Surplus fruit is being turned into fruit jerky – a new type of snack that has caught the attention of the UK’s leading online retailer, Ocado. The story began three years ago when entrepreneurs Ilana Taub and Michael Minch-Dixon set out to create a food venture that would have a positive effect on the world around them. Produce Business UK talks to the creators behind Snact to discover more
“We wanted to do something that would have an impact and deal with issues and challenges,” Taub explains. “We knew about the scale of food waste so we went to the London wholesale markets to talk to traders and find what was available in useable quantities. Apples are one of the most wasted fruits in the UK and we felt this was a good place to start. We set out by thinking about what we could do with it – to create a natural healthy product.”
Apples: a ‘good place to start’
After some research and experimentation in their rented Hackney kitchen, the duo came up with a ‘fruit leather’ concept. Fruit leathers are well known in the US, but less so in the UK. It basically involves pouring pureed fruit onto a surface, drying it and rolling it up into pieces. The name ‘leather’ comes from the fact that the resultant shiny product has a leathery texture.
Taub and Minch-Dixon mix and purée their surplus fruit, then dehydrate it before cutting the end product to create a chewy snack that’s sold under the Snact brand. Two varieties were created initially: Apple & Mango, and Apple & Raspberry. With no additives of any kind used, it is a completely natural product.
To start with they began trading on the Bit Beyond Market, New Spitalfields Market and Lower Marsh Market near Waterloo. Sales grew rapidly, although explanations were needed as to exactly what the product was.
Responding to growing interest
“From a distance people would see our pinkish-coloured product and they thought it was beef jerky – an American snack,” notes Taub. “We explained that while it wasn’t beef jerky, it was a kind of ‘fruit jerky’ and the name stuck. People liked it.”
Within a few months, the duo realised they needed more investment if the business was to grow. The level of demand meant production could not be maintained on a handmade basis. Health food shops and independent stores were expressing interest in taking the product. So, they decided to move out of their Hackney kitchen in order to create a manufacturing and packaging base.
“We needed to raise money to expand the business and decided on a crowdfunding exercise,” Taub reveals. “This method appealed rather than going down the standard loan routes. We worked on a reward basis. Everyone got a supply of fruit jerky. Depending on the amount of money invested, they also received various rewards. The most popular reward was a supply of fruit jerky and some ‘Snact Underwear’, made by Pants to Poverty. We raised £13,500.”
Drying and manufacturing now takes place in Kent, while a separate company in Leicester deals with the packing. Packaging fruit jerky requires special skills since it can be a little sticky. Administration and marketing are controlled from an office in London.
When it comes to sourcing, Taub and Minch-Dixon no longer scope out the wholesale markets every day for surplus fruit. Instead, they source directly from growers and packhouses that provide fruit for supermarkets.
Snact’s packs of fruit jerky are retailed via the company’s website, as well as at over 80 independent shops and health food shops in London. The London-based As Nature Intended chain has begun stocking the range. Snact products are also about to be launched on Ocado.
Snact now sources directly from growers
Healthy snacks in demand
The timing for a product of this kind could not be better. Amy Price, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel, points out that health remains an ongoing issue for consumers. “Calorie and sugar content are of high relevance, and as swathes of the population try to address this, it appears to have had a knock-on effect on snacking,” Price explains. “There is scope for innovation in healthier variants to appeal to health-conscious consumers.”
Mintel’s 2016 Consumer Snacking Report indicates that the provision of healthier options is the key attribute for which snackers will pay more. Some 22% of consumers questioned for the report indicated they would be prepared to pay more for all-natural snacks that contained no artificial colouring or flavouring, while 19% would pay more for snacks with a low calorie count.
It’s also a market with limited competition. One of the few competitors is Bear Nibbles, which is aimed much more at the children’s market, as the dried fruit is “hand-cut into fun shapes for cubs to enjoy”.
Fruit crisps, meanwhile, are extremely popular but have a different texture. Fruit jerky, however, is seen as being much more chewy, and with the use of squared pieces it appeals to a wide audience. Within the wider snack market, fruit jerky is seen as competing with popcorn, granola bars, nuts and similar impulse snacks.
“We have done a price comparison with other fruit snack brands and it has shown that we are exactly in the middle,” says Taub. “There has been some feedback questioning our prices considering we use surplus produce. But we do pay the growers for the produce – we are not getting it for free. We also make our products in the UK, whereas many other fruit snack brands are manufactured in cheaper locations overseas.”
Extending Snact’s reach
Further expansion is now being planned, and consideration is being given to another crowdfunding exercise. “We want to talk to more retailers and caterers,” Taub reveals. “We need investment for marketing, publicity and product development.”
Snact plans to launch more flavours too. Already, the duo has introduced a new fruit jerky flavour: Apple, Blueberry & Banana; and there are others in the pipeline. The company is also researching the possibility of a vegetable jerky, although this is more likely to be a fruit/vegetable mix.
Ultimately, Taub and Minch-Dixon are determined that Snact will grow and continue to make an impact on business and society. They point out that the company was deliberately founded to have a positive effect on the world.
“What we love about food is that small changes can lead to big impacts,” Taub concludes. “Even small numbers get large when you multiply them by a few million.”