Retail

Creating The Healthy Junk Food Category

There is really no way to interpret a pork rind – the fried skin of a pig – as a healthy snack. Per serving, which is a single unit, a pork rind has 154 calories, 515 milligrams of sodium, 27 milligrams of cholesterol and 9 grams of fat. It contains no vitamins, calcium or magnesium – though it does have a trace amount of iron.

Pork rinds may be delicious (according to some portion of the population, anyway), but they are one of those snack items that is colloquially known as a “heart attack in a bag” – something that one may like eating, but almost certainly shouldn’t.

Hence, when Snacklins Founder Samy Kobrosly first starting talking about making healthy, pork-free pork rinds, he wasn’t entirely serious. As a religious Muslim, Kobrosly doesn’t eat pork and never has. At the time, he was taking some light ribbing from friends about the fact that he was missing out on the local wonder that is pork rinds (or “cracklins,” as they are called in parts of the Midwest). Kobrosly joked that he could make a pork-free, fully vegan “pork” rind that would be as good, if not better than, the original.

While most would have ended it with the joke, Kobrosly took advantage of the fact that he worked odd hours at a radio station and had a friend who owned a restaurant and let him use his kitchen. After a few weeks of messing around with the recipe, he had found his own formulation for a better pork rind. Instead of pork, his version used mushrooms, onions and yuca. Kobrosly’s friends were sold on the flavor, though he didn’t disclose whether or not they agreed they were better than the real thing.

They were, however, a lot healthier for the people eating them. In fact, Kobrosly discovered that his “snacklins” – a pun on regional “cracklins” moniker – also had less than half the fat typically found in Sun Chips, Doritos and even Veggie Straws. At this point, it became obvious that Snacklins were more than just a good, unique snack offering for Kobrosly’s immediate friends – they could actually be sold on the mass market.

Today, four years after the firm formally launched, Snacklins are on the shelves in 1,300 stores, and are poised to grow into a rapidly expanding world of healthier alternatives to classic junk food for a generation of consumers who would like to eat better, but preferably without having to subsist primarily on salad.

Where there is consumer interest, entrepreneurial interest is quick to follow. Firms like Quevos and Blake’s Seed Based specialize in healthy general snacks. There are even brands like All Y’alls Foods and Pan’s Mushroom Jerky, which target the very specific niche Snacklin is going after: a plant-based alternative to a highly processed meat snack food.

But by the numbers, the opportunity might actually be there. The International Food Information Council Foundation ranks “new spins on old standbys” as one of the trends to watch for 2020, while Whole Foods’ 2019 grocery trend report highlights “upgraded snacks” and “faux meat snacks” as areas of particular interest over the next few years.

And with the global health and wellness food market expected to grow 5.84 percent year over year through 2022, it stands to reason that those more health-minded consumers will be more interested in adjusting their snack profiles.

Will Snacklins be one of the brands that makes the final cut? As with all new startups, it is hard to tell – particularly since consumer tastes can change quickly. But building a pork rind with a nutritional profile that is more heartening than depressing is certainly a big challenge to overcome – and the company has already done that. It remains to be seen whether conquering the mass market and disrupting the Dorito will as attainable of a goal.

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