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True North Pistachio Crisps Merge Chips, Crackers, and Nuts

Sept. 29, 2008
Frito-Lay creates another new brand and another new category with True North Pistachio Crisps.
Frito-Lay (www.fritolay.com), a division of PepsiCo Inc. (www.pepsico.com), 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.

Key trends that can impact this idea are taste, convenience and healthfulness.

Taste: Pistachios have their own unique flavor and texture, which is driven by the form and the method of eating. While not used in processed foods much, it can be seen that this nut could have very broad appeal. The pistachio has a way of appealing to the classic mindset (due to its long history), or the variety-seeker (it’s not a common ingredient in foods) or the imaginer (imagine being on the Silk Road -- prior to 1976, all pistachios were imported from the Middle East).

Convenience: With a bag that has a zipper closure and a product design that leaves few crumbs or residue on the fingers, these crisps are easy to eat in public. It’s near-impossible to drive kids around and try to crack open pistachio seeds with your mouth.

Healthfulness: Nuts have both the halo of health and reality of health. With all the good news about pistachios (see www.pistachiohealth.com), what is not to like about this ingredient? Other factors we look for in healthy foods today can be Kosher, natural and a few simple ingredients. True North appeared to check all of those boxes during product creation. The good fats and the protein story of pistachios are excellent.

The experience
It’s difficult to bring a new brand to life. Already, True North is covering the U.S. fairly quickly. Print and TV exposure are big and the website is playful. True North Pistachio Crisps can be purchased anywhere from a list price of $3.99 to deals that are two for $5.

There are two more flavors in this brand – almond and peanut) -- and three other nut forms (nut clusters, nut crunches and whole nuts). The standup, zippered, 4.5-oz. bag is an interesting shade of cream (not brown but slightly recessed green mixed with a creamy brown).

Taste, texture, aroma and size are critical to the perception of quality in a hybrid nut, cracker and chip. Aroma in the bag was very faint and evoked freshness. The visual of the cracker surprises. While it is most probably baked on a belt and therefore cut from dough, the crisp looks irregular, lacking the typical uniform appearance of, say, a Ritz cracker. The small green pieces of pistachios are easily seen and ample.

The crisp was light and delicate to the fingers and when placed in the mouth and chewed. In addition to descriptors like light and crisp, crunchy was sensed by many. Now here is the surprise: You know the wad of dough you always get stuck to the back parts of your mouth? There is none. While you get the sense of chewing food (and can perceive nuts on the tongue and maybe one of two that stick between a tooth) the crisp comes cleanly out of your mouth more like a nut than a cracker.

The pistachio flavor was low. Some said it had lots of immediate real pistachio flavor, but a few felt it was low (they eat pistachios all the time and are use to the direct hit of pistachio). The mouth, lips and fingers say baked – there is a dryness that seems to come from baking. Some found a little residue left on their fingers, which they loved licking off.

The aftertaste was surprising. It was not what was expected from a crisp. The aftertaste was that of pistachio nut. Pleasant but totally unexpected. Saltiness overall was good, though a few, hardcore fresh pistachio eaters said it was a little too salty.

There is some magic here. The 5g of protein in a serving (about 12 crisps) were felt to be very satisfying – like the feeling you get when you allow yourself to have that 1 oz. of almonds. That is a wow. Crisps that satisfy. Two grams of fiber and a modest amount of salt make these crisps a very tasty snack or meal bridge.

Does the product deliver?
True North Pistachio Crisps deliver on the promise of bringing a difference to natural snacking. We like the package graphics, they do inspire us. Pistachio Crisps are unique and present the tongue with an interesting taste. Tasters really felt these were much better to snack on than chips or crackers. They really seemed to hit the spot.

How to make the idea bigger: The crisp alone might need to work very hard to deliver everything this brand promises. But when you take the whole lineup together -- nut clusters, crunches (these are little works of art – who rolled the shell around those peanuts?) and crisps -- we are seeing that True North has created what they call a “movement.”

Opportunities in the future can build upon this platform and help people understand that combining this good source of protein with other foods could make for good meals that are exciting without going overboard. Given the base ingredients, we can see natural extensions that create more fiber opportunities and also bases that can be believable for functional benefit products. This is just the beginning.

Rating: Tasty and great. The entire product design hangs together well. This is an example of a manufacturer listening to the consumer, letting the scientists and engineers design a good product and bringing it together in a complete package.

Market potential: Excellent. For this megabrand creator, we might be seeing the birth of another billion-dollar baby. It is going to be fun to see how this brand and this product inspire the competition. Looks like the consumer can win with this one.

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