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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Snack Makers Cash In on Hip-Hop

PHILADELPHIA -- Hungry for hip-hop? Head to the snack aisle, where Lil' Romeo fronts a bag of Rap Snacks "Bar-B-Quing with my Honey." Down the shelf, Kareem and two buddies huddle around a boombox on a bag of Chumpies.

With bags featuring rappers and fresh fashions, potato chip companies aim to translate street cool into profits.

Sold in mom-and-pop corner stores, Rap Snacks, Chumpies and Homegirls target urban youth immersed in hip-hop culture.

"Potato chips aren't exactly ethnic, but it's the way you package them and present them and the flavors that makes them different. Everybody eats chips, so you might as well eat the ones that appeal to your eyes and psyche," said Glenn Weber, owner of King's Potato Chips, which makes Chumpies and Homegirls for the Philadelphia-based company It's a Winner.

Christina Bohenek, 11, stops by her neighborhood store in north Philadelphia almost every day after school for a bag of her favorite snack. After considering the many brands available, she grabs a bag of Homegirls "Sweeties." She likes their sweet potato flavor, but the blue bag with three stylish girls is what caught her eye.

"It's not just plain, it's different," Christina said.

Playing on slang words for "friends," Chumpies and Homegirls are produced at the King's Potato Chips plant in Bowmansville, Pennsylvania, in the middle of Lancaster County's Amish country. Weber said he was skeptical the chips would sell when two Philadelphia businessmen pitched the line 10 years ago. Solid sales have changed his mind.

"It took me awhile to get used to the idea, but then sales just kept increasing," Weber said. "It's been the easiest thing to sell in the urban areas."

Where Chumpies and Homegirls feature cartoon kids dressed in cool clothes, Rap Snacks run images of Universal Records hip-hop artists.

Eve Marsan, product manager at Universal Records, said the chips follow merchandising trends aimed at urban consumers.

"They do that with everything now ... cigarettes, alcohol. Why not snacks?" Marsan said.

Rap Snacks owner James Lindsay said his chips appeal to kids looking for the latest on their favorite hip-hop stars, such as Lil' Romeo, Warren G and Miss Toi.

Celebrity-endorsed snack foods are not unusual. Pop singer Enrique Iglesias currently croons to a man holding a Doritos Salsa bag in a Frito-Lay television commercial.

What makes Philadelphia-based Rap Snacks different is its cross-merchandising potential, Marsan said. While Lindsay profits from the chip sales, his bags offer Universal Records another advertising venue for their artists' latest albums.

Alongside the chips' nutritional information, Rap Snacks feature artist bios and store locations to buy their music.

"We jumped on board because we thought it was a good outlet to get our artists to their core audience, because James has distributed to small stores where our core urban audience is," Marsan said.

The record company, home to such artists as Nelly and Sticky Fingaz, rotates a handful of new singers and more established artists into the Rap Snacks line each quarter.

Eleven Rap Snacks chip flavors are available across the Northeast, Florida and some points in the Midwest. Lindsay said he expects his sales -- currently 2 million bags a week -- to increase when he releases new popcorn flavors and cheese curls in December. He is also developing a line of clothing and backpacks featuring the Rap Snacks designs.

Weber said he provides 90,000 bags of Chumpies and Homegirls each week to distributors in Philadelphia, Baltimore and New Jersey.