Meet the Berkeley guy who put coconut chips on the market

The Clog attended a food entrepreneurship panel hosted by the Student Financial Advisory Committee at the Haas School of Business on Thursday night. The event began with a Q&A session with Berkeley-based business owners John Scharffenberger of Scharffen Berger Chocolates and Vincent Kitirattragarn of Dang. Following the panel, time was set aside for networking and food sampling. The Clog got the chance to talk to the founder and owner of Dang, the company that first put toasted coconut chips on the market. Humble beginnings: Kitirattragarn got the idea for his snack — sweet, lightly salted, crunchy slices of dehydrated coconut — while munching on one of his mom’s homemade lettuce wraps, for which she used toasted coconut as a key ingredient. Kitirattragarn was working as a sustainability researcher for GoodGuide, a company started by a UC Berkeley professor. When he realized his idea could be turned into a marketable product, he quit his job, called up his family and started cooking. Competitive coconuts: Kitirattragarn says he noticed a proliferation of other companies interested in making coconut chips. Trader Joe’s brand of coconut chips launched soon after Dang took hold, which was actually beneficial for his company. As a big name, Trader Joe’s and its new product helped to educate people about what coconut chips are. Also, because Trader Joe’s doesn’t sell its goods to other companies, the retailer wasn’t a source of competition. Working in the food industry: For Kitirattragarn, the best part of working in the food industry is the nonstructured, open-minded attitude. He worked in many sectors to help build the Dang name: graphic design, program sales, music-video-directing and rallies. There is a “diversity of opportunities,” as he puts it, within the food industry. The worst part? He explained there are a lot of responsibilities and challenges that come with starting a company. The solution is to problem-solve by using your resources.  The future of Dang: With only two years on the market and having already made $2 million in revenue, Dang is growing at a rapid pace. Kitirattragarn says the company wants to expand geographically — it is only on the West Coast right now — and also in terms of sellers. The company is looking to get involved with club channels, airlines and corporate establishments such as Google.  Some Dang good advice: Kitirattragarn’s advice for those looking to start a food business is to use local resources — reach out to Berkeley businesses, and offer your services. This might involve a lot of sampling or boxing, but it is all necessary and relevant business experience! Berkeley is awesome: Kitirattragarn loves Berkeley and says the best parts of the city are the great weather and the open-minded people. We agree. Dang coconut chips are available at Bear Market, Berkeley Bowl, Whole Foods, Safeway and Andronico’s. Image sources: featured image

Contact Daniela Grinblatt at [email protected].