Created by Krik Angacian and Ryan Wiltse - roommates at Boston College who headed to the Big Apple after graduating in 2011 to enter the world of corporate finance - ProTings baked chips contain a hefty 15g of protein (from pea protein isolate) per 120 calorie, 1oz serving.
And this makes them stand out from the crowd, says Angacian, a fitness enthusiast who was always on the look-out for appetizing post work-out snacks at college.
“I was really into fitness and health and I was always having protein bars and shakes shoved down my throat,” he told FoodNavigator-USA. But while protein grams were starting to flash up on everything from yogurt and cereal to salads; in the chips aisle, nothing quite fit the bill.
"There are so many new snacks, but we couldn't see anything like ProTings."
We were cooking until three or four in the morning
After months of burning the midnight oil honing their chip recipes at the end of long days working in New York City, Angacian and Ryan Wiltse first test-marketed their chips in a soft launch in 2013.
“We were cooking until three or four in the morning every night trying to figure it out,” recalls Angacian. “We tried vital wheat gluten, rice, soy, hemp and whey protein but pea was the best for getting the right crunch."
But getting the flavor as well as the texture right took a while, in part because “We didn’t really know what we were doing”, admits Angacian.
“I was working at Rabobank and had learned a lot about food M&A, but I had no idea what I was doing [on the formulation side of things]. It was just trial and error.
“Initially we just wanted to see what people thought, and we were picked up in 40 or 50 outlets really quickly, so we knew we were onto something.”
Armed with valuable feedback about how and where to position the brand, they spent the next few months refining the business plan and improving the recipe and packaging for the brand, which was re-launched this summer with the protein content highlighted more prominently on pack, says Angacian.
“The formulation has come on in leaps and bounds since we first launched. I opened an old pack the other day and was amazed by the difference. This year at Expo East is really our coming out party.”
The route to market
They also re-evaluated their approach to market: “Initially we were looking at c-stores and juice bars, but we worked with a food consultant and saw that the bigger opportunity was in the grocery, natural foods channel and supplements channel.”
And the target consumer? Anyone that likes chips, says Angacion: “We had a fantastic response from men and women.”
Available in Chili Lime, Sea Salt and Tangy Southern BBQ in 1 oz (MSRP $1.99) and 4 oz (MSRP $3.99) bags, the gluten-free, soy-free chips are now for sale on Amazon and in around 200 stores in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. They are also set to launch nationally at Vitamin Shoppe in the late fall, says Angacian.
“The Vitamin Shoppe roll out is expected mid-October, but may fall into early November; the contracts with lawyers are still being finalized. This should place us nationally in 275 stores; in total they have about 350 stores with snacking options, so we'll be in almost every one of those.
“We’re also talking to Europa Sports Products, the biggest sports nutrition distributor in the country.”
We were earning good money but we were both working so much we didn’t have time to spend it
As for money, the initial funds came from their savings, says Angacian, who quit his day job at Rabobank to work on ProTings full-time last spring.
“To start with, we were earning good money and working so much we didn’t have time to spend it. For the next round, we approached family and friends. We’ve had offers from [angel] investors but for the time being, we are not seeking outside investment.”
So what about the fabled work-life balance?
It’s proving predictably elusive at this stage, says Angacian, who is currently preparing for Expo East [booth # 8410]. But that’s what he signed up for, he says.
“There is a lot of pressure and anxiety when you’re running a small company; you’ve got to stay on top of everything, from cost analysis to preparing marketing materials.
"And there's no one there telling you what to do. You’ve got to be proactive, set the alarm clock in the morning and get going.”
But that’s also part of the attraction, he says: “We love it. We live and breathe this company."