The snack market and bakery market in the United States accounts for a whopping $65 billion in annual sales. Yet, it is intensely competitive and dominated by corporate giants who make large investments in advertising and branding, including Nestle, PepsiCo (Frito Lay), Kraft Heinz, Mondelez and General Mills. Against this backdrop, Snacklins, a small upstart from Rockville, Maryland, has created unique product positioning that has allowed it to nearly triple its sales in 2020 and receive enthusiastic support from celebrity cook Rachel Ray. However, rather than bask in this success, the company is wisely applying what it has learned from analyzing its customers and environmental changes to undertake a rebrand. The ability to see the need for change in the face of success is difficult for some companies, but Snacklins’ strategy illustrates how foresight and effective brand management can propel longer term success.
It is not simple to describe exactly what a “Snacklin” is to someone who has never consumed one. The company’s website describes them as “Impossibly crunchy, remarkably airy, low-calorie crisps made from simple ingredients. Gluten-free, grain-free, vegan, certified non-GMO, and certified Kosher. 90 calories per bag.” The founders of the company tell the story that the product started as a joke between friends to create a vegan pork rind, and the product does look something like pork rind. To my mind, however, having sampled the product, what has evolved is a healthy, low-calorie and tasty plant-based snack.
Part of Snacklins’ unique positioning stems from its simple vegan ingredients of: yuca, mushroom, and onions that now come in four flavors: Barbeque, Chesapeake Bay, Nacho, and Teriyaki. This uniqueness helped when co-founder Samy Kobrosly appeared on Shark Tank on October 20, 2019. Kobrosly’s pitch led to an investment of $250,000 from billionaire Mark Cuban in exchange for a 5% stake in the company along with 5% in advisory shares. Thus far, Cuban’s investment appears to have been savvy, with sales thriving and the company gaining distribution in outlets such as Whole Foods (Northeast and Mid-Atlantic), Amazon, Stop & Shio, MOM’s Organic, and select Shop Rite locations in addition to its own website, Snacklins.com.
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The recent update was initiated December 2020 and included a brand refresh, an advanced e-commerce website, and the introduction of a larger, multi-serve package size. The emphasis on the website and e-commerce, while not to the exclusion of traditional retailers, was clearly necessary in the face of more online shopping during Covid. Other elements were a response to the company’s own learning and identification of opportunities. Snacklins CEO Kevin Blesy, a Harvard MBA grad, describes the logic behind doing a rebrand in the face of growth as follows:
“We know that now, more than ever, brands need a strong and consistent visual identity across all channels…So, we partnered with a creative agency to land a packaging design that better suited the Snacklins brand. The new Snacklins brand system is centered on a series of stylized mouth designs, which we believe celebrate the unique flavor and texture of our signature plant crisps, while offering a visual differentiation on shelves and online. In addition to pack changes, we also knew we wanted a flavor lineup that was completely free of the most common allergens, so we replaced our previous flavor Miso Ginger (contained soy) with a new flavor, Teriyaki. Finally, customers and retailers have been requesting a larger, multi-serve pack size for years, so we finally brought this to life. We are launching this 3oz multi-serve package at Whole Foods in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions in early 2021.”
Snacklins’ creative agency, L.A. based Day Job, created the stylized mouth designs as part of the effort to refine the product’s positioning. These mouth logos no doubt contribute to fun being a central aspect of Snacklins’ brand personality. Snacklins’ Brand Marketing Manager, Tess Cimini, a graduate of the Villanova School of Business, describes the logic for these stylized mouth designs, which move in the digital context as follows:
“SNACKLINS was founded as a meat-free alternative to a pork rind, so the consumer facing messaging revolved around that proposition at the beginning. Over the past few years, we have made a number of packaging and branding changes, but we finally decided to go back to basics. We surveyed consumers and identified our key value propositions: bold flavors, a unique texture, and an unparalleled low calorie offering. The mouths communicate the irresistible flavor and crunch and drive home our slogan of “Eat the Whole Bag”. It is a funky design system that is both simple and bold, like SNACKLINS. It plays well both as a static logo and digitally on screen and it looks like nothing else out there in the market, effectively differentiating us on shelves and online.”
The fact that the phrase “Eat the Whole Bag” appears on each bag is also a differentiator, as it reminds the consumer that this is a tasty, guilt free snack at just 90 calories for a one-ounce bag. The slogan will continue to appear on the larger bags as well, providing for consistent communication of the brand’s personality. While eating a whole three-ounce bag would triple the calories, it is still a big reduction over three ounces of alternatives such as Doritos or Pringles.
An additional slogan on the website, “Intentionally delicious, coincidentally healthy,” is really a stroke of genius in that it addresses an issue that stifles growth of many plant-based foods —-that is that “healthy” sometimes comes at the expense of tasting good. Ultimately, most plant-based food marketers are aware that they need to be competitive on taste to become more than a niche product. The fact that Snacklins really do taste good in the opinion of its target consumers is a major selling point.
The company had not been fully satisfied with its website and decided to address this during the rebrand. “ We created a more seamless user experience by fully integrating our Shopify commerce engine with our front-end website,” says Marketing & E-Commerce Manager Jeremy Sherman, “We added more custom mix and match pack size options, and a more interactive and energized online experience and even our own fun, customized version of pac-man, ‘snac-man.’ The animated elements of the website are designed to increase engagement.”
Sherman, an Olin School at Washington University alumnus, also says that the new website helps to explain what a Snacklin is to consumers, including the “anatomy of a SNACKLIN” on the homepage which is an interactive diagram pointing to different parts of the crisp that explains some of the company’s key values. He states, “The website design includes lots of rough edges and wobbly borders, alluding to the shape and texture of the chip and our accidental founding story. The scrolling customer review section and press features on the homepage help to further convince the customer to continue exploring. On the product description pages, we’ve included new drop-down menus for package selection to highlight the variability of our pack sizes and streamline the shopping experience.”
Going forward, the company plans to expand to more major brick and mortar retailers in markets where it already has a footprint, including the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic and Southern California and is partnering with a retail sales broker to help the effort. In terms of growing the number of flavors of the product, Cimini observes that, “The current flavor selection is our ‘core four’. We plan to expand to new flavors at some point and we will most likely be running some limited time only flavors in 2021.”
In light of the company’s growth during the pandemic and its offering of a fun, tasty, and low-calorie snack, the future looks bright for Snacklins. While not inexpensive, many consumers are willing to pay for these advantages. My advice: try the Chesapeake Bay flavor first and then the others!