We've seen Jacqueline Laurita's husband, Chris Laurita, hard at work on his various business ventures over the years on The Real Housewives of New Jersey. However, his latest flavored popcorn company, The Little Kernel, which we saw him launch this past season of RHONJ, might be one of the most meaningful to him.
That's because it was partly inspired by his son Nicholas Laurita and his experience with autism. After Chris and his business partner decided to get into the snack business, they were determined to put out a product that was not only delicious but was also good for you, featuring non-GMO, gluten-free, and dairy-free ingredients. "We wanted to make sure we put a product out there that’s a better-for-you product that would also be good for anyone who has any issues with celiac and dairy and all that stuff. We wanted our product to be not only better for you, but also it was very, very important to us to give back," Chris told The Daily Dish in November. "As a matter of fact, everything I do now I really want to make sure we have a giving back component because we’ve received so much help and support with different organizations with Nick that we’re kind of on a mission to not only put a better product out there, but also give back with everything we do."
The Little Kernel has definitely been a big hit with Nicholas, who "loves" the popcorn, Chris said, adding that his son is "doing great" these days. "He’s definitely making progress. He has his setbacks from time to time, but that’s to be expected," Chris shared. "Overall, he’s definitely speaking more, engaging a lot more, communicating better. He’s really, really good with his reading. He’s also really good on the iPad. He’s making progress, and we’re happy with his progress so far."
Long before he was inspired to launch The Little Kernel, Chris said that he had been in the clothing business for most of his career. "I’ve done really well in apparel. I’ve won some, I’ve lost some," he said. "But overall, I’ve learned from all of it."
Chris said the apparel industry "changed dramatically" around 2008 and 2009 when the economy fell on hard times. "It became all about price. When it becomes all about price, and all the retailers want the cheapest price they can possibly get, that means that you have to take that out of the product, which means you have to make sacrifices as far as quality goes. I really don’t like doing that, and I never did like doing that in the apparel business," he explained, adding that it became difficult to compete with large retailers that were selling wares for low prices. "It was the right time for me to kind of step back and decide, 'What is it that you really want to do?'"
That's when Chris decided to get into the food industry, which is something he always wanted to be a part of. "I really went into the food business not knowing anything at all about it, having zero experience and zero relationships. But I knew it was something I wanted to learn, so what better way to learn than to jump in with two feet and learn from experience?" he said. "I jumped in and got to know the business and met some great contributors, retailers, and people and built some great business partnerships and built it from there."
As RHONJ fans may recall, Chris worked with his nephews, Albie and Chris Manzo, on launching the blk. mineral water line. "Going into the snack business now is relatively easy because not only did I have the relationships with the distributors and retailers, but I had the knowledge and a lot more ammunition going into the snack business than I did when I went into the beverage business," Chris said.
It sounds like Chris has become a pro when it comes to navigating the snack industry. He said that The Little Kernel is now distributing nationally, and they're looking at opportunities to start selling overseas. A new s'mores flavor and 1-ounce bags are also launching on January 1. Chris said that the company is planning on making its existing popcorn flavors even more amazing by doing things like adding dusting and using 100 percent pure pink salt on the Pink Himalayan Salt flavor launching next month.
Though The Little Kernel is clearly off to a great start, Chris said he's always thinking about what's next. "We’re looking at other categories within the snack business that we think there may be some opportunity," he said. "What we like to do is look at the existing business and we like to see who’s out there, what other brands are out there, who’s doing it right, where is there an opportunity to do it better and really make decisions from there."
It sounds like The Little Kernel is going to be pretty major.
Relive a heartwarming Laurita family moment from last season of RHONJ, below.