Meat snacks, mainly in modernized meat stick and jerky-type products, have fired up the salty snacks category in recent years reaching $24bn in sales in 2017 with a CAGR of nearly 4% over the past five years, according to Packaged Facts.
Yet the $7bn subcategory of potato chips hasn’t really been touched by the meat snack trend, Wright noticed.
“There hasn’t been a lot of innovation in that chip aisle for quite some time,” Wright told FoodNavigator-USA.
From meat bars to chicken chips: ‘We took all of our blinders off’
When Wright launched Wilde two years ago, the company debuted meat bar products but found that it was hard to stand out and gain consumer buy-in.
“By the time we showed up to the market, it was saturated,” Wright said.
“I think we had a good product, but we also found as the jerky and the sticks kept evolving, a lot of folks would try the bars and not really know why they should be eating them, and go back to a stick or back to a jerky because it was a familiar format.”
Wright said in order to bring about true disruption to the meat snack category the company had to make a hard pivot and target a different, always popular, area of the snacks category: chips.
“What we noticed is there wasn’t a meat-based chip product out there and so we wanted to fill a void personally that people wanted to eat,” he said.
After discontinuing its meat bars, Wright and his team went full force into developing chicken chips.
“When we decided we were no longer going to offer the bar, we were just going to focus on the chip, we decided to take a step back and view it as a brand new brand, as a brand new company. We took all of our blinders off,” he said.
The endeavor required customizing completely new manufacturing equipment, because according to Wright, chicken doesn’t fry the same way a potato chip does.
They also tested a number of different cooking oils and settled on coconut oil because it created a higher quality, better-tasting product, Wright added.
I think the product has the potential to be a mainstream item
An early version of the chicken chips debuted at Expo West in 2017, mainly to get buyer and consumer feedback, and the company spent another year tweaking its recipe, branding, and developing the right fryer.
Wright was also motivated by an expressed interest from Whole Foods who encouraged him to move forward with developing the product.
Returning to Expo West a second time earlier this year as Wilde Chicken Chips with new branding and a more finalized formula, the company gained national distribution at Whole Foods a few months later with a target of another 1,000 retail locations by the end of 2018.
“My vision is definitely to offer chicken chips to everyone. I think the product has the potential to be a mainstream item,” Wright said.
A healthier edge
Wright wants Wilde Chicken Chips to be seen as a better-for-you option to potato chips as it contains 15 grams of protein per 2.25-ounce bag (7 grams per serving), 10 grams of carbs per serving, and has the grain-free, paleo-friendly stamp of approval.
According to Wright, the protein content and its grain-free profile is what consumers have latched onto the most.
However, it was still important to capture all the traditional characteristics of a classic potato chip including the crunch and flavor profile.
Wilde Chicken Chips are available in barbecue, sea salt & vinegar, jalapeno, and buffalo flavors.
Chips, for breakfast?
Now that snacking is occurring at all hours of the day, and in some cases, replacing main meals, Wright sees an opportunity to position chicken chips as a breakfast item with its new ‘chicken & waffles’ flavor launching in early 2019.
“My vision is that we would introduce chips to a new snacking occasion [breakfast],” said Wright who has been snacking on the new flavor with coffee in the car at 5 a.m. on his way to the company’s production facility.
“I think this is a chip you would snack on at breakfast and I think that’s something exciting.”
What do you think? Can chicken chips make it as a breakfast item? Ask our panel of experts what they think at FoodNavigator-USA’s free-to-attend snacking trends webinar taking place Wednesday, Sept. 26th. Register HERE.