Breaking the  ‘Road Rules’
By Deborah Cassell

Potato chips, pretzels and popcorn might hog the lanes, er, salted snack aisles, but some manufacturers choose to break the rules of the road with innovations that challenge traditional means of snacking. MTV’s extreme sports-loving, RV-sharing “Road Rulers” have got nothing on these risk-takers, whose mission — should they choose to accept it — is to win consumers’ loyalty … and spending dollars.
Just how are pita, soy, and fruit chips and crisps paving the way for alternative snacks? In today’s competitive marketplace, it takes unique flavors, textures and nutritional profiles to steal attention from the mainstream leaders of the pack, i.e. the usual road hogs. A few brands are well on the radar.
Pita Crew
Pita chips are picking up speed, as an increasing number of brands add the cracker/chip alternative to their product lineups … and in interesting varieties to boot.
“The pita chip category is exploding,” says George Kashou, vice president and owner of Kangaroo Brands, Inc., Milwaukee, Wis. “Expect this healthy alternative to fried snacks to show strong growth in the years ahead.”
Kashou should know. In January, his company ventured beyond its sandwich pockets business to offer baked pita chips in four flavors: Sea Salt, Garlic Herb, Whole Grain French Onion and Cinnamon Sugar.
“The distribution on the chips is growing rapidly, as everyone is telling us it is the best pita chip they ever tasted,” Kashou says.
However, Kangaroo Brands isn’t the only pita bread baker to expand its pita portfolio. Nor is it the only one with a sweet variety in its repertoire.
The Garden of Eatin’ brand from Hain Celestial Group, Melville, N.Y., has its own Brown Sugar & Cinnamon version that’s “reminiscent of the delectable fried pastry treat, churros, but without all the calories and guilt,” according to the company’s Web site. Garden of Eatin’s pita chips also come in Greek Isle, Sea Salt and Asian Spice.
The cin-fullness continues at Herr Foods, Nottingham, Pa., which makes an Apple Cinnamon pita chip, as well as Sea Salt and Garlic Parmesan profiles.
“Our pita chips are made from authentic pita bread,” says company president Ed Herr. “The result is a thick, hearty chip that’s perfect for dipping.”
But Herr’s isn’t the only dipper out there. In April, Old London Foods, Tulsa, Okla., a subsidiary of Nonni’s Food Co., created a line of baked pita chips with “70% less fat than the leading brands of potato chips,” according to the company. They come in three savory flavors — Whole Grain, Lightly Salted and Garlic.
“As a leader in the category, we are constantly talking with our consumers to find out what they are looking for in the cracker aisle,” says Chris Gunsch, director of marketing for the Old London brand. “Increased flavor and health were top priority. We wanted to create something that would fit both needs. Old London Pita Chips have a crisp bite and delicious, flavorful taste that everyone is sure to love.”
Earlier this year, Kettle Foods, Salem, Ore., introduced its loyal fans to this growing segment, as well. Kettle Bakes pita chips contain 3.5 g. of fat and 120 calories per serving, and are made with organic wheat flour and canola oil. The trans fat-free product comes in two varieties: Salt & Pepper and Salt Kissed.
Last but certainly not least, Stacy’s Pita Chip Co., Inc. rules the pita chip road, so to speak, with its popular Multigrain, Texarkana Hot, Pesto & Sundried Tomato, Parmesan Garlic & Herb, Simply Naked and — you guessed it — Cinnamon Sugar selections.
Not Soy Fast
Speaking of Stacy’s, the Randolph, Mass.-based brand, which is owned by PepsiCo, also is well known for its soy crisps, another growing segment of the snack aisle. Described online as “a delicious baked snack with the natural goodness of soy, over 6 g. of protein, 0 g. of trans fat and 0 mg. cholesterol,” the crisps come in Simply Cheese, Sweet BBQ and Sticky Bun.
Soy crisps certainly are the right direction for Newman’s Own, Westport, Conn., whose Organics line includes a gluten-free variety made with organic low-fat soy flour and organic rice. They come in four flavors: Cinnamon Sugar, White Cheddar, Lightly Salted and Barbecue. Each serving boasts between 7 g. and 9 g. of protein.
Meanwhile, another snack producer merges the best of both soy and corn in an innovative new offering. Genisoy Baked Soy-Corn Chips from Genisoy Food Co., Inc., Tulsa, Okla., are heart-healthy and trans fat-free, and contain 7 g. of soy protein. They’re available in Nacho Cheese and Lightly Salted. Genisoy’s Crispy Dippers are an additional potassium-rich soy alternative. The cracker-like snacks come in Lightly Salted and White Cheddar, two of the most popular soy crisp profiles on the market.
Fruit Speed Ahead
Come snack time, parents might like their kids to nosh on some fruit, but for youngsters who rebel against the texture or messiness of the real thing, many snack producers are turning to dried apples and berries in different forms.
After years of success, Fruit-Roll-Ups, a brand of General Mills, Minneapolis, are alive and well and still introducing new Vitamin C-packed shapes, sizes and flavors. The latest variety, Blastin’ Berry Hot Colors, is as visually stimulating as it is tasty. Other recent introductions include Flavor Wave and Tropical Tie-Dye — a feast for both the eyes and mouth. Each serving of Fruit Roll-Ups contains just 50 calories. In addition, General Millsfruit ripples serve up crunchy, fat-free, 50-calorie portions of strawberry apple and cinnamon apple that’s sure to please all ages.
Then there’s FruitaBü Smooshed Fruit Twirls from Stretch Island Fruit Co., Grapeview, Wash. Made with 90% fruit juice and real fruit, these handy snacks — available in packs of eight or single-serve, pocket-size portions — are certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They come in five flavors: strawberry, apple, grape, apricot and raspberry. Each pack equals one serving of fruit and contains no added sugar.
The aforementioned pita, soy and fruit chip/crisp makers might be taking the road less traveled. But when it comes to exposing shoppers to new and often healthier products, these alternative snacks are just the ticket on the highway to heaven. SOI
Get Bageled
Bagel chips have long been a part of the deli section in grocery stores and continue to serve the industry, led largely by one snack producer in particular.
It comes as little surprise that in addition to its pita chips and soy crisps, Stacy’s Pita Chip Co., Inc., Randolph, Mass., a PepsiCo company, also caters to the bagel chip segment. The brand’s bite-size, easy-to-eat offerings include Simply Naked, Toasted Garlic, Everything and Whole Wheat.
Why do a doughnut when you can get bageled?
Grab and Go
Call it fast food: For those in search of on-the-go snacks with a tropical flair, Grab Em Snacks, Basking Ridge, N.J., offers a gourmet, snack-style version of a well-known exotic fruit: the plantain (a member of the banana family). Grab Em Plantain Chips are trans fat-free and come in six flavorful varieties: Red Chili, Jalapeño, Cajun Spice, Sea Salt, Black Pepper and Chili-Garlic.
Rice Rage
Move over rice cakes. There’s a new sheriff in town. Mr. Krispers, a brand from TH Foods, Inc., Loves Park, Ill., is putting the petal to the metal with its Baked Rice Krisps, a low-fat, all-natural alternative to traditional “cakes.” The one-of-a-kind, East-meets-West snack packs the intense flavor of traditional chips with the natural goodness of rice using a proprietary baking technique from Japan.
The result? Six lane-straddling flavors: Sun Dried Tomato & Basil, White Cheddar & Herbs, Sea Salt & Pepper, Sour Cream & Onion, BBQ and Nacho.
Talk about outrageous.