At Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim last week, Barnana unveiled its latest innovation: Organic Crunchy Nuggets, which will hit store shelves in April – less than a year after it debuted its Plantain Crisps and less than two years after it first entered the savory snack category with its Plantain Tortilla Crisps.
The Nuggets, which are bite size cubes of plantains cooked in 100% coconut oil and tossed in savory pink salt, barbecue, chili lime or ranch, not only offer consumers a “powerful crunch,” but with their tall slim single-serve bags that are perfect for positioning by cash registers they are an ideal grab-and-go convenience snack that delivers on the brand’s better-for-you positioning.
“This is a new category for us with an eating experience that is very addicting, almost like when you’re popping CornNuts or popcorn or almonds,” that also fills a different occasion and takes us into a to a new part of the store in the grab-and-go section, founder Caue Suplicy told FoodNavigator-USA.
The launch complements the company’s move earlier during the pandemic into the chip aisle with the July 2020 launch of the tortilla crisps and the August 2021 launch of the plantain crips – which marked a significant shift from Barnana’s previous focus on sweet snacks with its Chewy Banana Bites and Dipped Banana Bites.
The expansion also continues to disprove early critics who Suplicy said doubted Barnana’s ability to build a thriving, diverse business on a single main ingredient.
“There are a lot of opportunities to come up with different products and fulfil different cravings with this amazing ingredient,” Suplicy said, recalling how when he first launched Barnana some critics wondered if he was limiting the business by naming it after one ingredient: the banana.
“They thought we could only make one banana product. But bananas are amazing. They can act like a date, they can act like corn, as in the case of our tortilla chips, or like a potato, as in the case of our plantain crisps. They can really be used in some ways instead of a lot of grains, seeds and sweets,” Suplicy said.
He added that while the company currently is focused on sweet and savory snacks, bananas and plantains can be used in hundreds of dishes – so the potential for innovation is endless.
Barnana doubles sales in two years
Thanks to their versatility, bananas also can be lucrative as illustrated by Barnana’s growth during the pandemic – doubling sales in two years – and helping the B Corp deliver on its mission to support smallholder and Indigenous farmers in the Amazon, even during a global pandemic.
While the pandemic caused chaos among supply chains across categories and overturned many small business’ production schedules as co-manufacturers bumped their orders to help larger companies make staples, Barnana shored up its supply and production by formally acquiring its long time Latin American supply and manufacturing partner Agroapoyo.
The move not only ensured Barnana could source and produce sufficient supplies to meet growing orders, but it also provided small farmers a reliable source of income at a time when people were losing jobs or unable to work due to the pandemic.
Agroapoyo was able to meet the needs of both Barnana and its farmer partners by quickly creating safety protocols that reduced the risk of the coronavirus, such as setting up camps in which farmers worked in two week shifts – testing on each end of their stint to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Maria del Carmen Narváez, CEO Barnana Ecuador, told FoodNavigator-USA.
“Everybody felt safer. And I think that was one of the best things that we did because we could keep providing and sourcing all the product that was demanded … and [the farmers] appreciated our commitment to make this happen” and support their livelihood, Narváez said.
As the company grew, it was able to support more farmers – expanding to more than 1,500 families in the Amazon and offering roughly $350 per month – significantly more than the $80 per family per month farmers previously received, she added, noting that the company hopes to double this number in the next five years.
The time for change is now
In many ways, Barnana’s commitment to equity among its farmer partners and promotion of upcycling and regenerative agriculture are cutting edge as large CPG companies are making long-range commitments to be more sustainable and equitable.
And while Suplicy lauds these commitments, he underscores that companies need to do more now not just in five, 10 or 20 years.
“We are all seeing how the climate is changing and we need to act a lot sooner. So, a lot of these big companies are great about talking about their efforts or have great marketing, and sometimes we don’t talk as much as we should about our efforts, but that is because we are out there doing it,” Suplicy said.
He added: “We are not just talking about how great we are. We are reducing food waste. We work with thousands of indigenous farmers. We are doing the work on regenerative agriculture, and that is what is important to us. And, of course, the bigger we get, the more we can do.”