World

The co-founder of a popular meat sticks brand sold at Trader Joe’s says his upbringing in an immigrant family on Long Island taught him resilience one of the many things that has led “Chomps” to runaway success.

Growing up, Chomps co-founder Pete Maldonado would often snack on greasy, gas station jerky sticks. The Manorville native knew he wanted to one day become a personal trainer, but it wasn’t until he began working with clients in the Hamptons that he realized his favorite snack and love of fitness were at odds.

“I ate more gas station snack sticks or meat sticks than I’d ever like to admit,” Maldonado, 42, told The Post, later adding, “But once you start training and reading labels in a different way, I realized I shouldn’t be eating those.”

At a time when Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig dominated the market of accessible healthy options, Maldonado couldn’t help but wonder why no one had invented a “better for you” version of his favorite gas station snack. Not long after, Chomps was born.

Maldonado’s pitch for a “healthier” beef jerky impressed Rashid Ali, who quickly became his business partner in Chomps after the two met in 2011 during a poker night at a mutual friend’s house in Chicago.

“We were just chatting about business and I realized that I need someone like him to be successful. He’s good with the finance and operations side of things. I like the big ideas, sales, marketing,” Maldonado told The Post over the phone from his home in Naples, Florida. “Our skills really complemented each other.”

After pooling together a meager $6,500 in startup capital, the duo began working on a product they could bring to market.

Their first order of business: creating something healthy that people would actually want to eat.

“Doesn’t matter what nutritional attributes you check the boxes for, if it doesn’t taste good, you’re never going to sell it again, he said. “We had that intuition very early, which I think a lot of brands forget about so we spent a lot of time on the taste.”

Once Chomps launched, they began going door-to-door to sell at different CrossFit gyms and working with nutrition and fitness bloggers to build their brand and credibility within the billion-dollar meat snacks industry.

“About four years in we got a call from Trader Joe’s, that was in 2016, and they wanted to launch the product with us,” Maldonado said.

“That was a game changer for us. Overnight, millions of people were trying the product for the first time and they loved it and they would come back to buy it again,” he said.

While Chomps has doubled its business each year, sales increased tenfold the year their product hit the shelves at Trader Joe’s, Maldonado said.

After selling over 350 million jerky sticks between 2012 and 2023, Chomps estimates that it may bring in close to $500 million in 2024. Chomps did not disclose how much Maldonado and Ali would be making

Despite the company’s projected earnings, Maldonado stressed that things weren’t so glamorous when he and his partner were relentlessly chasing the dream.

“I did not come from a special type of upbringing, a rich family, I was never the smartest kid in school. All of this was hard work and resilience,” he said.

That resilience, he says, was learned from his family. His grandmother, who immigrated to the U.S. from Colombia when his father was five, raised six children alone after her husband died from brain cancer and would always find a way to “make it work.”

“It’s kind of the mentality that she raised all her kids with, just like, you know, it doesn’t matter what life throws at you, you just have to make it work, make it happen. That’s resilience,” he said.

“Growing up in an immigrant family, for me, I think was just like a game changer in terms of my mindset and my work ethic and the way I think about providing for my family.”

Maldonado says his family-first mindset propelled him to be a diligent worker from a young age.

“It takes a long time to see the results of all your work,” he said. “But just having that motivation was really impactful for me.”

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