The colorful snacks (also under the Perfectly Free brand) utilize technology similar to that deployed in the firm’s coconut-cream-based frozen bites (which have a shell from sodium alginate from brown seaweed), but are shiny in appearance with a smooth ‘skin,’ and perfect for children, says CEO Kevin Murphy.
“We're going into stores such as Stop & Shop, Shaw's and Market Basket, Big Y and Roche Brothers first, and we’ll add another 700 stores towards the end of the summer as our manufacturing comes up to speed. We've designed the equipment ourselves because it's a proprietary process.
"It’s a completely new kind of snack that looks like a grape, it’s allergen free, under 5g sugar per serving and the first two ingredients are fruit puree or juice. They are also 100% plant-based."
They are much lower in sugar than most fruit snacks
But wouldn't kids be better off just eating actual grapes, or bananas, apples and so on?
“We talked to Moms a lot and asked them why they were feeding their kids these sugary fruit gummies and roll ups instead of fresh fruits and vegetables," said Murphy.
"And we heard things like, ‘I don’t know how to prepare them, they go bad, my kids don’t like them,’ and so on, but they love our fruit bites because their kids like them; they are much lower in sugar than most fruit snacks, and are basically fruit in a different form. They are also very snackable and convenient.
“You get five individual clear plastic bags – each containing seven fruit bites (20g) – in a gusseted re-sealable bag, and one mini bag is equivalent to about half a serving of fruit.
“The products – in strawberry banana, mixed berry, and pineapple mango - are refrigerated, but they will last outside for up to two days, so they are perfect for lunchboxes."
Retailers, he said, were skeptical at first, as there is nothing like fruit bites on the market, and space for snacks in the produce section of their stores is highly prized, but they tried them, and were immediately won over, he claimed.
When we pitch them to retailers and they try them, they can’t believe the taste
Perfectly Free frozen bites – which launched in early 2016 - are now in around 4,000 stores, while its new dairy-free pints are in around 500 stores in New England, and will roll out to another 1,000 or so by summertime.
According to Murphy, the bites are very different to mochi (ice cream surrounded by chewy rice dough): “The texture and experience of our bites is completely different.
“We’ve got several patents on how the products are formulated and processed and our equipment is custom-made. They’re portion-controlled, you’ve only got 25-30 calories per bite, and they really creamy. When we pitch this to retailers and they try it, they can’t believe the taste.”
The dairy-free frozen dessert category has really exploded
He added: “The dairy-free category has really exploded lately, with big brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Halo Top that have a lot of influence with buyers entering the space, which makes things challenging for smaller players.
"But we are proving ourselves where we are on shelf and on a sales per point of distribution basis, we’re ranked #1 or #2 in the non-dairy category, so that’s got us a lot of traction in the grocery trade. From a taste perspective we can match up with anybody. We’ve run blind taste tests and we consistently beat other brands.
“The thing with the bites, especially the flavors such as raspberry chocolate and orange cream, is that they don’t actually taste very coconutty,” he added.
But don’t consumers want to taste the coconut?
“In our research, one of the things we picked up was that people don’t want to be overwhelmed by coconut,” said Murphy.
“All coconut creams [the #1 ingredient in the bites] aren’t created equal. Because of our technology in building our products, all of the flavor we want is in the coating and the center doesn’t have to carry all the flavor for us.”