Creating a Global Brand on a Shoestring

with Alma Dacanay of Pik-Nik Foods, USA

Alma Dacanay, CEO

Since taking the helm of Burlingame, California–based Pik-Nik Foods, USA, in 2003, CEO Alma Dacanay has developed her company into an emerging force in the snack-food industry. Now, Dacanay is setting her sights on securing an even greater share of this highly competitive market. Pik-Nik started more than seven decades ago and has long been recognized as a leading producer of shoestring potato snacks. In particular, it is a best-selling product in the Philippines. As a Filipino immigrant, Dacanay was already aware of the product when she joined the company. “While my background is in teaching, I changed careers to take a job with an export company,” she recalls. “In 2000, I accepted the position of operations manager with Pik-Nik. Later, I was promoted to chief executive officer.”

1.  Identify Company Strengths

In becoming Pik-Nik’s CEO, Dacanay’s first move was to do a professional assessment of her own abilities. “I think corporate success is based, in part, on the CEO’s understanding of his or her organization, as well as utilizing all of her personal skills to move the company forward,” she says. She next examined Pik-Nik’s own market strengths and positioning. “In 2000, Pik-Nik’s only product was shoestring potatoes. After examining our options, I realized that true success in the snack-food industry comes from diversification,” she says.

2. Assess Possibilities

Dacanay first focused on expanding her company’s own market share—solidifying its standing—for shoestring potatoes. “We did this by making our product available in supermarkets in all 50 states,” she says. “Our first opportunity came three years ago when French’s, a chief competitor, dropped out of the shoestring-potato market. We quickly moved into the retailers and wholesalers that they had been servicing.  This secured our marketplace share in the East Coast and built consumer familiarity with our product all over the United States.”

3. Plan and Implement Growth

Aware that shoestring potatoes are traditionally a small part of the salty-snack items on store shelves, Dacanay next determined that in order for Pik-Nik foods to grow it had to introduce new items to complement its main product. The first opportunity came with the introduction of Pik-Nik Foods’ French fried onions in 2010, a trans-fat free item that can be a snack or used as an ingredient. In 2011, the company introduced its cheese balls and cheese curls, which has a special high-quality cheddar seasoning. “Based on the positive reception for these products—they are consistently selling well in stores—we have expanded our product lines while also building the company,” Dacanay says.

After the popularity of the company’s French fried onions, cheese balls, and cheese curls, Pik-Nik Foods has expanded their product lines with new offerings.

4. Emphasize Quality

Such expansion would not be successful, however, were it not for Pik-Nik Foods’ emphasis on quality. “For instance, we use nothing but fresh, raw materials that are sourced within the United States,” Dacanay says. “Our potatoes come from American farms. Similarly, the soy oil we use comes from United States suppliers. This means that customers are assured that our snacks meet strict federal standards for quality and safety from start to finish.”

The focus on quality also extends into packaging. “Because many competitors use bags to pack their snacks, their products have an average shelf life of six to nine months,” Dacanay says. “However, using our signature canisters for packaging means that our snacks stay fresh for up to two years. Our canisters also protect the quality of our products in diverse environments—they can easily be shipped to hot desert climates as well as cold northern latitudes.”

5. Capture the Export Market

Increasingly, exports are figuring prominently in Pik-Nik Foods corporate planning. “Our growth is increasingly fueled by our expansion into overseas markets,” says Dacanay. “We’ve used our strong presence in the Philippines as a foundation for global outreach … Since 2000, we’ve increased overseas sales from five to 30 countries.”

6. Increase Distribution

In many ways, success in the snack-food industry is all about shelf space. The more space that products are given on store shelves; the more sales can be generated. “Our goal is to keep pressing our supermarket distributors to give us more room for our products,” Dacanay says. “We’ll also seek to expand our presence in other outlets. This means making our snack foods available in convenience stores, such as 7-Eleven, and club stores, such as Sam’s Club … We’ve proven that we have delicious, quality products that consumers want. Now, we just need to convince retail-food providers that if they put Pik-Nik on their shelves, it’ll sell.”