Food Entrepreneur ORLANDO, FLA. — Concepts ranging from pickle dip to plantain chips were highlighted by emerging brands at the SNAXPO 2023 conference held March 19-21 in Orlando. The event, presented by SNAC International, featured its first-ever Startups Hub sponsored by Food Entrepreneur, which hosted a two-hour sampling opportunity for up-and-coming companies.  

The biennial SNAXPO showcases the latest processing technology, packaging solutions and ingredients, seasonings and flavors. This year’s show brought together more than 1,250 attendees and 160 exhibitors. SNAC International introduced new resources and incentives for startup leaders and operators in attendance, including a welcome program, coordinated interviews with trade media, product display opportunities, personal guided tours, connections with industry mentors and education tailored to emerging brands. Discounted registration and travel subsidies were available to qualifying startups on a limited basis.

Among startup founders at the show were Lisa Bastian and Ben Bastian, the mother-and-son duo behind PremOla Granola, a Chicago-area brand of low-sugar granola combining nuts, seeds and organic oats. Ms. Bastian said the pair “took so much away from this event” as they prepare to scale the business.

“We’ve enjoyed meeting tons of people … just learning a whole new space that we haven’t been a part of,” she said. “We’re just here to take it all in.”

Stacy Martin, founder and chief executive officer of Seahorse Snacks, agreed the show was “a great place to make connections in the manufacturing space, equipment and packaging.” Her Chattanooga, Tenn.-based startup produces a line of roasted nuts with sweet and savory flavors such as chili turmeric and maple chai.

Other early-stage brands participating at the event included Phil’s Pickle Dip, a dill-forward dairy dip; OffLimits, a line of gluten-free breakfast cereal; Bean Thinkin, a brand of puffed snacks formulated with navy bean flour; and Bamba Foods, a maker of plantain chips. Israeli startup SuperNatural featured its line of pressed vegetable crisps produced using proprietary technology. Yips Yogurt Chips, Madison, Wis., sampled its range of crunchy freeze-dried snacks made with Greek yogurt, chia seeds and fruit. Also on display was Snack’in For You, a new brand of puffed cauliflower and broccoli snacks developed by a small innovation team at global food company Sigma Alimentos.

Attracting and engaging emerging snack brands is a priority of SNAC International, said Justin Spannuth, the association’s newly appointed chairman, in an interview with Charlotte Atchley, editor of Baking & Snack, a sister publication of Food Business News and Food Entrepreneur.

“The startup space and better-for-you space in snacking is just booming, and there’s a lot of private equity money behind it,” Mr. Spannuth said, citing an expansion of snacking applications and ingredients beyond the traditional chips, pretzels and popcorn. “There’s lot of room for us to grow and embrace a broader reach.”

Howard Friedman, CEO of Utz Brands, Inc., offered advice to founders and operators of snack startups during a keynote discussion at the conference. He encouraged entrepreneurs to challenge traditional ways of thinking and doing business.

“You probably can take on Frito-Lay, and you probably can win,” he said. “You’re going to do things that they’re not prepared or capable of doing until you get to scale, and don’t lose that passion and grit and determination to do the things even when you meet people like me who are going to say, ‘It will never work. I’m not sure what you’re talking about.’

“That’s what big companies do to talk themselves out of things that we should probably be taking a little more seriously.”

Startups should avoid adding an industry veteran to the team too early, he said, adding, “be wary of people who have my background.” Prior to joining Utz Brands last year, he was chief operations officer of Post Holdings, Inc., St. Louis. He has more than 25 years of experience in the food and beverage industry, including two decades with the Kraft Heinz Co. in various marketing, brand management and senior leadership roles.

“I have such a great respect for people who look at categories and businesses and the industry and say, ‘Yeah, I think I can take on Frito-Lay… Because I have a better idea, because I have a passion to do it, because I’m willing to work every hour of every day of every week to try and build my business.’ It is a gift that you all possess that people like me are fascinated by because that’s just not the work that I do, and I just greatly admire people who do it.”

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