With a steady hand and an open mind, Barry C. Levin has turned Snak King into one of the snack industry’s top innovators

One way Snak King did that was when it came up with a way to infuse flavor into its tortilla chips.

“We put avocados and spices into the base so it’s built into the chip,” Levin says. “That had not been done before. People were making a plain tortilla chip and putting seasoning on top. We were cooking flavors into the dough and doing the topical flavoring. Our Guacachip was green and our Salsita was red. The flavors were cooked in with the corn.”

Levin says the idea came about through a group discussion that Levin encourages at all levels of his business.

“The crazier, the better,” Levin says, when asked about the criteria for new ideas.

Taking risks is part of the game when you’re in business. Levin recalled a time in the late 1990s when the company wanted to make a corn stick product.

“So we did our research and we thought, ‘OK, well if this doesn’t work, what else can we use the equipment for?’” Levin says. “We found out you can’t really use the equipment for that many products. But if you add an oven to it, you can make these other products as well. What we ended up doing was buying a system bigger than what we needed for the one little product we wanted to make.

“That was a risk, but we were protected because if our original product failed, we had a line that could make several other products.”

It ultimately proved to be a lucrative move and led to the development of product offerings that make up 50 percent of the company’s business.

“We’re very aggressive and innovative, but we’re also cautious at the same time,” Levin says. “We never bet the whole farm, but we’re not afraid to bet part of it.” ●

Takeaways:

  • Focus on the small steps and you’ll cover a lot of ground.
  • Don’t put any limits on employee creativity.
  • Be ready with a backup plan if your first idea doesn’t pan out.

The Levin File

NAME: Barry C. Levin
TITLE: chairman and CEO
COMPANY: Snak King Corp.

Born: Los Angeles

Education: Bachelor’s degree in business, University of the Pacific, Stockton, California.

What was your first job? I’ve picked avocados from a neighbor’s tree — with their permission — and sold them on the street. I’ve done everything from selling newspapers to teaching swimming to working as a lifeguard to driving a delivery truck for my father. I also worked in a warehouse with my father.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life? My father was a great mentor. Everybody I meet has been a great influence on my life, including my wife, Wendy, and my two children.

Who is someone whose words have inspired you? Winston Churchill. He said, ‘Success is not final. Failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.’ That applies directly to part of our history with the roof collapse and pushing forward.

Levin was honored in 2011 as one of the Champions of Change, a program initiated by the White House. Smart Business asked him what it meant to receive this honor and what responsibility entrepreneurs have to give back and help their peers

It was an amazing experience to go to the White House and be in a room filled with other Champions of Change and be asked questions about what we thought and what as a businessperson did we need to be successful. Entrepreneurs are in a fraternity of their own and we have a responsibility to help each other, whatever the issue is. It doesn’t matter what you do. We all have issues with regulatory things, with insurance, with legal, with employee and HR issues and we have a responsibility to help each other out.