New Kids On The Block: Why CPG Entrepreneurs Are Gravitating Towards Puffed And Extruded Snacks

The $9 billion puffed and extruded snacks category in the U.S., which has been dominated by brands such as Cheetos owned by food and beverage giant PepsiCo and Pirate Brands, acquired by Hershey for $420 million in 2018, is bracing for an increasing number of new players, who believe the segment urgently needs to be reinvented with better ingredients. 

HIPPEAS, the brainchild of Italian entrepreneur Livio Bisterzo, and PeaTos created by Nick Desai have separately entered the market over the recent years and reported exponential growth.

“We are growing [by] triple digits annually and our growth has accelerated,” Desai wrote me via email, noting PeaTos is their newest brand and product line under the Snack It Forward umbrella.

He said the company is on a mission to upgrade America’s favorite snacks by replacing the traditional base of corn, a major ingredient found in several mainstream puffed snacks such as Cheetos and Funyuns, with peas.

“This space has been dominated by Cheetos and other old school brands for too long,” Desai added. “We need fresh ideas and varieties within products that provide the familiar indulgence that people crave, but also some of the attributes that the ‘better-for-you’ category brings to the snack foods industry.”

PeaTos, which are currently available in more than 4,700 retailers across the U.S., including Kroger, Safeway, as well as on e-commerce platforms such as Amazon, are also gluten-free and are made without artificial ingredients.

The latest brands that entered the puffed snacks market in 2020 include Avo Crazy, a line of avocado-based products created by The Naked Market, and sorghum-based Sea Monsters that advocates the nutritional value of seaweed.

John Lee, who co-founded Sea Monsters with his wife, said they have always wanted to feed their kids with healthy snacks, and they grew up eating seaweed themselves due to their Korean heritage.

The couple has been doing research on seaweed for the past two and half years, and decided to source it from Scotland, where farmers harvest the plant in the “pristine waters” and only use its very top portion so there is little chance for seashells and other sea creatures to end up in the final products, they said.

“We are seeing seaweed pop up as an alternative source of iron, and it’s a pretty hearty ingredient for vegetarians,” Lee told me recently, although it remains a novelty to most American consumers.

“What we’re trying to do with this brand is to introduce something that tastes like regular puffs… but also kind of like a Trojan horse… to make seaweed palatable to most people in the U.S.,” he added. 

The organic-certified Sea Monsters, which comes in flavors including barbecue, cheddar, cheese pizza, and vegan ranch, are each characterized by a different cartoon personality. Its products are currently sold in several natural channels on the East Coast, and is expected to be available in Whole Foods in the future.

Also as the head of a creative agency that has helped to build brands for companies, such as KIND Snacks, Lee believes the opportunities for Sea Monsters to expand beyond puffs into other snack categories are vast.

“I feel like from a branding perspective, we can bring in so many other things within this brand… something more engaging and conversational with our consumers and the community,” he told me.

Unlike Sea Monsters, The Naked Market chose to use a more popular ingredient in the U.S., avocado, to make its puffs, after realizing the consumption of the fruit reached an all-time high in 2019, yet there were zero offerings utilizing it in the extruded snacks category. 

“Our founding team, while all operating on different diets, are avocado obsessed,” Harrison Fugman, CEO and co-founder of The Naked Market, said. 

“Our entrance into the puffs category stemmed from the love of avocados and the opportunity we saw in ‘making avocados snackable’. Through extruding avocados, we are able to make a super tasty, savory puff that is gluten-free, vegan, and has only 100 calories per bag.”

Avo Crazy’s varieties — vegan cheddar, BBQ salsa, and vegan ranch — are available via its direct-to-consumer channel, and will be rolled out in several national retailers in later 2020.

Fugman suggests the major players in the puffs category are “disruptable,” and expects more competitors to come into the market.

“Products [like Cheetos, Pirate’s Booty, etc.] are primarily made from outdated ingredients …[thus] opened up the opportunity for more innovative products to take share from them by using on-trend ingredients,” he said.

“With Avo Crazy’s use of avocados as a core ingredient, taste profile, and its socially driven brand identity, we think it’s ripe to disrupt the current leaders.”

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