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Sunflower Chips  

Wednesday, January 29, 2020
filed under: Utilization/Trade

       When it comes to snacks in 2020, simple is better. That’s the idea behind the new Snacks from the SunTM brand Sunflower Chips.  They are a healthy, artisan snack made with natural sunflower kernels and simple, plant-based ingredients.  They’re a non-GMO, kosher, allergen-free, gluten-free, grain-free and guilt-free snack.
       Jody Kerzman visited with Rory Ritts about his newest product.
Explain the idea behind your product.
       My background is in food development; I’ve been in this business for about 30 years.  I started making air pop popcorn, and about 10 years ago I created the first hummus chip.  I made a recipe of that and then sold it to a large snack food company.  I liked the idea of a plant-based product, but didn’t want to compete with the chickpea market.  I spent some time researching mesquite chips, using flour from the mesquite tree in South America.  It was a great product, but it just wasn’t feasible to do that. 

       That’s when a friend mentioned the number of foods that have allergens.  He said the only product that doesn’t have allergens is sunflower seed.  One thing led to another, I researched sunflower flour, used my resources to make some — and quickly learned sunflower flour is very hard to make.  It took over a year of trial and error to get the product where we wanted it to be.  This is the wildest product I’ve ever made! Thanks to a lot of help from the National Sunflower Association, we were able to make it work.

       The snack industry is very competitive; you can’t just come up with another potato chip and expect to be successful.  You’d get killed in the market.  You have to be creative and have something different that also tastes good.  People need to understand all that before they pick it up.  That’s why design, marketing and packaging are so important.  I have a background in design and I love packaging and I love food! I really enjoy coming up with ideas and the technology behind packaging. 

       I think we have found a niche market. Our chips are allergen-free, plant-based, non-GMO, grain-free, and we use cassava root in them, too.  Cassava root is the biggest buzz word in the market in 2020. It’s all natural and used for starch.
       But the main thing — our main focus — is that our product has to taste good.  If it tastes like cardboard, or like the stalk of a sunflower, it won’t work, no matter how healthy it is.  We put a lot of time into the taste of our product.
How do you use sunflower in your product?
       We use sunflower flour milled by a company that produces a higher grade, better quality, more flavorful flour than any we’ve ever tried.  It’s also organic.  Once we get the flour, we have a special way of baking our chips so the oil is extracted and our chips end up not very oil.  The secret is in the production part of the process.
Why do you use sunflower?
       The main reason we wanted to use sunflower is that no one in the world has ever done this before.  Retail snacks have been made with sunflower flour; Frito Lay tried it 10 years ago, but their chip was basically just sprayed with sunflower oil. We wanted to make a product using sunflower flour. No one had ever approached the market with that. 

       Grain-free is a huge thing right now; we don’t add any type of grain with our sunflower flour.  We also use sunflower oil in our chips.  In fact, our chips are made with only a few ingredients, all of which are easy to pronounce.  The ingredients include: cassava starch, organic Sunkernel™ flour, sunflower oil, sea salt, and either parsley, cracked black pepper or onion powder.

       Our chips are purely a snack, good for dipping.  They’re comparable to a bag of potato chips.  We have three flavors: original, which is just sun flour with sea salt and a little parsley to make them look pretty; cracked pepper; and sweet onion, which uses organic pure onion powder mixed with sea salt. 

       Original is our most popular flavor, followed by cracked pepper.  We wanted to do a ranch flavor, but we can’t do that because ranch includes dairy, and that’s an allergen.  We don’t want to add an allergen to our products. 

       We have some ideas for new flavors, but for now, these are the three that we think we catch people’s attention.
Where do you get the sunflower you use? 
       One hundred percent of the sunflower we use is U.S.-grown.  That is very important to us.  In fact, every ingredient we use is a U.S.-grown product.
What makes your products stand out?
       The health aspect and the uniqueness of the product make us stand out.  But beyond that, our products taste good.  That’s something that sometimes gets lost in health food.  So I think the fact that our sunflower chips taste great definitely sets us apart.
What kinds of challenges have you faced along the way?
       We have faced so many challenges.  We went through more than 400 pounds of flour trying to perfect our recipe.  We had machinery start on fire.  It probably took us two years from when we first had the idea to when we got our products on the shelves.  I gave up at least 15 times!  We ran into so many problems, and we kept thinking we can’t do this.  There’s a reason no one has done this.  And then someone fixed the problem, and we moved on and our product ended up getting better and better. 
       An example of that is our efforts to find a good sunflower flour.  We started with a company that was importing their sunflower from South America. We used some of that and it was okay; but once we got connected with the NSA they were able to help us find U.S.-grown sunflower. and that’s been a great change.  We are very transparent about what we do and what we want to do. 
What market segments do you supply?
       We are really just getting started. We started distributing our chips in January, and we will see where all we can sell them.  We hope to have them in Home Goods stores across the United States.  Our goal is to start there and then work on getting specialty food stores to pick them up.  The ultimate goal is to have our chips available on Amazon.                               
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