“We check a lot of boxes being gluten-free, really high in protein — 10 grams of protein and five grams of fiber per serving — and it's nutrient dense. I look at that as a benefit of the product, not so much as my goal. I just can't believe with all these billion-dollar companies, they couldn't figure out how to make a snack that was healthier ... because most snacks are just empty calories.”
How the Tarahumara tribe inspired Bob's Natural
After founding several tech companies, Gruder was inspired to start a food company after reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, which tells the story of the Tarahumara tribe, an indigenous people of Mexico, who ate pinole — roasted maize mixed with chia and spices, soaked with lime — as a staple part of their diet, which fueled their running lifestyle.
“Lime makes this process happen called nixtamalization, which changes the molecular properties of the corn and makes it easier to digest and slower burning. [The Tarahumara tribe] also add chia seeds because chia seeds ... are good for fiber, but they're [also] really good for hydration retention,” Gruder said. “They run 50-100 miles a day, and one person ran 450 miles in a little over 48 hours, ... and they get most of their energy from the pinole.”
Gruder wanted to create a more accessible version of pinole with a chip format and started formulating the product in his kitchen. After demoing the product to his friends and their children, Bob’s Natural was ready for co-manufacturing, he added.
When it came to producing the chip on a large scale, Gruder worked closely with his manufacturing partner to get the taste of the chip right, which included experimenting with the belt speed of the manufacturing equipment and cooking temperatures “to get a consistent perfect crunch.”
Bob’s Natural also developed flavors that would appeal to a wide audience, including Barbeque, Chili Lime, and Traditional, currently available on the brand’s website.
“I literally remember the day we did it because we had the plant foreman, the owner of the plant, and myself, and we were all standing at the end of the line. We would literally pick up a chip and eat it, and we all looked at each other, and we [said], “Wow, this is it.’”
Preparing for retail expansion, future snack innovation
Looking to the new year, Bob's Natural is building out its DTC channel to define its customer bases and receive product feedback, Gruder said. Additionally, the company is preparing to expand into retail, simultaneously going after the natural and national chains with the help of brokers for each channel, he added.
“Our goal is to focus on retail more so than DTC... In my mind, there [are] two audiences. There's a natural channel, which is quicker to market just because there's less stores ... and that means that they can make their decisions quicker, and you can get on the shelves quicker,” he said. “Ultimately, you want to go into the nationals and their regions.”
Gruder sees an opportunity to deliver on taste and health with his Pinole Chips, tapping into the growing better-for-you snack trend. The better-for-you snack space has been a growing area of consumer interest, and the global healthy snack market is expected to grow from $85.6bn in 2021 to $152.3bn in 2030, according to Statista.
In addition to focusing on retail expansion, Bob’s Natural plans to expand the flavors for its Pinole Chips and look for other ways to innovate in the better-for-you snack space in 2024.
“I’m going to roll out one more flavor, maybe two, of the Pinole Chips hopefully in 2024, and I'm going to start being a kitchen mad scientist of making this other product that I think will be very compelling in the snack world as well, and that unfortunately, too, is going to be a challenge to manufacture.”