30 In Their Thirties: Brad Cocklin, President, Chunk Nibbles, Troy

Working in Chicago for a commercial insurance company, Brad Cocklin was living a 20-something’s dream: He had an expense account to use for entertaining clients in the big city.
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Brad Cocklin // Photo by Trever Long

Working in Chicago for a commercial insurance company, Brad Cocklin was living a 20-something’s dream: He had an expense account to use for entertaining clients in the big city.

But when Berkley native Cocklin started talking about the future with his colleague and then-girlfriend (now wife), Katie, they realized they wanted to do something professionally that would better align with their passions. And, in this case, their taste buds.

Cocklin thought about his family’s longstanding holiday tradition of making a sweet, crunchy recipe that had been developed by his grandmother, Cuddy. The treat was made with a mixture of pretzels, rice cereal, peanuts, and white chocolate.

“Growing up, it would always be in bowls under the (Christmas) tree,” Cocklin says. “My mother would make 300 cookie tins of it, and everyone loved it.”

Cocklin was convinced the product could be a hit if it got enough distribution. In 2018, he and Katie began putting together the framework of a business model. Finally, one day, they marched together into their boss’s office in Chicago and told him they were quitting so they could move back to the Detroit area.

The company tried its best to keep them, making an attractive offer to let them manage the Detroit-area operations “and run our little snack operation on the side.”

It was a good offer, and Cocklin says he seriously considered it. But Katie didn’t want to wonder what would have happened if they’d gone all in.

They branded the snack Chunk Nibbles, found a commercial kitchen on Northwestern Highway, and set up corporate offices in Troy. With $24,000 from a liquidated 401(k), their margin for error was small. Cocklin started reaching out to grocery store managers, even though he knew little about the retail food sector.

“When I look back at some of the e-mails I sent in 2018, I can’t believe anyone gave me a chance,” he says.

The big break came when Cocklin contacted Brad Busch, director of category management at Busch’s Fresh Market, by retrieving Busch’s cell number off his LinkedIn profile (it’s no longer there).

“At first, he was like, ‘Who is this?’ ” Conklin recalls. “But we drove from Rochester to Ann Arbor to drop off samples, and before we were even back in Rochester we had a call asking if we could produce enough to supply all of their stores.”

That’s 16 stores, which would require a lot from a workforce that mainly consisted, at that time, of family and friends. But the Cocklins knew they couldn’t miss the opportunity.

Today, the company employs nine people, and Chunk Nibbles can be found in 3,500 stores nationwide. They’re also available on the Home Shopping Network and QVC.