Crunchies fruits and veggies are frozen immediately after harvest, and then undergo a low-pressure drying process under a vacuum in which frozen water is removed directly as vapor, bypassing the liquid state, enabling the freeze-dried fruits to retain the shape, flavor, aroma, color and most of the nutrition of fresh, whole fruit, said Jacobson, who joined Crunchies as CEO in early 2015.
“In our freeze dried strawberries, the nutritional content is roughly 95% of fresh, so there are functional benefits to the product that you don’t get with a baked product or other processes.”
Bang on trend
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA at the Natural Products Expo West show, Jacobson said awareness of the benefits of freeze drying remained low among consumers, even among big fans of the Crunchies brand, which has been around since 2004, but was sold to UK fruit ingredients supplier Chaucer Foods and private equity firm Simplepitch in 2014 and given a major overhaul in 2015.
“Freeze drying delivers the crunch consumers are looking for in a snack… But the fact that it is one ingredient, there’s no sugar added, there’s no preservatives, it’s really on trend with where the consumer is going today and it’s nutrient dense, and easy to take with you [portable and light].”
Jacobson, who cut his teeth at snack nuts and dried fruit snacks businesses including Trifecta Foods and Davis Lewis Orchards, said the new, simpler, cleaner, more modern packaging was designed to appeal to Millennial moms looking for simple, low calorie but nutrient dense snacks for themselves and their kids.
Callouts on the front of pack now include ‘just delicious, pure fruit,’ ‘nothing added,’ and ‘Pure fruit in every crunch,’ whereas the older packaging was far busier, with call-outs including ‘no fat’ and ‘all-natural.’
According to SPINS data, dollar sales of vegetable and fruit chips were up 11.6% in the 52 weeks to December 25, 2016 (US natural, specialty and conventional multi-outlet retailers, excluding convenience retailers).
Channel strategy and merchandising
While the natural channel is a clear fit for the product, “there is definitely crossover appeal in conventional,” said Jacobson, while the brand is also pursuing opportunities in the club channel.
As for merchandising, while there are lots of different placement opportunities for healthy snacks in stores now, Crunchies is “focused on the produce department as our data shows that our most likely consumer is a fresh foods consumer,” he said.
“Retailers have done a great job of training consumers to look for better for you snacks in the produce department, and we’re providing another delivery system for fruits and vegetables.”