Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery was recently able to talk to Diana Levy, founder and CEO, Undercover Snacks, about the brand's origins and healthy snacking.
Liz Parker: How did the brand/idea for the brand originate?
Diana Levy: When I originally started Undercover Chocolate Co., my goal was to make decadent chocolate covered goodies for events, gifts, and holidays. After two of my chocolate-obsessed daughters were diagnosed with celiac disease, I became determined to make this snackable treat gluten-free too. I wanted to create a product that combined two of my greatest passions: premium chocolate and accessibility for allergen and gluten-free families. I added some healthy, light and naturally good-for-you ingredients with my absolutely delicious, premium chocolate to create several amazing flavors and Undercover Snacks was born.
At first, I made Undercover in small batches on my own in a rented commercial kitchen. As sales quickly grew, I knew I needed to find a way to increase production. While I considered using a co-manufacturer, I ultimately decided it was extremely important to control the quality and the manufacturing process. That’s when my husband, Michael, who has decades of experience working with food manufacturers, joined me as the Chairman of Undercover.
Together we opened our own state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in East Hanover, NJ and sourced custom-designed factory equipment that can handle Undercover Snacks’ nearly 50/50 blend of chocolate and crispy quinoa—a first of its kind. We are proud to report that our factory is now certified as an SQF Level 3, Kosher facility, capable of producing more than enough Undercover for the world to enjoy. Since we manufacture our own products, we decided to ensure our facility is not only certified gluten-free but also certified peanut and tree-nut free. As a mom who has kids that can’t eat gluten, I know how hard it is to find safe snacks, so I wanted to provide that same assurance to people with other food allergies as well. Although our milk chocolate contains milk, our facility and products are free from all of the other top ten food allergens including wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, soybeans, fish, shellfish, sesame and poppy seeds.
LP: How do you achieve a balance between indulgence and health?
DL: Unlike cereal bars that use rice syrup or glucose-based binding agents and other chocolate snacks that contain a significantly higher percentage of chocolate, we use a relatively low ratio of premium chocolate to healthy inclusions. We then combine our chocolate with nearly 50 percent quinoa and other simple, tasty ingredients for a lower sugar and calorie treat that’s higher in fiber, nutrients, and natural protein. Each one of our Undercover flavors ranges from 30-35 calories and 1-3 grams of sugar per crisp, with about 8 crisps in every full-size bag, making it the perfect guilt-free and satisfying snack.
We use simple ingredients that are easy to pronounce, gluten-free, and non-GMO. They are all ethically and sustainably sourced and made with Rainforest Alliance Certified Cocoa. In addition, Undercover is Certified Gluten-Free, Peanut-Free, Tree Nut-Free, Non-GMO Project Verified, Kosher and Halal for a truly allergen-friendly, inclusive and school safe product.
LP: Why did you decide to focus on quinoa?
DL: We decided to focus on quinoa because it’s gluten-free, delicious, and a complete protein containing all eight amino acids. The way that we prepare the quinoa, without using any oil or other ingredients, creates a unique crispy texture that is the perfect complement to our chocolate. Quinoa is also a recognizable, healthy, and simple ingredient that we can use as a base to create several amazing flavors. It adds the perfect crunch to each bite while maintaining a snack that’s higher in fiber, nutrients, and natural protein.
LP: How do you develop new flavors?
DL: Using our quinoa and our premium chocolate as a base, I’ve experimented with adding other minimally processed dried fruits and seeds—while keeping the ratio of chocolate low enough to maintain a relatively low level of sugar.
LP: Why did you decide to open your own facility, vs. working with contract manufacturers, etc.?
DL: When I first launched Undercover we received immediate interest from some very large retailers. I initially tried to find a co-manufacturer, but because we use such a low ratio of chocolate to healthy inclusions and do not use glucose to bind our ingredients, we needed to design custom processing equipment.
Once we made the decision to design our own equipment, it was extremely important to me to control the quality and manufacturing process from start to finish. With our own factory and packing facility, we are able to closely control everything going in and out of the plant in order to maintain the highest levels of safety and quality. Last year, we were very proud to have become an SQF 3 certified facility (edition 8.1), which is an elite standard for food safety and quality recognized around the world.
By manufacturing ourselves we have also been able to scale up quickly as our sales have increased and to be certain we have no supply chain issues. We currently have the capacity to manufacture 40,000 bags per day and recently expanded our facility to enable us to install additional lines and keep pace with our rapid sales growth.
LP: Anything new on the pipeline for late 2020/early 2021?
DL: We have achieved tremendous sales growth since launching our core lineup of crispy quinoa snacks in 2017, growing sales by nearly 900 percent in 2018, and nearly 300 percent in 2019. With the recent completion of our high-speed production facility in East Hanover New Jersey, we have the capacity to support a global growth strategy. With this objective in mind, we are actively investing in key marketing, sales, product, and distribution initiatives focused on accelerating sales and building awareness of the Undercover brand.
We’re also excited to be launching our first seasonal flavor, Dark Chocolate + Pumpkin Spice, and will be launching another flavor in time for the holidays. Like all of our flavors, these new flavors meet our allergen-friendly standards, are low in sugar and calories and are the perfect choice for a healthier daily snack or indulgence.