Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery was recently able to talk to Steve Kneepkens, VP of sales & marketing at Calbee North America, about pandemic snacking, as well as what's new and upcoming for the brand.


Liz Parker: How has the snack category changed due to COVID-19?

Steve Kneepkens: When COVID-19 first hit, innovation in the snack category stagnated. Consumers were seeking comfort and shopping for products familiar to them. Simultaneously, supply chain issues led buyers to simplify offerings and focus on keeping core SKUs stocked. Everything else was essentially just noise. Now that things have steadied, there’s more room for innovation from companies who have established brand equity, which is what helped us successfully launch two new Harvest Snaps’ lineups, Popper Duos and Crunchions, in 2020.


LP: Why has there been an increased demand for better-for-you options?

SK: In many ways, the response to COVID-19 mirrored the stages of grief. Initially, everyone was looking for comfort, which is why many center-store snacks experienced tremendous growth. As acceptance of our new reality kicks in, consumers are placing higher value on foods that can deliver nutrition. They’re recognizing the impact healthy behavior can have on our health and that it all starts with the food we put in our bodies. As a result, the demand for wholesome, minimally processed snacks is on the rise. We’ve seen that first-hand with Harvest Snaps, which saw a lot of growth since people began cooking more at home and shopping in the produce aisle, where our core lineup of snack crisps is traditionally found. Our Harvest Snaps’ 10oz family-size bags, in particular, are doing very well.


LP: How has Calbee North American kept up with these changes/demands?

SK: At Calbee, we have a diversified production base and developed infrastructure, which puts us in a good position to respond to changes in consumer behavior and prevent supply chain issues. Our multiple production locations throughout the U.S. provide us excess capacity and make it so we are not as vulnerable to outside events, since our capabilities aren’t tied up in one facility. We also have long-term contracts and good relationships with our famers, which protects us against raw material shortages. In addition, we over-invested in our employees when we knew things were shifting due to COVID, and because of this were able to keep everyone on payroll and avoid labor shortages.


LP: Any new products for Calbee on the horizon?

SK: Yes! We are really excited about a new product we’re launching called San Joaquin Almond Nut Chips. They’re the first almond tortilla chip, so there’s truly nothing else like them on the market. The artisan-crafted, grain-free chips are made with sustainably grown almonds sourced from Naraghi Family Farms, one of the oldest growers in the San Joaquin Valley. Tasty flavors include classic sea salt, hickory smoked and wasabi. Each are lightly cooked in premium avocado oil, which gives them a delicate crunch, and are also certified gluten-free and contain no artificial colors and flavors, no corn, and no soy.