Pretzel purveyor Stellar Snacks is a family affair, but the mother-daughter company is fast becoming a national name. The snacks—made with vegan ingredients, sugar-alternative sweeteners like monk fruit, and other better-for-you ingredients—are sold across the country, and demand is increasing enough that the company is investing $137 million over the course of a decade to handle the growth.
To learn more about the Stellar Snacks recipe for success, Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery Chief Editor Jenni Spinner connected with co-founder Gina Galvin.
Jenni Spinner: Could you please talk about how Stellar Snacks got started?
Gina Galvin: My mom Elisabeth and I co-founded Stellar Snacks in 2019, but our story roots back to the early 1990’s when Mom moved to the U.S. from the south of France and became a pioneering female figure and entrepreneur in the U.S. specialty food industry. Known for her “French twist” on gourmet foods and her culinary excellence, she carved a niche as a preferred supplier of natural, trendy, and better-for-you products to the airlines for 30 years.
After impasses with pretzel manufacturers closing plants and resisting innovation, my mom decided that in order to see pretzels elevated to her standards, she’d have to bake them herself. We recruited a top-notch team of experts and dreamers and started up our Carson City, NV manufacturing facility from scratch. Within months, we were baking and within a year, our branded line Stellar Pretzel Braids was born.
JS: Please tell us about the company—the products you offer, and what makes your snack company special.
GG: Stellar Snacks is a premier manufacturer of pretzels for a variety of customers from national brands to major private label accounts. Our facility is certified Woman-Owned, SQF, Kosher, Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, and Peanut-Free. Our pride and joy is baking our branded line, Stellar Pretzel Braids. This line of gourmet seasoned pretzel twists is intentionally a work of art from product to branding, and it is a welcome disruption to the tradition of staleness in the pretzel category. Our edge stems from how we bake: our process, premium ingredients, and exquisitely original flavor profiles—a labor of love” as we call it.
However, we don’t stop there. Our packaging showcases stunning artwork commissioned from emerging artists and we strive to promote creativity in the world around us. We partner with community organizations and events that advocate for the arts, empowerment, mindfulness, and wellness.
JS: If you look at a Stellar Snacks label, you notice there are ingredients you might not find in other products—and there are ingredients common to other snacks you don’t find on your packages. Could you please talk about the decision to go vegan, use alternative sweeteners like monk fruit, etc?
GG: When creating our recipes, the top three things we always keep in mind are:
- delicious taste
- health benefits
- inclusiveness to a broad audience.
We invest in higher-quality ingredients, get creative in our R&D kitchen, and go the extra mile to accommodate a diverse range of customer diets and preferences. Stellar Snacks are Vegan, Non-GMO Project Verified, and Kosher, and they’re made in our 100% Peanut-Free facility. Unlike many seasoned pretzels, our products are free from corn syrup, MSG, artificial ingredients, dairy, cholesterol, and trans-fat.
We use plant-based butter in our recipe because the buttery characteristic adds depth to the classic pretzel taste and offers a delightfully nostalgic snacking experience (think of a freshly baked French croissant or movie theater popcorn). We made the choice to go vegan for numerous reasons ranging from sustainability, health, environmental impact, and animal welfare to consumer demand.
Another unique ingredient in our seasoned pretzel braids is monk fruit. monk fruit, a natural sweetener with zero calories, provides a sweet taste without the drawbacks associated with traditional sugars or artificial sweeteners. Though it’s recently gained popularity, monk fruit has been used and celebrated for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. This unique addition aligns with our commitment to crafting snacks that prioritize health without compromising on flavor.
JS: Since those early days, Stellar Snacks has grown impressively. Can you tell us about your path from then to now, milestones, and even some of those lessons along the way?
GG: Thank you! We’ve grown rapidly but with a lot of discipline. We have followed a set formula: have a clear vision, set specific milestones that are achievable, then execute, scale, and repeat. We’ve used this model in every department of the company from production, and operations to sales and marketing. This has included milestones like scaling from one oven to two ovens and growing our distribution from five to 500, to 5000+ retail locations. Building a team with the right balance of experience, talent, and ambition has also been instrumental to our success.
JS: Could you please tell us about your experience forging partnerships with retailers, and unexpected entities like Alaska Airlines?
GG: Our sales strategy has been grounded in the Natural Specialty channel, so it’s been a pleasure to grow with extremely intentional retailer partnerships. The retail buyers in this channel are true thought leaders who are selective and innovation-minded, as the items they curate on shelf dictate the future of food.
Our airline partnerships are a prized gem for Stellar Snacks. The connections trace back to the early days of my mom’s career and the partnerships are built on a foundation of 30 years of trust and performance.
Alaska Airlines is a values-driven airline and there has been a natural alliance between our brands since the very start. In fact, they were the first airline to serve Stellar Pretzel Braids on board. We appreciate that they go above and beyond to source from like-minded brands, and frankly, they’ve been an inspiration to us through their commitment to being the “most caring airline.”
According to Alaska Airlines’ managing director of guest products Todd Traynor Corey, “We’ve put in time and lots of thought to find brands to work with that care about the same things we do. These companies are risk-takers, problem-solvers, are ethically-minded, thoughtful, kind, and believe even the smallest of things—like a pretzel, a scent, or an almond—can have a purpose.”
JS: In addition to the clean-label products, you also offer some fun flavors. Could you please tell us how you came up with those, and what qualities a winning flavor worthy of a new Stellar Snacks launch might have?
GG: Our approach to flavor development at Stellar Snacks is a fusion of culinary creativity, consideration of consumer preferences, and commitment to originality. We draw inspiration from market trends, but most of the magic happens live during R&D when we test hundreds of ingredient combinations and iterate on the spot with our team. A winning flavor for a new Stellar Snacks launch must embody a perfect balance of uniqueness, broad appeal, excitement, and originality. We seek to surprise our customers' taste buds while staying true to craveable flavors that you want to come back to again and again.
JS: Stellar Snacks, as a woman-run snack purveyor, believes in supporting other women, elevating emerging artists, etc. Please tell us more about that.
GG: Absolutely; our drive for creating a social impact is just as strong as our passion for pretzels! We love partnering with other women-owned businesses, and we sponsor a variety of empowerment events for women—anywhere from women in tech, to female DJs, to women in professional sports. Just as importantly, we pride ourselves on empowering women within our organization by providing quality employment opportunities, continuing education programs, mentorship, and promotion from within.
The Stellar Snacks artist program was inspired by a simple question: “How can our pretzels serve a greater purpose?” The answer: We commission emerging artists and help them gain exposure by showcasing their art on our packaging. Each bag travels far and wide, helping the artists reach new audiences and get discovered by new fans. We love promoting the artists and providing our customers with one-of-a-kind artwork that ignites curiosity and sparks creativity while they snack.
JS: Do you have anything to add?
GG: Stay tuned for exciting product innovation launching soon!