Popadelics 2023: It’s All in the Mushroom
Marilyn Yang, the founder of Popadelics, is a passionate individual who believes that snacking can be both delicious and healthy. Dissatisfied with the taste of traditional snacking options, Marilyn sought to create a better-for-you snack that offers a unique and delicious experience. The result was Popadelics, a line of crunchy shiitake mushroom chips that not only taste great but are also good for the mind and body. Marilyn's love of mushrooms and other underloved veggies inspired her to create innovative snacks that prioritize both taste and social impact. DeliveryRank finds out more.
Can you share with us the story of how Popadelics was founded, and what inspired you to create snacks that utilize the benefits of mushrooms and other vegetables?
My co-founder Mike Casali and I (Marilyn Yang), partners in both business and in life, are both huge lifelong mushroom lovers - to the extent that it was actually a concrete topic we bonded over when we first started dating. Personally, I was a super picky eater growing up, and mushrooms of all kinds were probably the only thing that my parents could get me to eat at one point. Liking mushrooms is actually a defining part of my personality - when I first told some friends about Popadelics during the early days of coming up with the idea, I actually had a friend say to me, “Marilyn, that’s so on brand for you,” if that’s any indication!
As for how Popadelics specifically came about, it really traces back to the early days of the COVID-19 lockdowns in the spring of 2020. Mike and I live in NYC, so we were very much cooped up in our small apartment in those early days. We are both from finance backgrounds, have always wanted to start a company, but just never had the right idea. During this lockdown period, we had a lot of time to brainstorm, but also the only occasion we had to leave our apartment was to go grocery shopping. As foodies, that was the closest we could get to eating out at the time, so we started more or less trying all of the new snacks in the snack aisle. And it really just hit us one day - if there are kale chips, carrot chips, and cauliflower chips, why shouldn’t there be mushroom chips, too?
It started out with just us being consumers and huge mushroom lovers and wanting to try some mushroom chips, and we were surprised to find that mushroom chips were more or less nonexistent, at least in stores, and the mushroom chips that were out there online were unbranded, unflavored, and unexciting. There wasn’t much of a mushroom chip category at all, which we were surprised by. That got the creative juices flowing, and the more we looked into it, the more excited we got - namely, we felt that the timing was perfect between not only mushrooms rising in popularity between the introduction of mushroom coffees, teas, and supplements, but also having the free time during COVID to focus on a startup. And so, Popadelics was born - we wanted to create a young, edgy brand that got both mushroom lovers and doubters alike excited about eating mushrooms.
When we conceptualized what ultimately became Popadelics, we also came up with all sorts of other "underloved" veggies that also are absent in today's snack aisles, and are still awaiting their time in the limelight. Ultimately, we hope to launch additional brands of innovative snacks under the Fun-Gal Snacks umbrella, each featuring its own "underloved" veggie, as we did with shiitake mushrooms and Popadelics.
Popadelics has a strong commitment to supporting social causes. Can you discuss some of the causes you have supported and the impact that your efforts have had?
When we started Fun-Gal Snacks, the parent company of Popadelics, having some aspect of social impact was very important to us. At the same time we founded Fun-Gal Snacks, we also founded the Fun-Gal Snacks Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation that will eventually support a variety of causes centered around health and wellness.
One of the first causes we identified was the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research, which was the first academic institution to receive approval to conduct various mental health studies to treat depression and addiction using psilocybin.
Our goal is to make mushrooms of all kinds mainstream, so it was a logical fit! As a Chinese American founder and having started the company during COVID, we also support various community organizations and events, particularly in the Asian American community including Taste of Asia (benefitting Madison Square Park) and Welcome to Chinatown (benefitting NYC’s Chinatown).
Most recently, we’ve also partnered with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital as part of their Lunar New Year fundraising campaign and announced a partnership with Wellfare, a charitable organization that aims to provide access to better-for-you pantry products for low-income families in NYC.
How do you source the ingredients used in your snacks, and what steps does Popadelics take to ensure that they are of the highest quality and sourced responsibly?
Since launching the first iteration of Popadelics in April 2022, we have taken continuous steps to reformulate its product toward cleaner ingredients. Most recently, palm oil has been eliminated from all production and only 100% recyclable packaging has been used post-December 2022. While raw shiitake mushroom prices and the lack of vacuum frying machinery made domestic vacuum fried shiitake mushrooms commercially unviable, the team currently works with a U.S.-based importer of vacuum fried shiitake mushrooms that prides itself on high standards of safety, quality, ethics, and sustainability, which was critical.
Ultimately, as the product scales, the intention would be to ultimately use domestic shiitake mushrooms and to procure a vacuum frying machine to produce 100% in the U.S. Currently, everything but the shiitakes are organic and domestically produced and sourced, and Popadelics is seasoned and packaged in Chicago. All individual ingredients (including the shiitakes) are also certified gluten-free, kosher, and non-GMO.
Popadelics offers a range of unique flavors: Trippin' Truffle Parm, Twisted Thai Chili, and Rad Rosemary & Salt. Can you discuss the process of developing new snack flavors and what factors influence your decisions in creating new recipes?
The short answer is that as a lifelong foodie, these three flavors represent my personal favorite taste profiles. We were also intentional to introduce the product with three distinct flavors to appeal to different taste preferences - so while by design, I enjoy all three of our flavors, we know that some people may gravitate toward one versus another, and our three flavors are different enough to hopefully encompass a broad sample size of potential taste preferences.
But going into further detail, the founding of Popadelics is a full circle moment for me. It personifies the celebration of my Chinese heritage (so - shiitake mushrooms) blended with my favorite “Western” flavors (or the three culinary-inspired flavors of Popadelics). Growing up Asian American forced me to really solidify my personal identity as a unique mix of my Chinese heritage and American culture, which culminated in the creation of Popadelics!
Looking ahead, what are your plans for the future of Popadelics, and how do you see the company evolving in the coming years?
In the short term, our goal for 2023 is to continue to expand into retail, notably into national chains. To help further this goal, we recently onboarded with UNFI, KeHe, DPI Specialty Foods, and Pod Foods.
In the medium term, we also hope to target foodservice customers. We are also in the process of furthering our foodservice efforts, and have already started selling our product into office pantries.
In the long term, the ultimate goal is for Popadelics Crunchy Mushroom Chips to become a go-to, better-for-you, potato chip alternative, and for mushrooms to be mainstream in the snacking landscape. As for Fun-Gal Snacks, Popadelics are only the beginning. We plan to become a platform for innovative snacks that harness the benefits of mushrooms and other underloved veggies!
Interview by Sarah Kirton, originally published on DeliveryRank.