A photo of Vincent Kitirattragarn

Following His Foodie Dreams, Engineering Alum Sells Asian-Inspired Snacks

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Vincent Kitirattragarn ’06, MEng ’07, heads Dang Foods, whose products are available online and at major retailers

By Beth Saulnier

The name of his snack food company works on several levels, explains Vincent Kitirattragarn ’06, MEng ’07. First off, it’s an homage: “Dang” is his mother’s nickname. It’s auspicious—the Thai word for “red,” considered a lucky color in many Asian traditions. And it’s descriptive; as Kitirattragarn, the firm’s founder and CEO, notes with a laugh, “People often taste our products and say ‘Dang, that's good!’”

Launched in 2011 and based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Dang Foods makes a variety of snacks, including bars and rice chips—selling both online and in retail stores around the country.

But it all started with coconut: specifically, Dang’s novel line of lightly sweet and salty chips. They’re made from shaved, dried pieces of coconut grown on family farms in Thailand—using a variety that has a relatively high fat content and lower fiber, Kitirattragarn says, giving it a smooth texture and a rich, buttery mouthfeel.

“In America, coconut is generally seen more as a baking or confectionery ingredient,” he observes, citing coconut cakes and candy bars like Almond Joy and Mounds.

Vincent Kitirattragarn cooking
Kitirattragarn has long been an avid cook. (Photo provided)

“In our early years we did tons of product demonstrations—going into stores, talking to people, and explaining, ‘This is a healthy snack. If you want, you can make things with it; you can put it on ice cream, yogurt, or salads. But 80 to 90% of people eat it straight out of the bag.’”

Of Thai and Chinese ancestry, Kitirattragarn grew up in New York City, the son of immigrant parents who came from the U.S. in the mid-1970s to attend graduate school. He transferred to Cornell from Rutgers, studying biological and environmental engineering and earning two degrees.

Though Kitirattragarn doesn’t have an extensive background in the dining or food industries, he has always had a penchant for cooking and a flair for flavor; as a youth, he helped his busy single mom by preparing meals for the family, and on the Hill he was an avid member of a student dining club.

In America, coconut is generally seen more as a baking or confectionery ingredient.

After contemplating ventures like a food truck while holding down day jobs in business, Kitirattragarn got the idea for Dang’s flagship product after hosting a one-night pop-up restaurant in San Francisco: one of his menu items was lettuce wraps with toasted coconut—and the coconut stole the show.

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Kitirattragarn’s younger brother Andrew eventually joined the business, focusing on operations and finance while Vincent heads up sales, marketing, and product development. In late January, the brothers were featured on an episode of the NPR podcast How I Built This.

A collage of Dang snack products
Dang makes coconut chips, Thai rice chips, and bars in a variety of flavors. (Photo provided)

Today, Dang’s products grace the shelves of major retailers such as Target, Whole Foods, Walmart, and Kroger; it’s also certified as a “B Corp,” a distinction given to firms that demonstrate high levels of social responsibility and environmental sustainability.

Dang still sells coconut chips, now available three ways: original, lightly salted, and caramel sea salt. It also produces snacks made from Thai sticky rice, formed into chewy-crunchy chips through a process that involves adding watermelon juice. (They come in five flavors including aged cheddar, toasted sesame, and—the bestseller—sriracha spice.)

Vincent Kitirattragarn chatting with a female vendor in Bangkok
Kitirattragarn (right) chatting with a vendor in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo provided)

In 2018, the company introduced a line of keto-friendly snack bars, in flavors like almond cookie, lemon matcha, peanut butter, and “crazy rich chocolate”—which, Kitirattragarn admits, is a shameless pun on the film Crazy Rich Asians. (A line of onion chips, launched two years earlier, failed to take off and was discontinued.)

What’s next? Kitirattragarn says that Dang has a new product in the pipeline, but he’s tight-lipped about details.

“We have a first-to-market salty snack chip; it's based on a well-known Chinese dish,” he hints. “I can't share too much—but I’m excited.”

Top image: Photo provided

Published March 22, 2022

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