'Tis the season of sweet treats and sugar comas — but Mark Cuban says he's going "all natural" for the holidays.
The billionaire entrepreneur, investor and "Shark Tank" star tells CNBC Make It he's planning to give out plenty of "healthy food gift packs" over the next couple months.
It's not the first time Cuban has been somewhat health-conscious around the holidays: In 2019, after becoming vegetarian, Cuban told CNBC Make It he'd gift "healthy" desserts from Alyssa's Cookies to family and friends. "People get so much junk food [at the holidays]," Cuban said at the time. "They need something tasty, low-cal and healthy."
Those cookies, made without additives or preservatives, are back on his list this year — along with four other food options. The majority of Cuban's recommendations also appear in his investment portfolio, so maybe he's hoping that the season of giving could lead to a season of returns.
Here's what he'll be including in his holiday gift baskets this year:
Vegan pork rind brand Snacklins started as a fun challenge between friends to make a healthy, crunchy snack. Then, in October 2019, founder Samy Kobrosly appeared on ABC's Shark Tank, telling the Sharks about the snacks' "real ingredients that a 6-year-old can pronounce" — like mushrooms, yuca, onions, sea salt and sunflower oil.
That was enough to hook Cuban, who offered Kobrosly $250,000 in exchange for a 5% share of the company, and 5% in advisory stakes to grow his business. Over the past two years, the Rockville, Maryland-baed start-up surpassed $5.3 million in total sales, Kobrosly said in a recent "Shark Tank" recap video.
A one-ounce bag of Snacklins is 80 calories, about half the amount of regular pork rinds. Of course, you'll have to decide for yourself if pork rinds are really the same without the pig.
In January 2017, Redef CEO Jason Hirschhorn told his newsletter readers that Cuban sent him a "big box" of Alyssa's cookies for the holidays. Get ready for more this year.
The Jupiter, Florida-based company makes cookies without any hydrogenated oils, margarine, additives or preservatives — using only ingredients like unrefined whole grains, naturally dried fruits and nuts. Cuban invested in the company in February 2012, after its co-founder Doug Saraci sent him a box of cookies in the mail with a note asking for $50,000 in exchange for 25% of the business.
"My wife [Svitlana] thought that was funny. She said a billionaire would not eat cookies from a box that some guy from Florida would send to him," Saraci told CNBC Make It in 2019.
But Cuban did. And if you're on his gift list, you might soon get cookies in a box from some guy in Texas.
Pan's Mushroom Jerky
A few years ago, jerky got hot. According to market intelligence firm Innova Market Insights, 152 new jerky food products launched globally in 2018 — up 52% from just five years prior.
That's the year Pan's Mushroom Jerky launched. In 2020, the start-up caught Cuban's eye on "Shark Tank" when founder Michael Pan described his struggles getting his company through the Covid-19 pandemic's early months. The taste of the company's vegan mushroom-based jerkies impressed both vegetarian and non-vegetarian Sharks on the TV show, too.
Cuban invested $300,000 in exchange for 18% equity in the company. A Pan's spokesperson tells CNBC Make It that in the 24 hours following the "Shark Tank" episode, the company sold $650,000 worth of mushroom jerky. Within four days, that number rose to $1 million.
The company's products are now in approximately 3,000 stores nationwide, up from roughly 700 at the time of the taping.
Wanna Date? spreads
The New York City-based start-up sells sweet, date-based spreads and doughs that check many of Cuban's boxes: paleo, vegan, relatively low-calorie, allergy friendly, no added sugar and a "Shark Tank" appearance.
Cuban invested $100,000 in the company during its "Shark Tank" episode, which aired in January 2020, in exchange for 33% of its equity and two contingencies: Change the packaging to make the product less expensive and adjust the line of flavors.
"I just went vegetarian, so I'm always looking for things that are healthy, healthy for my family," Cuban said during the episode. "The idea of a date-spread is great."
Today, the company's products are available in more than 100 locations — but founder Melissa Bartow says she's more focused on building out her direct-to-consumer online sales, noting that she's attempting to build a "date-based empire."
She may have a long way to go. Making Cuban's list is a good start.
These pulp chips are the only items on Cuban's list that don't also appear in his investment portfolio. Rather, Cuban says, he simply loves the product.
According to the 6-year-old company's website, Pulp Pantry started after founder Kaitlin Mogentale watched a friend juice a carrot and saw firsthand the large amount of fresh pulp that was left behind. A "food waste warrior," Mogentale decided to turn that unused pulp into a line of crispy snacks.
"We're putting vegetables at the front of your pantry, in unexpected places like cereals, chips and more," the website reads.
The Environmental Defense Fund, a New York City-based advocacy nonprofit, says upcycled foods — new food made from reused food byproducts — can help reduce the atmosphere's build-up of greenhouse gases like methane, one of the leading causes of climate change.
In 2019, a Future Market Insights report valued the upcycled food industry at almost $47 billion dollars, with a compound annual growth rate of 5% per year through 2029.
Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that Wanna Date founder Melissa Bartow says she's focused on building a "date-based empire."