Now in its sixth year, the “Best New Healthy School Snacks” contest, hosted by SF&WB, strives to shine a spotlight on snack and bakery products that represent great healthy snack choices for kids of all ages. Voting begins as each school year approaches in August, with the annual winner announced in October.
For 2020, Mavericks Snacks has emerged victorious for its Cookiez and Crackerz products, released at the end of April 2020. The non-GMO, all-natural snacks notably have less sugar and use whole grains to deliver on a sound better-for-you proposition.
Cookiez have 40 percent less sugar than the leading competitor, with only 5 grams sugar per serving, and come in three kid-friendly flavors: non-stop choc, birthday cake, and double trouble choc.
Crackerz are made with whole grains, with 8 grams per serving, and come in: eazy cheesy, itza pizza, and str8-up original.
Mavericks Snacks also meet the USDA’s “smart snacks” requirements (see “A Guide to Smart Snacks in Schools,” revised July 2019). Their products, carried at Whole Foods Market and on Amazon.com, come in 8-count multi-packs, and feature an interactive game in every box.
In order to learn more about the winning Cookiez and Crackerz, we reached out to Christian Quie, president and GM, Mavericks Snacks.
Douglas J. Peckenpaugh: What is the background behind Mavericks Snacks as a company?
Christian Quie: At Mavericks, our vision is to create a movement that fuels kids’ greatness and empowers them to want to eat better. We’re on a mission to lead the future of kids snacking, offering cool, flavorful, and fun snacks kids crave, but also have ingredients that drive healthy and active lifestyles—a combination our founder and CEO, Livio Bisterzo, saw lacking in the marketplace. And so, in 2019, we created Mavericks to provide today’s growing kids with a better-for-you food brand that is about them, and for them. Mavericks operates as a Green Park Brands business, a holding company established in 2015 to create, operate, and accelerate high growth emerging consumer brands. Other Green Park Brands include HIPPEAS, Ugly Drinks, and Reel Paper.
DJP: Why did you decide to enter the better-for-you snack market?
CQ: We are authentically kid-first, and aim to speak to “mavericks”—a term we use to define our consumers: kids aged 4 to 11. While there has been tremendous innovation within the babies/toddlers space, as well as for the millennial/young adult age groups, we saw an opportunity to bring something new to “middle childhood” (think kindergarten to middle school). This a period in a kid’s life when they aren’t afraid to color outside the lines, ignore the impossible, and believe they can change the world. When grown-ups say “can’t,” mavericks say “why not?” This maverick spirit is the very foundation of our brand philosophy, and has inspired our framework, from our products, to our culture, to our campaigns.
DJP: What does the idea of “better for you” mean to you when it comes to kids snacks?
CQ: Prior to launch, we worked with a pediatric nutritionist who helped us create healthy snacks best suited for a kid’s unique needs, rather than trying to retrofit adult offerings for kids. We like to say our snacks are in the “Junk Free Zone.” In addition to creating flavors kids love, we asked ourselves: How do we empower them to want to eat better? For our crackers, it’s all about the whole grains—8 grams per serving in fact, which none of our competitors offer. Whole grains are considered to be the best source of nutrients and fiber, and help to satisfy hunger for longer, so we wanted to deliver in classic, kid-approved flavors.
Knowing sugar is a real issue today, we were able to create a delicious cookie offering with 40 percent less sugar than the leading natural competitor, and 65–70 percent less than iconic conventional brands. Rather than using sugar alternatives, we use chicory root fiber to give our cookies the dose of natural sweetness kids crave. All of our cookies are also vegan.
DJP: How did you decide on the six flavor profiles currently offered in the Mavericks Snacks lineup?
CQ: Taste is still king! We don’t want our consumers to feel like they're compromising when they're eating our snacks, so we were laser-focused on launching classic, kid-approved flavors, and executed some early consumer taste tests to ensure we had winning options.
- Mavericks Crackerz:
- eazy cheesy: When you look at the current cracker space, cheese makes up 80 percent of the category share, so we knew we needed to play here while still offering something unique. So we oven-baked our crackers with 8 grams of whole grains.
- itza pizza: Pizza was a no-brainer. When looking at the sub-demographics of our Mavericks, while the 4- to 7-year-olds typically prefer the more-basic original and cheese flavors, the 8- to 11-year-olds are more adventurous, and we wanted to deliver for those cravings—again with 8 grams of whole grains baked in.
- str8-up original: This variety delivers a simple, buttery, and salty taste that kids crave, and it is also vegan for those who look to avoid dairy.
- Mavericks Cookiez:
- non-stop choc: Knowing the category, we knew we had to lead with chocolate chips for our hero flavor. Our goal was to deliver an awesome-tasting chocolate chip cookie with no more than 5 grams of sugar.
- birthday cake: Birthday cake is a flavor that is on-trend, and not surprisingly, we’re seeing this as our No. 1 performing SKU currently. It’s nostalgic, prolific, has a fantastic flavor, and again only 5 grams of sugar.
- double trouble choc: It’s no secret that kids love chocolate. In fact, we had quite a few kids pick this flavor as their No. 1 or No. 2 during our early consumer taste tests.
DJP: How do you interact with your consumers?
CQ: Because we are an authentically kid-first brand, we talk to kids first and foremost, ensuring we always stay true to their needs and interests. We acknowledge Mom and Dad as the purchaser. You don’t see a lot of food brands within our segment talking to kids first, because this can be challenging to navigate. But we know specifically what our consumers and purchasers are looking for, and how to deliver for their needs.
Like most new brands, our focus this year has been around driving awareness. COVID has no doubt brought many challenges to marketers, particularly around trial and real-life engagement, with event cancelations and social-distancing restrictions. Our approach to reach consumers has been through strategic partnerships, influencer campaigns, and social media.
Recognizing the uneven economic environment, and the behavioral shift to online shopping, our goal this year is to help consumers stretch their dollars even further. We have run several digital and online coupon offerings, including a $3 cash back offer currently running through the Ibotta app.
DJP: What do your consumers like most about the Cookiez and Crackez products?
CQ: When listening to our consumers, we hear three consistent themes:
- “Wow, these taste great!”
- “We love your packaging. It totally jumps off the shelf.”
- “Grateful you check the benefits important to me.”
Our No. 1 focus right now is driving awareness so we can grow our reach and get Mavericks into the hands of more consumers.
DJP: What’s next for Mavericks Snacks?
CQ: With better-for-you snacking on the rise, Mavericks is looking disrupt the cookies and crackers categories with our offerings before moving into other sections of the store. With that said, we’re always listening to our consumers’ needs, and watching the latest trends as it relates to new flavors, ingredients, pack sizes, and more!