Hoping to breathe new life into an old cracker, three erstwhile Pillsbury executives have bought the abandoned RyKrisp brand.
They hope to return it to market this fall, though RyKrisp would no longer be produced in Minneapolis, its home for a century.
ConAgra Foods Inc. announced in January it would discontinue the hearty cracker and close the 1920s-vintage RyKrisp factory in southeast Minneapolis. ConAgra has since sold the RyKrisp trademark for an undisclosed price to an investor group led by Ted Leavitt.
“We made a bid to buy everything including the physical plant, but we had different views on the value of the plant,” Leavitt told the Star Tribune. The new RyKrisp Inc. is planning to have crackers made in suburban Chicago by a contract food manufacturer. New RyKrisp did buy some specialty equipment from the old RyKrisp plant through an online auction, Leavitt said.
RyKrisp hopes to be selling crackers by mid-autumn, though distribution won’t be what it once was — i.e. through major national supermarket chains. RyKrisp plans to move product on Amazon.com nationally, and regionally through traditional grocery distribution networks.
For the latter, the focus will be on RyKrisp’s three biggest markets: Portland, Ore., Los Angeles and the Twin Cities. “Minnesota is the single most important launch point,” Leavitt said.
Based in Cincinnati, Leavitt has a long career — mostly in marketing and management strategy roles — in consumer products. He and his two partners in RyKrisp worked at Minneapolis-based Pillsbury before it was bought in 2001 by General Mills.
The cracker that came to be known as RyKrisp originated at the turn of the 20th century as 9-inch Scandinavian flatbread rounds. It became popular nationally in the 1950s and 1960s, but volume began to decline in the 1980s. ConAgra, a big Omaha-based packaged food company, picked up the brand as part of a larger corporate deal in 2012.
RyKrisp became an afterthought. Sales of the cracker, $12 million annually a decade ago, had fallen to a “couple of million dollars” when the plant closed, Leavitt said. “There was absolutely no attention paid to [the brand].”
The new RyKrisp is counting on re-connecting with longtime fans stung by the cracker’s demise. But it will also work to broaden RyKrisp’s appeal to younger consumers, playing up the cracker’s healthiness, Leavitt said. “Generation X and Generation Y — everything about the brand is simpatico with a younger crowd.”
RyKrisp has set up a Web page, Facebook page and Twitter account, hoping to drum up interest through social media.
And there’s the zoo animal market, Leavitt said. It turns out that RyKrisp has long been sold to zoos and animal farms. Giraffes and reindeer seem particularly fond of the cracker.