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Close this search box. To You: How A Manufacturing Leader Bridges To Consumers

PJ Oleksak Headshot
Photo Courtesy of PJ Oleksak
CEO Oleksak stresses specialized expertise, new products, factory flexibility and working with legacy family owners.

PJ Oleksak came to three years ago with the idea of helping the Cranford, New Jersey-based snack manufacturer and distributor to expand from a highly successful, family-owned and run company to an even more successful, family-owned and more professionally managed outfit that could lean even further into America’s healthy-snacking craze.

With assets including a strong online market presence and a Wonka-esque factory that allows remarkable flexibility, Oleksak has led the company to a doubling in sales volume since 2019, a growing presence in new retail channels, a more deliberate approach to category and product additions, and an optimization and expansion of the capabilities of the company’s 200,000-square-foot plus plant.

“My focus in the early days was building a foundation and a multi-year plan,” says Oleksak, who joined as president in 2021 from previous experience in food e-commerce including as chief growth officer of Fresh Direct. Oleksak was promoted to CEO of in October.

“Once we had the plan and vision, we could take that back to, ‘What are the capabilities that we need to bring to light?’ So it started with a long-term vision and went back to, ‘What’s the org chart?’ We mapped out an 18-month vision and then started building. It was a sizeable business we were running and a very healthy one. So while building for the future, we couldn’t lose our focus on the core.”

Oleksak paid a lot of attention to manufacturing in the transition. The company started in 1929 mainly as a retailer of nuts and dried fruits, and in the early 2000s became with an emphasis on e-commerce retailing to American consumers who were becoming increasingly hungry not only for heart-healthy nuts but also for the many hybrid snack products that have been built on them.

Thus,’s recently expanded plant indeed does look like a scene from Willy Wonka, with peanuts circulating in roasters, almonds being hand-coated with ladles of chocolate in whirring tumblers and goodies also including dried fruits and gummies being packaged for shipment.

The key characteristic Oleksak has helped build into the expanding factory? Flexibility. “We have lots of customization capabilities,” she tells Chief Executive. “We do lots of short runs, roasting, salting and seasoning nuts, creating chocolates, coating things. We’ve got chocolate-covered espresso beans and malt balls and enrobed mangos. We do a custom trail mix. We can do what we want.”

Oleksak assumed the helm of the company from Jeff Braverman, the third-generation owner who recognized that needed someone with credentials like Oleksak’s—a track record in building systems, processes and culture—to reach a fourth generation as a robust concern.

Here are some thoughts from Oleksak about how to make such a manufacturing enterprise work:

Invest in people. “One of my key strategies as an executive is to figure out where we are going and surround myself with people who are smarter than I could be in those areas,” she says. For example, has been expanding its presence in retailers and merchandising, as well as in product innovation and R&D.

“I brought on and built out a team for sourcing the best products, and also for R&D, as we think about our journey into retail as an omnichannel company, she says. “We’ve been adding talent.”

Be systematic. Oleksak hailed the innovative spirit that allowed Braverman, a former investment banker, to build into an e-commerce powerhouse over the last 20 years. But she brought the notion of being more deliberate about brand and product extensions.

“David [Braverman, Jeff’s cousin and head of Nuts.con’s Koppers Chocolates division] will come in with 10 products you’ve never seen before, so innovation has always been in our DNA,” she says. “But we’re being more systemic about what white space to go after, where the opportunities are, and to trial within those.”

This approach also requires more research about how consumers’ snack preferences are evolving. “People are looking for health outcomes from how they snack, not about how it tastes or the ingredients, but what is this actually going to do for me,” Oleksak says. “That’s particularly true online, versus the store, where it’s hard to get messaging across to people on that score.”

Adjust to externalities. The food business, and especially snacking, has been hit hard in the last year or two by a couple of new realities: the rise of weight-loss drugs like Ozempic, which discourages consumers from taking in “empty” calories, and the persistence of price inflation, which simply discourages consumers from purchasing at all.

Oleksak is confident that will hold up to the weight-loss-drug revolution. “Every food company is thinking about it,” she says. “But I think our categories have a lot of protection. Snacking is purposeful, and often a meal replacement.” has been adjusting to inflation with smaller package sizes and by taking hits to its profit margins, among other measures, she says. “We also contract out further with [retailer] customers to be protected for longer with prices that we think are good,” Oleksak says. “You need a lot of active management in this environment.”

Work within the legacy. For Oleksak, this has included lacking any mention at all in a story on that ran on the Today Show last year, where interviews with the Bravermans were featured.

“There’s an extra level of care and responsibility you have when you’re taking over work from a [founding family], so we have a very tight journey and partnership, with lots of communication and planning,” she says. “They have a lot of love, respect and affinity, and they’re not going away. It’s been so much better than I could have imagined.”


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