Greener than many other sources of protein thanks to their ability to lock in nitrogen from the air into the soil, beans are also undergoing something of a PR renaissance among consumers, who have been eating them for years in tacos and burritos, but now see them as a more wholesome alternative to soy, rice, corn and potatoes in their snacks, according to recent company-backed research.
“When we first launched in 2010, some buyers were a little hesitant,” Beanitos director of marketing Mike LaRocca told FoodNavigator-USA.
“But our flag is in the ground now and we have had tremendous growth. We’re the fastest growing brand in the natural corn and tortilla chip category. Our growth is in the high double digits and we’re forecasting triple-digit growth next year.”
Buyers that took a pass on us are now coming back to the table
And retailers can see the data for themselves, says LaRocca, with the brand now gaining significant traction in the conventional as well as the natural space, securing shelf space in 30,000+ stores nationwide from Kroger and Safeway to Walmart.
“Buyers that took a pass on us are now coming back to the table and retailers we are already working with want more facings. We’ve also had a really successful launch with Beanitos Puffs [extruded bean snacks] a few months ago, and we’re seeing real same store sales growth and velocity. Retailers are calling us now because you can’t argue with the figures.”
The fact that many other brands are now adding beans and bean-based ingredients to their snacks is also proof that beans - once seen by some as the poor man’s meat - now have real sex appeal as value-added food ingredients, as they are high in protein, fiber and micronutrients, and low in fat, low-GI and gluten-free, he adds.
“It’s great to see other brands recognize the potential of beans and include them in snacks, although I’d say that if you flip over the bag, often you’ll see that the first ingredient is corn, wheat or potatoes, whereas for us, the first ingredient is always whole beans.
“But we’d love to see a whole category just with beans.”
Consumers are looking at the ingredients list and Nutrition Facts panel and judging for themselves if a snack is healthier
Like Way Better Snacks CEO Jim Breen, LaRocca also agrees that the term ‘all-natural’ is not in and of itself a marker of nutritional quality (although it still features on the back of Beanitos packs) and says consumers are homing in more on the ingredients list and the Nutrition Facts panel and judging for themselves if a snack is healthier.
“I think a few years ago it was fat is bad, salt is bad, but now it’s more about everything in moderation and getting something more substantial, nutritionally, for your calories, more fiber, and more protein. People aren’t against calories, they are against empty calories.”
At Beanitos, the first ingredient is always whole beans
So what’s next?
The R&D team is always experimenting with new beans, but the core ingredients are still black, pinto, and navy beans (which, confusingly, are also known as white beans), he says. "That's not to say we won't launch line extensions with other beans, but these are the big three in terms of consumer taste and acceptability and availability from a supply chain perspective."
As for new products, he says: “We don’t want to give anything away, but we’re working on some new products in new categories we think are really going to be a big hit.”
Beanitos was started in Austin, Texas, in 2009 by brothers Doug and Dave Foreman.