When it comes to packaging, one size doesn’t fit all.
Jeremy Cage, Joshua Chaitovsky and Jeff Moskowitz, principals of Westbury-based United Snacks of America, learned this early on when they were trying to launch their Farmer’s Pantry snack line.
They had initially planned to release their line of Meal Snacks, a “snackable meal” combining slow-roasted jerky-style meat and crunchy dried vegetables and sides, in fall 2015 but had to delay the launch until September 2016 after they discovered a packaging issue.
Originally they thought they could combine the dried vegetables and moist meat into one package, until they discovered that the vegetables were absorbing the moisture of the meat.
“The consequence is we got meat that was hard and vegetables that were soggy, which is the antithesis of the consumer experience we were trying to deliver,” says Cage, 52, a former PepsiCo executive and co-founder and director of United Snacks of America, the parent company of Farmer’s Pantry.
As a result, they had to develop a custom double-pouched bag that’s designed to separate the meat from the vegetables and sides, but with a soft seal down the middle that could be broken if the consumer chooses to mix the ingredients.
This increased manufacturing costs 10 percent, but it was necessary to bring the product to market.
“You have to have the ability to be flexible with packaging and make adjustments,” says Chaitovsky, 35, co-founder and CEO.
That’s especially true since packaging can be one of the biggest hurdles entrepreneurs face, experts say.
“Entrepreneurs are often focused on what they are trying to sell, not how to package it,” says Lynn Dyer, president of Foodservice Packaging Institute, a Falls Church, Virginia-based trade association representing the food service packaging industry in North America.
Most smaller entrepreneurs don’t have an in-house/on-site packaging specialist like bigger brands do, she says.
Entrepreneurs need to figure out who their resources will be in this area early on, Dyer says. Before going straight to custom packaging, they should consider whether some kind of stock product will work.
In the case of Farmer’s Pantry, the nature of its product meant working with a local packaging company to develop custom packaging.
Once that was accomplished, it was able to launch Meal Snacks at Hudson News stores last September.
Farmer’s Pantry makes five Meal Snack varieties, including chicken and waffles and steak and fries; they retail for about $5.99 for a 2-ounce bag.
“They have an interesting product,” says Michael Maslen, Hudson Group vice president of sales.
Hudson News also carries the first product Farmer’s Pantry launched, called Cornbread Crisps, which are thin pieces of crispy baked cornbread.
The crisps were supposed to launch after Meal Snacks, but the packaging delay led the company to launch Cornbread Crisps first, in June 2016.
“When we realized that Meal Snacks were taking so much time, we had to give ourselves another avenue of revenue,” Chaitovsky says.
That was a good move.
Cornbread Crisps are in 5,000-plus stores nationwide, including select Walmarts and 7-Elevens, and demand is growing, says Moskowitz, 46, co-founder and executive vice president of sales and marketing. He’s confident Meal Snacks will eventually get as wide distribution.
“There’s no reason why Meal Snacks won’t have the same broad national distribution footprint that we’ve already achieved with Cornbread Crisps,” he says.
The crisps come in three varieties including jalapeño and honey butter. They retail for $1.49 to $1.99 for a 2-ounce bag and $2.99 to $3.99 for a 6-ounce bag.
Meanwhile, even Cornbread Crisps have gone through a few packaging modifications.
“Initially we weren’t getting the impact on the shelf we wanted, so we made some packaging adjustments,” says Cage. This included changing the top banner of the packaging from yellow to green and adding an illustration of a farm.
It’s not uncommon for packaging to go through several incarnations, says Melissa Abbott, vice present of culinary insights at The Hartman Group Inc., a Bellevue, Washington-based food and beverage market-research firm.
“The indie brands are learning as they go when it comes to packaging,” she says.
On a positive note, Farmer’s Pantry is operating in a space with growth potential.
Ninety-one percent of consumers snack multiple times daily, Abbott says. “Snacking has become a dominant part of our food culture.” This is, in part, due to consumers’ increasingly harried lifestyles, which make it harder to stick to the traditional three-meal-a-day model.
And a portable product with both fiber and protein may resonate with consumers.
“There’s definitely a place for that,” Abbott says.
The Farmer’s Pantry folks think so and are ramping up for a “full-on national expansion of Meal Snacks in the second half of 2017,” Moskowitz says.
Bobby Shepperd, an Arkansas-based food broker representing Farmer’s Pantry products in Walmart, says he plans to present Meal Snacks soon to the chain, which presently carries Cornbread Crisps.
“I think it’s going to be a great item for consumers, because it’s not only a snack but could be a meal replacement with the protein that’s in it,” he says, adding that Cornbread Crisps are “exceeding our initial sales estimates at Walmart.”
For their part, Cage, Chaitovsky and Moskowitz hope to eventually launch more snack items.
“Within the next couple of years,” Cage says, “we will either acquire or create new brands that are highly distinctive and highly relevant.”
At a glance
- COMPANY: United Snacks of America, Westbury
- PRINCIPALS: Jeremy Cage, Joshua Chaitovsky, Jeff Moskowitz
- PRODUCTS: Farmer’s Pantry Meal Snacks and Cornbread Crisps
- EMPLOYEES: 10
- ANNUAL REVENUES: Less than $10 million