Pop Gourmet CEO on sriracha, Starbucks and life after prison

Fri Sep 4, 2015 6:54pm EDT
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By Lisa Baertlein

(Reuters) - David Israel's four-year old company, Pop Gourmet, has a deal to sell snacks at Starbucks and a sought-after licensing agreement with uber-hip sriracha seller Huy Fong Foods, but it is his prison time that makes the brand stand-out in a crowded field.

Starbucks Corp, which helped popularize Kind bars and other snack brands, recently began selling Pop Gourmet in 3,400 U.S. stores. The company, which sells sweet, savory and low-cal snacks, soon expects to expand its line-up of Huy Fong sriracha-flavored popcorn, potato chips and croutons with hummus and mayonnaise. It also sells Huy Fong dry seasoning in grocery stores as well as sriracha ketchup.

Pop Gourmet's 2015 sales are forecast to roughly triple from around $5 million last year, said Israel, who has attracted $11 million from investors.

They include former federal prosecutor Ron Neubauer, who first refused to meet with Israel, then changed his mind after reviewing his court case. Neubauer has put in $300,000 and convinced a half dozen friends to follow.

"People love the story," said Israel, 54, who owned a chain of pawnshops when he was ensnared in a prosecution stemming from several Seattle-area robberies in the early 1990s.

Israel maintains that he was not involved. He spent several years and more than $1 million fighting the charges. In 2003, he pleaded guilty while maintaining his innocence.

"I was tapped out," said Israel, who since has declined Neubauer's offer to help clear his name.

"It's not where I want to focus my energy. It's part of my fabric," said Israel, who dreamt up his business plan while in prison.   Continued...

Pop Gourmet CEO David Israel is shown in this handout photo provided by Pop Gourmet September 4, 2015.  REUTERS/Pop Gourmet/Handout via Reuters