The startup launched last month a line of clusters that combine its farm-fresh, protein-packed spirulina with nutrient-dense ingredients, including pumpkin or sunflower seeds, flaxseed, almonds, cashews, dried fruit and spices. The vegan blends, which are grain-free and contain no added sugar, are touted for two functional benefits that co-founders Jessica Storry and Ian Parkes say are in short supply for many people during the pandemic: energy or relaxation.
“Especially during the pandemic, but not exclusively, our consumers tell us one of the biggest challenges they have is focusing. Right now, a lot of people lack a routine or lack separation between home and work or home and outside, and it starts to play on people’s minds a bit,” Parkes explained to FoodNavigator-USA.
To address this, the company’s Blueberry & Matcha and Apricot & Matcha clusters are called out for their functional benefits of “energize & focus.”
“Matcha is a great source of caffeine but has a bit of a slower release so you get slightly longer benefits, and when combined with the other ingredients, including spirulina, it helps the body be alert and provides additional energy,” Parkes said.
“The plant-based protein in the spirulina also helps build energy and provide a boost throughout the day,” he added.
The other two flavors – Apple & Tart Cherry and Bananas & Cinnamon – are part of SNACK Brand’s “relax & recover” line of clusters, which Parkes said can be used as a healthy reward after exercise or to help wind down in the evening.
“Banana and cinnamon are great in terms of restoring electrolytes in the body,” and cherry is a natural source of melatonin to support sleep cycles, he said.
SNACK Brand’s ‘tasteless’ spirulina touted as ‘strangely delicious’
Just as important as the flavors that burst from the clusters are the flavors that don’t – namely the intense taste of the sea that is often associated with cluster's key ingredient of sprirulina.
Parkes explains that because SNACK Brand uses spirulina farmed in a closed environment it doesn’t have the same “elements that you’d get in spirulina farmed in a pond or an open environment... We can control some of those inputs, and that has a real bearing on the quality of the spirulina and our products. It kind of changes the dynamic from the spirulina that other people might have been used to in the past.”
Storry adds that she can relate to “people who might be a little bit freaked out” about spirulina if they had a bad taste experience in the past, but she says the spirulina SNACK Brand uses “doesn’t taste like anything when mixed in the clusters. Really, the other superfood ingredients and flavors are much better, and ours tastes better than anything else.”
She says the brand also is educating consumers not to be scared of spirulina’s vivid green color, but to think of it the same way they do a green smoothie.
“Five or ten years ago, we never thought about drinking green smoothies, but now everybody is drink green smoothies and so we are really trying to capitalize on that. We eat green things every day,” she said.
Balancing Amazon with DTC to raise brand awareness
As a new company, SNACK Brand is taking a multi-prong distribution approach to raise awareness and drive trial of its clusters and spirulina powder, while also getting to know its consumers.
“Whatever you do as a brand or business, you have to make it very easy for people to get the product and as a brand that is relatively early in our lifecycle, for us that meant partnering with Amazon for online sales,” Parkes said.
Deciding “the shear footprint of Amazon was just too good of an opportunity not to take,” Parkes said SNACK Brands opted to sell its most popular flavors – Bananas & Cinnamon and Blueberry & Matcha – as well as a multipack of all four flavors in smaller bags on the ecommerce website.
However, he added, the company will only sell the full size bags of all four flavors and its powder direct to consumers on its own website, which will allow it to capture consumer information in a way unavailable through Amazon.
Building a community
Engaging with consumers directly on its website also will give SNACK Brands more opportunities to educate consumers about its unique approach to snacking and why they should embrace spirulina as a superfood.
“We want to do something very bold with spirulina based on the fact that it had traction back in the seventies. But I think there are probably misconceptions about it based on what it was back then versus what is being produced now,” and we can more easily communicate that on the brand’s website with blog posts, FAQs, recipes and insights from ambassadors, Parkes said.
“In terms of driving people to SNACK’s website and keep them coming back it’s all about building a community,” he added. “And I think we have seen over the last 10 or 15 years that information is driving brand loyalty, and by that I mean information shared from consumer to consumer as opposed to from the brand to the consumer.”
To bolster the company’s nascent community, SNACK has teamed with Olympian Casey Patterson and registered dietitian Allison Thibault to promote the product on social media and other avenues.