Making Tasty a household name in kids’ snacks

By Maggie Hennessy

- Last updated on GMT

Co-founders Shannan Swanson and Liane Weintraub
Co-founders Shannan Swanson and Liane Weintraub

Related tags: Snack foods

Tasty Brand co-founders Liane Weintraub and Shannan Swanson originally had their sights set on an organic frozen baby food line, but the 2008 economic crash saw the market for premium baby food drying up. So they shifted gears to more seriously pursue a tangential line of organic children’s sweets and snacks. 

Seven years later, the now-profitable company has seen the market for children’s snacks explode and its treats get picked up everywhere from Whole Foods to Costco to Target.

“We were looking over our financials and at the company and realized we were more of a snacks and sweets than baby food company,”​ Swanson told FoodNavigator-USA. “The margins were higher and the brand really resonated in the snack food space, so we dove wholeheartedly into snacks. It was a big pivot and a big decision, but ultimately we got in business to be successful.”

Tasty Brand makes fruit snacks, gummies, sandwich cookies and bite-size cookies. The organic- and Non-GMO Project-certified snacks are fortified with vitamin C and made without the use of high-fructose corn syrup, artificial colors or flavors. They’re sweetened with organic fruit juice, cane sugar and tapioca syrup—and positioned and packaged as small treats to be accompanied by a school lunch or fruit or vegetables.

“They aren’t intended to replace fruit or a meal in the diet—they’re a small treat that kids love and parents don’t have to feel guilty about because we’ve removed the junk.”

cremecookies_PR tasty

Swanson and Weintraub launched the company using their own capital. Securing their first account at Whole Foods Market in 2008 followed by Kroger the following year helped jumpstart what has been “organic growth” through the natural and mainstream grocery channels, Swanson said. Now the brand also counts convenience stores, club chains (including Costco) and mass merchants (most recently Target) among its customers, in addition to earning a small slice of sales from online channels including diapers.com and Amazon.

They’ve since done a few fundraisings solely with friends and family, and are about to embark on their first institutional fundraise, which Swanson said will enable them to hire staff and tackle more marketing initiatives.

“We’re in a much better position to fundraise now than ever. We have a lot of items and a lot of retailers, but the challenging part with the food business is once you raise money, you have to spend more,”​ she added with a laugh.

Our best chance is to expand the unvaried kids’ snacks category

As moms to young children themselves, Swanson and Weintraub are, in effect, their own target market. Swanson, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris, played an integral part in formulation of the snacks, which aim to “add variety, which we think has been missing”​ in the marketplace.

That has required taking measured risks where they felt they could, as with the sandwich cookies, which aim to compete with Oreo through both traditional (vanilla cupcake and chocolate cake) and innovative (strawberry shortcake and banana split) varieties.

“We’ve taken the most amount of risk on our sandwich cookies,”​ Swanson said. “Banana split and strawberry shortcake are risky flavors, but I’d call it a calculated risk,” ​she said. “There’s not a lot of innovation in the snack space, especially in cookies. Retailers want everything to do better—they’re not looking to remove some item to replace with ours. Our best chance is to expand and grow the category. To that extent, we’ll take those measured risks.”

Differentiation is hard to achieve in the crowded snack and candy aisles, which is why Tasty uses bright sky-blue packaging and keeps the messaging simple, focusing on its use of organic, natural ingredients to catch busy moms’ attention. The brand’s ideal shelf placement, Swanson said, is in kid’s aisle, which many retailers don’t offer, despite the appeal for moms.

“Whole Foods and Target have kids’ aisles, which is so great for us and for shoppers,” ​Swanson said. “Other retailers could benefit from that. Moms have so little time and to have to go down so many aisles for the right cereal, cookie and fruit snack. Retailers like the add-ons that come with the typical layout, but sometimes you’re in a pinch and just want help finding the best-quality products.”

More retailers could benefit from a children’s food aisle

The brand doesn’t plan to stop with its calculated risks in sweets, as Swanson and Weintraub now have their sights set on the massive cereal bar and savory snack categories as well.

This fall, Tasty will launch organic, whole grain fig and berry cereal bars with real fruit filling and fortified with vitamins “that will compete with (Kellogg’s) Nutri-Grain,”​ Swanson said. Tasty also eventually plans to launch higher-protein, savory snacks, she said.

“We still are known best for the treats and sweets we make, and we’ll continue to innovate in that category. But five years down the road, we see Tasty Brand as what parents will look to when they want great organic snack options for their family.”

That’s also why the brand chose “tasty” as its moniker: the word elicits an almost universal positive response in kids and adults, and works across sweets and savories, Swanson noted. That said, the brand even hopes to see more adults reaching for its snacks. It plans to launch three-packs of its sandwich cookies at the impulse-heavy checkout area of many of its mainstream retail outlets next year.

“We are a family brand, so we love to see adults get in on the action, too,”​ Swanson said.

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