Food Entrepreneur KANSAS CITY — Entrepreneurs in the snacking space are targeting upcycling and inclusivity to differentiate. Five finalists from SNAC International’s SNAC Tank Pitch Competition joined Food Entrepreneur’s Food Entrepreneur Experience webinar on April 24 and highlighted their brands and entrepreneurship journeys.

A reoccurring theme of the webinar was upcycled vegetable snacks from Confetti Snacks and Theo’s Plant-Based Jerky. In addition, snacking inclusivity and cultural inclusivity was a topic of interest for allergen-friendly snack brand Absurd Snacks, low sugar high fiber donut brand Good Journey Foods, and Indian-inspired potato chip brand Keya’s.

Imperfect vegetables otherwise turned away because of blemishes are getting their moment to shine in forms of snacks.

Betty Lu, founder of Confetti Snacks and the SNAC Tank Pitch Competition winner, takes imperfect or surplus vegetables like shiitake mushrooms, carrots, radishes, and okra and turns them into a crunchy chip. Along with vegetables, the company features mandarin chips formulated from upcycled oranges.

Lu said she created Confetti Snacks to combat food waste and fight hunger.

“We want to solve a very big problem facing the world today, which is a huge amount of food waste,” Lu said during the webinar.

Differentiation is challenging in a competitive market like snacks, Lu said. To differentiate, she is exploring new technologies.

“We are exploring patented technology to drive surpluses of food and ugly foods,” she said.

Theo’s Plant-Based also tackles food waste using upcycled vegetables by turning beets and sweet potatoes into plant-based jerky.

Theo's plant-based jerkyTheo’s Plant-Based Jerky is formulated from upcycled beets and sweet potatoes to create plant-based jerky. Photo: Theo's Plant-Based

“When we set out to start this business, we wanted to make vegetables more accessible to more people and present them in a new format people enjoy,” said Aaron Brodkey, co-founder of Theo’s.

Brodkey’s co-founder Theo Mourad realized vegetables could offer much more than just being a chip or straw format.

“There was so many things from marination to dehydration to make vegetables truly delicious,” Brodkey said.

The company’s products are currently in Whole Foods Market and 50 independent stores throughout the Midwest. They are launching nationwide in Sprouts Farmers Market this month.

“We sit very well next to sweet potatoes or beets and in functional food next to dried mangos, nuts, and seeds, which seems more approachable to the product,” Brodkey said.

Kristoffer Quiaoit, co-founder of Good Journey Donuts and SNAC Tank Pitch Competition Audience Choice Award winner, had a rough start to entrepreneurship.

His first company Nui was a low carbohydrate cookie company that ended in bankruptcy after multiple customers found mold on their cookies.

“We issued a ton of refunds and that eventually became a $300,000 bad batch and a personal debt of $800,000,” Quiaoit said.

Out of bankruptcy and trials came his next venture Good Journey Donuts, which features no added sugar and 17 grams of fiber.

Good Journey DonutsGood Journey Donuts is a low sugar, low carbohydrate donut maker that features 17 grams of fiber. Photo: Good Journey Donuts

As a low carbohydrate donut brand, Quiaoit said he often gets pushback from consumers fearing the product may taste like “cardboard.”

“We focus on taste and texture to differentiate and once they (consumers) try it, they become believers,” he said.

Quiaoit created Good Journey to provide a healthier option to those with diabetes and a healthier option for consumers overall.

“We tested our products to make sure it was good for type 1 diabetics who monitored blood sugar,” Quiaoit said.

Good Journey Donuts is on a mission to provide Americans with reduced sugar alternatives.

 “This journey hasn’t been easy, but we’re here to empower people to be happy and healthy,” Quiaoit said.  

Absurd Snacks, a plant-based line of snacks featuring roasted chickpeas, faba beans, granola clusters and dried fruit, is an allergen-free brand.

Grace Mittl and Eli Bank founded their company while students at Richmond University. The pair took action after their friend suffered an anaphylactic shock from eating a granola bar that was incorrectly labeled as nut-free.

After listening to other consumer stories and realizing how many people suffer from food allergies, the two decided to enter the market.

Protein, fiber and less sugar is what Absurd Snacks uses to differentiate itself against competitors.

“There is a very specific niche of products that our competitors like to focus on like singular package cookies, brownies, muffins, cake mixes, confectionery, chocolates, gummies,” Mittl said. “While these are great options for people who have food allergies, they lack on the nutritional side of things.”

Providing complex Indian-inspired flavors through a familiar snack like potato chips but in a soft way to consumers is how Keya Wingfield of Keya’s integrates her Indian heritage into her brand.

“That’s the mission of our brand, leveraging my heritage to bring these robust flavors to mainstream America,” Wingfield said.Keya's bombay chipsPhoto: Keya's

When her company, Bombay Chips, enters the market, Winfield said she wants to sit in the mainstream aisle.

“I am not a big fan of ethnic and international aisles,” she said. “I don’t quite know what they’re about. American families are increasingly blended. There’s multiple cultures living under the same roof. They’re demanding fun flavors but on their beloved snack and that’s what we’re answering, too.”

Keya’s hopes to enhance the chip aisle by breaking the sea of sameness.

“When you walk down the snack aisle, you really see the same flavors being made by multiple different companies,” she said. “There’s barbecue, there’s your sea salt, your ranch. What we want to do is introduce newer flavors to the American palette they’re not used to. Many times people think Indian food is too complex, we want to break all those and be able to introduce complex flavors but in a softer way.”

Keya’s Bombay Chips come in two flavors of Bombay spice and black salt. The chips are a clean label product with no additives, colors or preservatives.

“The black salt is a new exciting flavor that I can’t wait for people to try,” she said. “It’s kind of a hipper modern version of sea salt and vinegar, if you will.” 

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