FRANCISCO — The next generation of food manufacturers are
clamoring to satisfy your snack cravings. Just don’t expect
another potato chip or pretzel.
annual Fancy Food Show in San Francisco last week,
up-and-coming brands touted seaweed chips, toasted coconut
shavings, kale crackers, Wagyu beef jerky and baked pasta
them could be the next Super Bowl party staple. Today’s
emphasis, however, is on guilt-free snacking — the holy
grail of nosh. Manufacturers are banking on more healthful
products, lower in fat, sugar and salt, but packing the same
addictive punch as a can of Pringles chips.
though they’re much healthier snacks, I’m hoping people
don’t stop at one," said Jerry Bello, maker of Pasta
Chips, a ravioli-shaped crispy bite dusted with Italian
surge in snack options comes as Americans have transformed
into a nation of grazers. The number of snacks consumed per
day has doubled since the 1970s, the U.S. Department of
percent of Americans say they nibble daily, amounting to a $28
billion annual industry for salty snacks alone, according to
consumers are driving the change. Rather than partaking in
breakfast, lunch and dinner, they’re grubbing around the
are redefining snacks," said Dwight Richmond, Whole Foods
Market’s global purchasing coordinator. He and about 50
colleagues from the Austin-based grocery chain perused the
latest offerings at the closely followed trade show, a sort of
incubator and marketplace for food brands that aren’t quite
mainstream and are typically found in higher-end stores.
of eating three square meals, they’re juicing and
snacking," said Richmond, who believes the shift away
from junk food will grow as more consumers seek out simple,
minimally processed fare.
Meraz, a 26-year-old college student, said she picks up
healthful munchies from Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s to
avoid snacking on processed junk food when attending classes.
my school, it’s so easy to eat bad snacks," said Meraz
as she sipped a smoothie chock full of spinach and kale at a
juice bar in downtown LA. "I am against unhealthy snacks
existing. It’s food for cheap industrial profit."
Russo, senior vice president of Global Consumer Insights at
Nielsen, said nearly a quarter of Americans surveyed said they
prefer a quick snack over a meal.
seems to be replacing meals for many Americans and globally,
because of convenience and also as a way to cut down on
calories," Russo said.
the new wave of more healthful brands is Dang, a maker of
coconut chips. Crunchy and creamy, they are the invention of
30-year-old entrepreneur Vincent Kitirattragarn, who was
inspired by preparing his mother’s Thai lettuce wraps.
wraps have seven ingredients, and one is toasted
coconut," said Kitirattragarn, who cornered a Whole Foods
buyer three years ago at a Fancy Food Show on the East Coast
to taste his chips. "So we bought shredded coconut, put
it in a wok on low heat, and the smell filled up the whole
result was so delicious that the wraps became an afterthought.
The Cornell-trained engineer decided to market the coconut
slivers just as coconut oil and coconut water was gaining
Kitirattragarn reasoned, would command better placement in the
grocery aisle than an ingredient, stashed in purgatory next to
the chopped nuts and baking powder.
$90,000 in startup capital, Kitirattragarn started developing
new flavors to pair with the original chips (which include
three ingredients: coconut, cane sugar and salt). There’s
caramel and sea salt, chili lime, and to no one’s
which is named after Kitirattragarn’s mother, is now
available at Whole Foods and Sprouts, among others. It racked
up $4 million in revenue last year.
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Mock and his three business partners were also inspired by an
Asian ingredient: seaweed.
his partners have children that attend the same school. They
watched as the kids devoured seaweed snacks.
love seaweed too, but I’m used to tortilla chips and queso,"
dads started Ocean’s Halo, a company that introduced the
Seaweed Chip, a crunchy green ribbon built for dipping. Every
bite is packed with protein and vitamins. It’s also organic,
gluten-free and low in fat — prerequisites for many of today’s
nothing like it out there," said Mock, who used to sell
financial derivatives for JPMorgan.
week, he was wooing supermarket buyers at the Fancy Food Show.
winter fair, which ended last week, is in its 40th year.
Originally geared toward imported European specialty food, it
helped popularize brands such as Ben & Jerry’s ice
cream, Perrier sparkling water and Walkers Shortbread.
have always been central to the event, though the trends
(think bagel chips and chocolate-covered pretzels) have come
and gone. In one corner of last week’s convention hall —
tucked behind the chocolatiers, olive oil makers, seasoned
salt purveyors, fermenters and sprouters — was Bello and his
Jersey native has a knack for inventing original snacks.
were the Veggie Straws, chips that resemble hollow French
fries that he sold to the Hain Celestial Group, owner of
brands such as Terra Chips and Rice Dream.
also developed Trader Joe’s Pita Bite Crackers and a
biscotti he "Americanized" by using more butter and
creating a softer center.
Pasta Chips are his latest, inspired by a trip to Tuscany with
his wife. It took two years of tinkering in the test kitchen
to arrive at the proper snap around the edges and tenderness
in the middle.
I didn’t, it would feel too much like a water cracker,"
said Bello, whose company is based in Windermere, Fla.
says his Pasta Chip has 20 percent less fat than a pita chip.
pure health food cred, there’s Way Better Snacks, a
Minneapolis company that makes tortilla chips chocked with
sprouted whole grains and seeds. Sprouting, they say, unlocks
nutrients in the ingredients and allows for easier digestion.
so much competition in the snacking category," said Jim
Breen, the company’s founder and chief executive. "The
key for us or anyone is simply being different."