Jackson's Honest After Shark Tank: We Caught Up With The Founders

The market demand for potato chips might be massive but very few brands are what might be considered "nutritious." Enter Jackson's (formerly called Jackson's Honest), the new-age chip company founded by Megan and Scott Reamer. Jackson's offers a line of non-GMO heirloom sweet potato chips cooked slowly in high-caliber oils. In 2017, the product with significant potential landed the Jackson's brand on an episode of "Shark Tank." 

The Reamers' "Shark Tank" pitch was a big. They started by offering their potential investors 5% equity in Jackson's Honest for $1.25 million. Despite this tall number, Megan and Scott were confident. At the time of the episode's premiere, October 2017, the snack food industry was valued at over $20 billion, and Jackson's Honest chips stood out as an essential snack being done differently. However, Jackson's Honest was losing money trying to scale and compete for shelf space in national stores.

We spoke with the Reamer's about their experience pitching their brand on "Shark Tank" and the evolution of the Jackson's brand after the show. The prospect of Jackson's generated significant interest from several Sharks, but their continued success resulted from partnering with one unexpected shark and the couple's determination to make a different kind of chip.

The Reamers started Jackson's Honest as a snack company for their son

The Reamers were already well in business by the time they appeared on "Shark Tank." They began the company in 2012 after spending years home baking snacks for their son, Jackson Reamer. At 3 years old, Jackson experienced a medical crisis in which CNBC reports his weight dropped to a mere 17 pounds. With doctors unsure of what was causing the problems, the Reamers began to seek out foods that could sustain Jackson while also easing any gastrointestinal complications. Their search led them to consider ketogenic foods that are anti-inflammatory, low-carb, and high in good fat. After Jackson's diagnosis with Aicardi-Goutières syndrome, a rare auto-immune disease, the Reamers discovered that their intuition about ketogenic eating was spot on.

Good things don't remain secrets for long, and eventually, the Reamers' friends and family began suggesting that they sell their unique and filling snacks. The keto food market was ready for them; "better-for-you" oils were a rare marketing point, as was selling snacks made from heirloom potatoes. The Reamers also realized they were in a unique place to help other families who needed food like theirs. With Jackson's story as their driving motivation, they began to sell coconut oil and sea salt chips online before working their way into Natural Grocers, Sprouts, and Whole Foods.

Shark Tank producers actually invited Jackson's Honest to apply

For many of the business owners who appear on "Shark Tank," the journey to get there is almost as challenging as running a company. Applications to the television show can net up to 40,000 hopefuls per year. Should your operation stand out enough to gain interest from producers, there are hours of interviews, due diligence, and video tests that await before you're any closer to stepping in front of the cameras. However, this wasn't exactly the case for Jackson's.

Megan told us the journey to the tank was not typical of what most people do when they try to get on Shark Tank. Instead, in 2017, a reporter from The Denver Post wrote a profile on Jackson's Honest, which covered both impressive business facts and the family's compelling story, and happened to find its way in front of a producer for "Shark Tank." Rather than needing to show up at an open call audition or submit an unsolicited application, Megan explained that Jackson's was instead invited to apply. "I think maybe that's part of their process," she said, "just looking at news stories, looking at coverage."

The Reamers were initially hesitant to be on the show

Becoming a successful entrepreneur is a goal for many people across America. Being featured on television for it? That's a dream most folks would leap at. Still, Scott told us that he and Megan's decision to appear on the show wasn't an immediate yes. "We were really torn before we decided to do it," Scott said. He also said that the pair understood that "Shark Tank" certainly could be an opportunity — they just weren't sure if it was the right opportunity for their company. He worried that the size of Jackson's was already too large for the show; although, it was also losing a lot of money. Having grown the business to a point of national distribution, the Reamers weren't completely convinced about whether the additional risks of unscripted television were worth it.

We asked about the risks of appearing on the hsow. "My personal reticence wasn't necessarily the negotiation ... it was the things that we couldn't control," he said. "Because we don't control the arc of the storyline, the editors control that ... those uncertainties are what scared me." Fortunately, entrepreneurs (like the Reamers) are seasoned risk-takers, and the pair ultimately decided to jump into the tank.

The Reamers didn't know that there would be a guest Shark on the show

Although "Shark Tank" has a regular cast of investors, there are often guest Sharks who feature on the investment panel from time to time. Adding a new shark to the tank is often just the impetus needed to create some action. 

According to the Reamers, entrepreneurs who appear on "Shark Tank" aren't told ahead of time which investors will be present during their pitch. So, when they emerged under the bright lights to see guest Rohan Oza, their potential luck didn't immediately register. Since guest sharks see fewer business pitches than the core cast, viewers often expect them to be a bit more eager to make a deal with their limited time.

Initially, the Reamers had prepared without a target Shark in mind, sharpening their overall knowledge of the business numbers and potential. Luckily for them, Oza had yet to secure his first deal on the show. The prospect of Jackson's Honest generated significant interest from several Sharks. The chip brand had experienced significant success with the previous year's sales topping $10 million. In the end, the risk of taking on an upstart snack company was too much for every investor but one. Oza made the Reamers an initial offer of $1.25 million for a 20% stake. Eventually, the deal was settled for a 15% stake at $1.25 million.

The negotiations were as tense as they look

It should come as no surprise that what viewers watch on "Shark Tank" is just a small portion of what actually goes on during the pitching process. Jackson's appears as a 12-minute segment. In reality, the Reamers said the process lasted closer to an hour. It's also a period of time that gets increasingly chaotic. Megan told us about the experience: "They're interrupting each other, sometimes when asking questions. ... You have to really be on your feet and reactive and able to respond quickly."

In many episodes of Shark Tank, once an offer is made, entrepreneurs take an aside to discuss the terms amongst themselves. For the Reamers, stepping away felt inconceivable. After guest shark Oza made his first offer, the televised negotiations mostly show Scott contending with the terms as the investor's expression becomes more tenuous with each retort. Megan also participated more than the final edits reveal.

As it turns out, Megan communicated with Scott throughout the high-pressure. "In the moment that we had to decide if we were going to take this deal or not," Megan said. "We realized on a strategy level that we did not have any cue around what 'yes' or 'no' was. So, I'm smiling, trying to talk through my teeth." Sure enough, the cameras show Megan giving Scott a wide, toothy smile before turning to accept the Shark's deal.

Jackon's shark has been an incredible partner through personal and business trials

In regards to the business side of things, Scott told us that when you partner with a Shark, you're getting much more than a TV personality. "When you get a shark, you also get their team. And the quality and depth of that team is just as important." Throughout the course of the deal becoming contractual, the Reamers said they worked closely with these team members to make sure the due diligence was thorough enough to finalize the agreement.

Tragically, two months after making that handshake deal with Oza, Megan and Scott's son, Jackson, passed away. Challenged with managing a new business reality while also grieving the loss of their child, the Reamers say they were amazed by the level of support.

"I think there were some challenges in where [Oza] wanted to be and where we were," Scott said. "He took the personal over some of the business stuff ... The personal empathy and flexibility and kindness that he showed, in addition to being an absolute rockstar from a business standpoint, you don't often find those two things in one human being."

Shark Tank had an immediate impact on Jackson's e-commerce business

When Jackson's first appeared on "Shark Tank," the business was already thrumming along with over $1 million in sales. Along with being sold at Whole Foods, its line of high-quality sweet potato chips was available for shipping from the company website, as well as retailers like Amazon and Vitacost. The Reamers both agree that "Shark Tank" had a considerable impact on their e-commerce business when it was posted.

"Our biggest immediate hit was our e-commerce sales," Megan said. "[They] just went through the roof." She told us that after the show premiered, she and Scott could watch as orders spiked depending on the region where the episode was shown. Having already been performing a successful operation, they were primed to make the most of the show's run. "We had all of the pieces in place where we could fulfill e-commerce orders and certainly grow that business," Megan said. As for the roof, she says that the sales are still up there.

And the show has helped the Reamers approach national brick and mortar retailers

E-commerce sales can clearly sustain a business. But what about providing for those snackers who want to find a new potential favorite by serendipity — or those who need nutritious options like Jackson's at their local market? Gaining space on the shelves of national grocery chains isn't easy, but it's necessary. Scott told us that "Shark Tank" adds an extra leg up in a competitive space. "It opened doors for us a number of ways," he said.

Per Scott, a lot of the advantages come from being able to market the product as a "Shark Tank" brand, but some of the assets of selling Jackson's come down to data. Being able to time sales bumps directly with reruns or provide a retailer with information on potential sales patterns is something that smooths the logistical supply chain. It allows the brand to be a reliable item to stock, which is good for anyone craving an unctuous chip.

What's next for Jackson's?

When Jackson's appeared before their potential investors, the founders felt confident about one thing: Their business was in a healthy place, and all it needed was some extra fuel to hit its stride. Since then, Jackson's has taken off. The company offers a steadily growing line of sweet potato chips cooked in coconut or avocado oil and flavored with equally bold tastes, like Farmhouse Ranch, Habanero Nacho, and Spicy Jalapeño. At the moment, the Reamers intend to stick to that core business.

Jackson's is now based in its own factory, located outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Just as Scott said when first appearing on "Shark Tank," he told us that the goal for Jackson's is straightforward: "The simple one-word answer is scale." When asked about the change in the brand's name, Megan brings it back to the sole reason for their business. "Jackson's was the part of it," she said. "That's our son's name."