Some choices are hard. Chocolate or vanilla? The blonde or the redhead? To be or not to be?
It used to be that the choice for snacking on sunflower seeds was an easy one. Roasted and salted. End of story. Well, in recent years that choice has become so much more than just the simple bag of salted seeds. The popular snack has undergone a flavor revolution of sorts.
GIANTSTM Seeds, a regional supplier of consumer-packed in-shells, has joined in the revolution by offering seven different varieties in addition to the traditional salted. They include: Spicy Garlic, Zesty Italian, Ranch, BBQ, Dill Pickle, Salt & Pepper and Kettle Roast.
Not long ago, maybe just 15 years back, many in the industry saw the flavors as simply a passing fad. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Robert Schuler, GIANTS vice president of marketing, says consumer demand is certainly one of the major driving forces behind the flavor menu. “It’s probably weekly that we get requests and suggestions from consumers on new flavors they’d like to see on the market.”
So how is a new flavor born? Schuler says email and social media have drastically changed the way they communicate with the consumer. They welcome all suggestions. Some they try, some they don’t. Other flavor ideas come from their staff or trade shows.
Schuler says the new flavor samples are requested from what they call “flavor houses” and taste-tested by those within the company. The samples then go on to consumer test market groups who give their opinions and recommendations for any adjustments. From there, the new flavor may or may not go into full production, depending on the results.
GIANTS’ newest flavor offering is Kettle Roast, which was just released this fall. It’s a combination of salty and sweet. “It’s a unique flavor for us that satisfied two common consumer demands of less sodium and an interesting taste with the touch of sugar,” Schuler explains. “It also has a nice added benefit of no ‘raw mouth’ feel that you get with the traditional salted variety.”
And the flavor offerings don’t stop there. Other brand offerings include: chili lime, jalapeno, nacho cheese, teriyaki, buffalo wing, bacon and other spicy and seasoned varieties. There is even a brand that’s flavored with a popular whiskey.
Think those are over the top? Some companies have gotten very creative offering an entirely new level of flavors like: Bloody Mary, Jamaican Jerk, Beer Baked and Bleu Cheese.
Another very unique offering is Swamp Seeds from Swamphouse, Inc., infused with Cajun crawfish boil seasoning. They are primarily distributed and sold from (where else?) Louisiana. These seeds are new to the marketplace and are selling well.
Marshall Beall of Swamp Seeds says the product hit the retail shelves this September. The previous nine months were spent developing the flavor and designing the packaging. “Down here we eat a lot of seafood, and we like things spicy,” Beall explains. “You travel anywhere around the country and you see Cajun-style restaurants. They try to cook like we do, and the ones that do it right are successful.”
Beall adds that his company tried to build on that desire for Cajun nationwide to come up with an innovative product. So far sales are good, and the company is working on distributor contracts across the southern U.S. from New Mexico to Florida with hopes of expanding to the entire country. They also are developing a lineup of other flavors and products, including flavored kernel, which is unique to the industry. Their products can be checked out at www.swampseeds.com.
Why the flavor explosion you ask? It’s no secret that Americans are a food-obsessed society. There is a new sector of people called “foodies” who are tuned into all things pertaining to food. If proof is needed for this fact, all one needs to do is locate the cable channel called the Food Network on your television. Thanks to this obsession, ordinary everyday cooks and chefs like Rachael Ray, Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, Gordon Ramsey and Wolfgang Puck have become household names.
Some flavors don’t make sense, but sometimes they don’t have to if they simply taste good. GIANTS’ Schuler says it’s a very dynamic part of their business because they have to be aware that some regions of the country like certain flavors, that, for some reason, another part of the country might not prefer. He estimates that they’ve tried and tested over 40 different flavors over the course of the last few years. Some don’t even make it out of the company’s office, while others are a hit. Dill Pickle is GIANTS’ best seller in the flavor category, followed closely by Salt & Pepper.
Just when you thought that new flavors were taking the sunflower seed world by storm, some companies have taken it up a notch.
GamerFood, offers unique taste combined with a dash of caffeine. The Los Angeles-based company markets its “Seeds of Victory” directly to the gaming community — another relatively new sector of modern society. The product is marketed with one simple message: “Improve Your Game – Eat Well, Play Better.”
According to the company’s website, the product will increase concentration, boost performance and stimulate metabolism — all elements coveted by gamers. The salted sunflower seed packets sell for $23.99 for eight (1.25 oz) bags equal to about 12 servings.
A company called Sumseeds, not to be left behind by the flavor trend, offers both a unique taste and a jolt of energy. As the industry’s first confection seed infused with the components of caffeine, lysine, taurine and ginseng, Original Sumseeds were first bagged in January 2007. Flavors include dill pickle, honey BBQ and salt and pepper. A product of Dakota Valley Products, Inc., the company is based in Willow Lake, S.D. —a rural community of less than 250 people.
The well-traveled road of caffeine-infused products has been paved with energy drinks — a craze that began within the last 10 years. In addition to caffeinated sunflower seeds, the market has exploded in recent years to include caffeinated donuts, potato chips, gum, lollipops, mints, breath spray and lip balm, just to name few.
Pop a handful of Sumseeds into your mouth, and you’ll have consumed a little over half the amount of caffeine in an average-sized double latte. The 1.75-oz bags are infused with 140 milligrams of caffeine. For the healthy adult population, moderate caffeine consumption of 300 mg per day is considered safe.
The tasteless caffeine adds a kick that used to be reserved only for coffee and soda. The taurine is an organic acid, common in energy drinks, that has been known to alleviate muscle fatigue and lower blood sugar. Lysine, an essential amino acid, is a building block for protein. Ginseng, also commonly found in popular energy drinks, is a natural, plant-derived stimulant.
The niche filled by energized sunflower seeds is that they offer a nutritious snack that satisfies hunger without the sugar that’s found in most drinks with the same motive. Compare Sumseeds, which has just two grams of sugar, to a leading energy drink, which can contain up to 27 grams of sugar.
There may be times when someone could use an extra jolt of caffeine, but to whom are these types of products marketed? Among the top consumer groups are athletes, truck drivers, gamers and sleep-deprived college students.
Walter says his company is trying to revamp the image of caffeinated products. One of the major hurdles is that people think of them as “novelty items.” He’d like to see that change to the same attitude toward soda, for instance. It’s accepted that there are caffeinated and uncaffeinated soda choices. Sumseeds is hoping the same would someday hold true for their products, right alongside popular uncaffeinated seeds.
The desire to eat handfuls of seeds is already there with the consumer. “People are already in the habit of eating sunflower seeds to stay awake,” Walter says. “We need to take it to the next level and get them to accept that adding caffeine will further help that goal.”
So a once-easy choice is suddenly much more complicated and a whole lot tastier. Clearly, there is no shortage of options when it comes to in-shell sunflower seeds. New flavors are being introduced all the time. Hard telling what the next big taste trend will be.
— Sonia Mullally
NOTE: For more information on the companies featured in this story, go to their websites at:
Swamp Seeds, Inc
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