NEW YORK — Three years ago, celebrity nutritionist Joy Bauer set out to develop the perfect snack. For her, that meant it had to be convenient and portion-controlled, nutrient-dense and under 200 calories. The snack also would be gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian-friendly and free of bioengineered ingredients.
“I wanted snacks that were grab-and-go, so you could put them in your purse, keep them in a desk drawer, put them in your kids’ lunchbox, keep them in the glove compartment of your car, put them in your husband’s golf bag,” Ms. Bauer said. “And all sorts of different flavor profiles — sweet, salty, chewy, crunchy.”
Nourish Snacks debuted last year with 25 varieties, all meeting Ms. Bauer’s parameters. The snack mixes were sold exclusively on-line for a year before hitting shelves this past summer at Starbucks coffee shops, juice chains and airports. For the retail roll-out, the brand whittled down the original lineup to a dozen core varieties based on consumer feedback and on-line purchases.
“This is not for athletes, not for health nuts, not for the gluten-free community,” said Ms. Bauer, who serves as a resident health expert on NBC’s Today Show. “I wanted to create and offer a mainstream snack that everybody could enjoy and then be delighted at the afterthought of it being healthy.”
Varieties range from Berry’d Treasure, which contains blueberry-apple granola bites, to Chili’n in the Corn’r, featuring citrus chili-roasted corn, to Miss Popular, with dark chocolate and half-popped corn kernels.
“That one was born because in college I used to get a big bucket of movie theater popcorn, and my girlfriend would get a jumbo box of either nonpareils or M&M’s, and then we’d dump it into the popcorn and mix the whole thing up and devoured the entire thing,” Ms. Bauer said. “This was way before my nutrition career.”
For the holiday season, Nourish Snacks is trotting out two limited-edition varieties: Viva La Chocolate, with dark cocoa puffs filled with dairy-free hazelnut crème; and Cocoa-nut Crush, featuring roasted almonds, dark chocolate morsels and toasted coconut strips.
In an interview with Food Business News, Ms. Bauer shared the lessons she learned in starting her business, what’s next for the brand and why she’ll never go exclusively organic.
Food Business News: You just launched in retail this summer. How has it been going so far?
Joy Bauer: It’s been going great. We’re doing a slow but steady buildup, a strategic roll-out. We’re exactly where we want to be. We have big plans for the second quarter 2016. But right now we’re just kind of pinching ourselves and collecting data.
Just on-line we have shipped over a million bags, so to be able to get to this point, finally, it’s incredibly exciting to walk into a Starbucks or various stores in the city and see the product there.
Were there any surprises in terms of the findings from your consumer testing?
Ms. Bauer: I think the most surprising thing to me is imagining something that is not necessarily my favorite can be somebody else’s favorite. Certain people are drawn to sweet. Certain people are drawn to salty or crunchy versus chewy. Really what it showed me is people run the spectrum.
In that vein, I also tried to be as many things as I could to many people. Not that I think everyone should be eating gluten-free, but because I wanted to include people who have gluten issues or just feel like they want to avoid gluten, I made my snacks gluten-free. I didn’t have to make them dairy-free, but because I was able to make absolutely delicious snacks that are healthy and wholesome without adding dairy, I did it. I try to cross off as many things; G.M.O.s is another good example of that. I know it’s important to a lot of people that their foods do not have genetically modified stuff in it, so I went the non-G.M.O. route as well.
Tell me about product development at Nourish Snacks.
Ms. Bauer: The way that the process usually works is I always try to incorporate interesting ingredients and different flavor profiles and different textures. I’ll fool around in the kitchen and then have my husband and three kids, who are brutally honest, taste whatever I’m making. If all of them like it, then I open it up to a very unscientific, informal taste-testing with friends, family, people from all different age categories and walks of life. If they like it, too, and it comes back with flying colors, then we go to formal focus groups. So there are different levels of testing, but there have been a few that didn’t even pass my own family.
Can you give an example?
Ms. Bauer: Most of the time, it’s the amount, like something might have needed a bit more sugar. A great example of that one is a snack we have called Cinn-sational, with dried Fuji apples, dusted with a little bit of ground cinnamon and mixed with California roasted almonds with some cinnamon on it as well. The first iteration had no added sugar on the almond. My family thought it was good, but they didn’t necessarily rave about it. And then I opened it up anyway to a whole lot of neighborhood taste buds, and it was a nice response, but it was not overwhelming.
And then I started dabbling with a dash of added sugar … and then when I went back and taste-tested it, it was like a whole other snack.
I haven’t had a snack that we’ve completely ditched, but I’ve played with the formulations until I get it right.
What inspired you to develop this product line?
Ms. Bauer: I always knew I wanted to get into food at some point, and for years, I’ve been consulting with other large companies and recommending brands that I think are terrific. I still do that every single day. But I knew at some point I wanted to create my own line … and I also knew it was going to be snacks because it seems to be the one thing that everybody does. Everybody snacks, and everybody gets tripped up on them.
And then I started to figure out if I made the perfect snack, what would it look like?
The single serving is so important to me because I can’t tell you how many people have great intentions and they buy super healthy snacks, but there’s three servings in the bag, and when they open the bag they wind up eating the whole thing.
What kind of challenges do you face in product development?
Ms. Bauer: There are a lot of hoops you have to jump through. It takes a while to get all of your certifications, and you have to make sure if you branch out and you’re getting ingredients from a variety of different sources, then you have to make sure the second and third sources immediately are certified as well.
I felt like in the beginning it was such a learning curve, but I’m so accustomed to it now, that it’s just the way that it is. I also know the right questions to ask, whereas before I was backpedaling a lot. I’m getting smarter from every mistake that I make, and I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning.
One thing I’m thrilled with is the decision to not go exclusively organic because I feel that that would have been very limiting, and also because I don’t want to outprice ourselves. I think I would have been limited year-round with specific ingredients, which would have been very troublesome, and I also probably would have had to increase price wholesale, which is the furthest thing from what I want to do. That’s not what I’m about. The hope is to make this available to everybody.
Why did you go the route of loose snack mixes versus a snack bar format?
Ms. Bauer: We will be getting into (bars). I have all of those developed as well, but I wanted to start with the snack bags because they’re different, and I do think people like variety and little finger foods and to be able to munch. I almost felt there was a hole in this arena for healthy, munchable single-serving, delicious, convenient snacks. But I love bars, too.
Are there any other categories you can see the brand entering?Ms. Bauer: Lots, but for now, I would say the bars are up next.