How an Upstart Snack Brand Landed in NYC Bodegas

Already in Walmart, Whisps goes after 10,000 independents.

April 15, 2021

New York City

NEW YORK—Whisps, the cheese crisp snack made by a Manhattan company of the same name, are available at CVS, Target and Costco. But you won’t find them at most bodegas in the manufacturer’s hometown, and salesman Alexander Markiewicz aims to work with independent store owners to change that.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Markiewicz visits one small shop after another in his quest to get the snacks stocked by every independent grocer in New York City. Currently, he’s convinced 220 stores to sell the snack. “I’ll try any place. You never know,” he said.

He first scans the store’s snack selection for both the average cost of snacks as well as popular flavors. For example, if “they have people who like cheese… there’s a chance.” So he’ll launch a friendly pitch. If the manager is out, he gets his or her name and makes a note to return. “I can try again,” he said, demonstrating that only making one attempt isn’t his strategy.

Whisps is already a success in the snack world. Launched in 2015, the small, 35-person company has worked its way into chains such as Target and Kroger. Last year, Whisps sold more than 30 million bags at 65,000 retail locations in the United States. Independent market research shows one out of 20 households buys the snack, according to Whisps. So why go after New York City bodegas?

According to Ilana Fischer, CEO, it’s partly a matter of pride. Many New Yorkers who shop at independent stores never see the snack. “I have this brand I’m so proud of, and my friends say, ‘What are Whisps?’” Fischer told the Journal. “I say, ‘It’s a big brand, and they’re everywhere but here.’”

Plus, the city’s population of independent groceries is a huge market. “If I found a retail chain that had 10,000 stores, I’d put a salesperson against closing that business in a heartbeat,” she said.

Markiewicz has a tough job. For him, it’s one store at a time. But he’s prepared, with glossy brochures featuring all nine product flavors, his iPad, snack samples and also his fluent skills in Spanish, which many owners appreciate. He’s also prepared to show owners that there’s always room on the store shelves, even if owners initially don’t think there is, as he has the supplies to build a cardboard display or attach a clip strip to a store rack. Sometimes, he may offer an incentive, such as 30 free single-serve packs that the owner can give to customers buying a sandwich.

Getting into the catalogs of the local distributors was crucial, said Markiewicz, and Whisps are available from three local food-distribution companies. These use smaller distribution vehicles which can park on city streets.

For an up-close view of how retailers pick what products to stock in their stores, read “On the Hunt” in the October 2020 issue of NACS Magazine.  And for more information snacks trending in c-stores, be sure to read “Snack Attack” in the July 2020 edition of NACS Magazine.