or every other company in industry news appears to be hitting major milestones everyday, so it’s necessary to learn patience with the process and your progress.

What does the future of Jack & Friends look like? What are you currently working on?

Jack & Friends is currently undergoing its first major growth phase as we are in the midst of transitioning manufacturing to a co-manufacturer, fundraising, implementing new marketing initiatives, and other projects. It’s definitely an extremely busy (but very exciting) time! Looking towards the future, I am focused on growing Jack & Friends into not only a leader in plant-based jerky, but also a larger lifestyle brand centered around inclusivity with multiple, innovative product lines. 

Connect with Jessica on LinkedIn

Follow Jack & Friends on Instagram

Read more Meet a Maker interviews here!

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