The food and beverage brand incubator, headed up by KRAVE Jerky founder Jon Sebastiani, claims SMASHMALLOW could carve out a new confectionery category with marshmallows suited to everyday snacking.
SMASHMALLOW marshmallows - which contain 70-90 calories per serving and promise a “taste and wow-factor beyond an ordinary marshmallow" - come in seven flavors (Cinnamon Churro, Strawberries & Cream, Espresso Bean, Mint Chocolate Chip, Toasted Coconut Pineapple, Meyer Lemon Chia Seed and Root Beer Float).
They launched exclusively at Sprouts and on the SMASHMALLOW website last month, ahead of a broader west coast launch in other retailers later this year.
Marshmallow snack ‘flies in the face of current sugar concerns’
Expert onlookers have been quick to acknowledge the innovative side of the concept, suggesting plenty of room for success, but have warned it will be no easy task.
“In the snack category alone, there is ample space for new entrants,” said Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director at Canadean Consumer.
“Though one factor that may limit the appeal of marshmallows as a snack is worries about sugar consumption…The issue is that this type of snack flies in the face of current concerns over sugar,” he told FoodNavigator-USA.
According to a 2015 Canadean survey, 47% of American consumers ‘always’ or ‘often’ check nutritional labeling for sugar content when choosing foods to eat.
“This is a big number,” he said, “and new regulations on labeling for added sugar are only going to drive these numbers north. This suggests it could be challenging to make marshmallows an everyday snack”.
Lori Colman, founder and co-CEO of CBD Marketing, agreed: “This may be an interesting option for those who already snack on marshmallows – who does that? or are willing to try something new. But ultimately, the product is all about texture and flavor – it’s a candy; a treat.”
Brand is “feminine and playful” with a high-end look
At the launch, Jon Sebastiani told FoodNavigator-USA the product’s number one ingredient – certified organic cane sugar – was already an improvement on corn syrup typically found in marshmallow products.
He acknowledged that, of course, the product was indulgent but said consumers could “feel less guilty about it as there is less sugar, fewer calories [each serving of four marshmallows has 70-90 calories] and only natural ingredients”.
Colman said this focus on ingredients seemed “slightly irrelevant”.
“If I am snacking on marshmallows, I probably am not the most ingredient-conscious consumer. I am looking to satisfy indulgence. Healthy snackers will be concerned about the ingredients, although, maybe if I am in the snack aisle and see ‘guilt-free marshmallows’ on the label, it could draw me to the product,” she said.
Sonoma Brands has yet to specify its target consumer, but Colman said the packaging came over as “feminine and playful” with a high-end image.
She said it could perhaps appeal to ‘less dedicated’ health conscious consumers; for example, those on a diet who needed something sweet at the end of the day but wanted an alternative to a regular cookie.
Vierhile said the product would likely to appeal to adults, but specifically middle-aged women.
“I could see a product like this being an alternative to chocolate in the summertime since chocolate has a tendency to melt and this product, presumably, would not,” he said.
Multiple merchandising locations
Sonoma Brands said it would test the marshmallows in multiple locations within stores to see where consumer adoption was best, apart from the bakery section.
Colman suggested, however, that the baking category was exactly where there could be promise.
“Instead of marketing it as a snacking item, the product may be more successful if it emphasizes the flavored marshmallow component as more of a bakery inclusion or topping. The uniqueness of the flavors is enough for consumers to want to give them a try in their baking,” she said.
Vierhile said the company was right to be considering several areas of the store given the “multiple merchandising possibilities of marshmallows”.
“The marshmallow category is kind of strange – it is a product that you might find in three different places in the supermarket: in the candy section, in the cracker section or in the baking ingredients section,” he said.
“I think that the candy category is the most likely place to find these, but the supermarket trade is going to have to sort this out.
"If you look at some of the more disruptive innovations in candy and snack products in recent years – pouch-packaged fruit squeezes, pretzel thins, etc. – there has not necessarily been a consensus on where these products could be shelved. This could actually be an advantage for Sonoma Brands.”