True North Pistachio Crisps Merge Chips, Crackers, and Nuts

Frito-Lay creates another new brand and another new category with True North Pistachio Crisps.

By Hollis Ashman, Jacqueline Beckley and Jennifer Vahalik, Consumer Understanding Editors

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Frito-Lay (, a division of PepsiCo Inc. (, has been one of the most successful packaged goods companies over the past 20 years. Six Frito-Lay brands are among the 18 PepsiCo mega-brands that generate more than $1 billion each globally.

Recently, Frito-Lay, like all of PepsiCo, has been redesigning and creating new products that reflect consumer demand for healthier, nutritious snacks. This reorientation has provided us with baked salty snacks, trans fat-free snacks, multigrain chips and, most recently, fruit and vegetable crisps via the Flat Earth brand.

Why spend the millions of dollars it takes to create a new brand? It allows Frito-Lay and PepsiCo to reframe the understanding around great-tasting snacks. They did it quite successfully with Flat Earth. Now, they’re trying it with True North.

There are very few crackers that have nuts as a key ingredient. Many have seeds, some have nut clusters (which True North also has) but few can claim to be a nut-based cracker. One exception is Blue Diamond’s new Nut-thins with almonds.

At retail, consumers see nut brands like Planter’s, Blue Diamond (almonds), Emerald (Diamond brand), Sunkist (Paramount Farms), Frito-Lay and regional or private label brands. While Lay’s and Pringles potato chips have seen sales declines of more than 3 percent in the past year (Food Institute, 2008), overall consumption of tree nuts rose 22 percent to 3.36 lbs. per person (shelled basis) in 2006/2007 (USDA ERS, October 2007). Planter’s leads the way in helping us understand that nuts have a lot of health properties and are not just for the elderly. Yet, most nuts are still eaten as … nuts.

What appears radical for True North Pistachio Crisps is the merger of crisps (the English word for chips) with crackers and nuts to create a product that appears to be an amalgamation of all three. Intersections like this are always excellent places to try to innovate.

What’s key is nuts have certain very specific design features due to the nature of them being a whole food. What if you could take all the goodness of that whole food and provide it in a new form that brings in all the great qualities of the food and minimizes the impact of processing yet creates an acceptable, convenient alternative to the ingredient of origin?

While people want to eat better, their busy lives sometimes make it difficult to get some of the foods and nutrients they need to maintain energy and caloric balance. A snack that could deliver taste and satiety would be a product many might seek out.

As we reported in Product Spotlight: The price of healthful snacking (April 2005), people who began following higher protein diets rediscovered nuts as a great snack and began to drive up demand. Additionally, companies and nutrition science researchers had begun to look more closely at the unique properties of nuts.

Research now indicates nuts are a nutrient-dense food, full of fiber and antioxidants. With the outer “skin” of some nuts on, they can actually have a thermogenic effect on some individuals (i.e., you use more calories to eat the food than you take in, thereby “burning” calories).

With respect to pistachios, there is a wealth of great nutritional news from a number of sources. Some call them one of the next superfoods, due to the presence (along with sunflower seeds) of more phytosterols, a plant chemical known to help lower cholesterol levels. In addition, pistachios have one of the highest levels of fiber, lutein, and B6 compared to other nuts. It seems as though True North picked a very unique and important nut to use as one of the building blocks of this new crisp.

Our own Healthy You! & Crave It! insights indicate the key attributes for craveable nuts are: taste, aroma, mood and brand. Consumers are looking for premiumness via size or quality of the nuts to ensure their craveablity. Nuts are consumed at mid-afternoon and late evening. Nut consumption is popular during TV viewing for Americans.

While taste, thirst, aroma and mood are drivers of the craving space for potato chips, taste, price, brand, healthy, fat, appearance, quality, texture and portion size are the key factors in the healthy space for crackers.

The key attributes for healthy nuts are taste, price, brand and healthfulness. Consumers are looking for structure function claims like: a good source of fiber, important in reducing your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes; providing essential minerals your body needs, including potassium, magnesium, and zinc; as part of a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, may reduce the risk of some forms of cancer; may reduce your risk of high blood pressure and stroke. When consumer’s think about nuts and health trade-offs, they do not worry about flavor, and they are interested in the health benefits nuts can naturally bring to them.

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