Food entrepreneurs, take note: If you ever pitch to Barbara Corcoran on Shark Tank, make sure you look the part.
Corcoran spoke to attendees at the 2015 Summer Fancy Food Show about pitches by food companies that have caught her eye. She pays close attention to Shark Tank contestants who look like they actually eat and enjoy the product.
A skinny pasta producer received no votes from Corcoran. "I knew he had never had a strand of pasta in his life," she said. But Pork Barrell BBQ owners Heath Hall and Brett Thompson got an offer of $50,000 in funding from Corcoran, along with a 50 percent stake in their business.
Why? As Corcoran was looking at the barbeque sauce company's logo, a pink pig, she thought that Hall looked like a pig. She took it as a sign to invest.
"Who else has a guy who looks like this? Nobody. So I jumped on that deal," she told the audience. "He [Heath] didn't know how to take it."
It's a frankness that would get many in trouble, but with Corcoran's track record of success and dedication to the businesses she invests in, the crowd of specialty food business owners are willing to laugh it off.
With a background dominated by real estate, Corcoran said she never invested in anything else until she appeared on Shark Tank. Now she estimates that 80 percent of her portfolio is made up of food businesses.
"I feel that people who like to feed people are happy people, I tend to like them all -- I haven't met one that I didn't like," Corcoran said. But food vendors still have to have a unique product and demonstrate dedication to receive interest from Corcoran. In the food business, owners have to be willing to put in years of hard work in order to build a nationwide network of buyers.
When Corcoran met Pipsnacks founders Jeff and Jen Martin on the show's sixth season, she knew they were the kind of people who would be in it for the long haul. Pipsnacks, which makes small-kernel popcorn (so it doesn't get caught in your teeth), had the unique twist Corcoran was looking for.
Brother and sister Jeff and Jen had opposite skill sets that reassured Corcoran that they could handle all aspects of the high-stress food industry. Just three months after Corcoran's investment, Pipsnacks had more than $1.1 million in sales, and their products have continued to garner praise. Its Kettle Pipcorn won "Outstanding Sweet Snack" at this year's Summer Fancy Food Show -- among 2,715 entries across 32 categories.
But even for those who dream of obtaining a Pipsnacks-level of success, be conscious of the realities of the food industry. "The phrase I like to hear least is, 'I won't be happy until I see my Wheaties on every store shelf across America,'" Corcoran said. "That kind of inability to articulate how you're going to make it happen is terrible for investors...and the food business takes tremendous endurance."