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Beanitos: Our puffed bean line adds innovation to a dull sector

Beanitos: 'It's tough...If everyone could have figured out a way to puff the beans and rice in a perfect mixture, they would have done it'
Beanitos: 'It's tough...If everyone could have figured out a way to puff the beans and rice in a perfect mixture, they would have done it'

Beanitos has launched two puffed bean snacks – a move that brings excitement into a category that has seen little innovation beyond flavor, says its chief innovation officer.

The bean-based snack specialist has launched the puff variants in two flavors – hot chili lime and white cheddar – in the US and Canada. Made from a bean-rice blend, the snacks are high in fiber, protein and potassium.

Speaking to at Sweets & Snacks in Chicago where the company launched the line, Tim Prager, chief innovation officer at Beanitos, said the puffed snacks epitomized innovation.

“It’s an innovative product design in a category that hasn’t had a lot of innovation. Having a bean alternative in extruded snacks gives some innovation to a category that has a lot of flavor differentiation but not type differentiation,” he said.

Bringing people back to extruded snacks…

Mike LaRocca, marketing manager for Beanitos, said the puffed bean products had nutritional substance, like the regular bean-based Beanitos chips, which was something valued by consumers.

“We’re really looking to bring people back into the category of extruded snacks; those who have either developed a corn allergy or are looking for more than just a gram of fiber and a gram of protein when they’re snacking,” he said.

While the extrusion part was not innovative, per se, he said the nutritional substance in the extruded snack was. “We’re pretty excited about the five grams of protein and four grams of fiber in each serving.”

Asked if the extrusion process impacted the nutritional value of the puffed snacks, LaRocca said third-party testing had indicated no difference compared to the regular bean chip line. “We didn’t see any diminishment in the positive fiber, protein and potassium levels at all.”

R&D: ‘It was tough, but fun’

The two puffed variants took around two and a half years of on/off development, LaRocca said. “It’s tough. If everybody could make a chip out of beans, they would have done it. And the same goes for puffs – if everyone could have figured out a way to puff the beans and rice in a perfect mixture, they would have done it.”

Achieving a palatable end product involved formulation and processing changes, he said.

“It’s about the beans and rice, and finding that perfect, harmonious mixture and balance to get it through the extrusion process to puff. We went through a lot of trials and we’d either get little, skinny, hard, pretzel-like puffs or just puffs that expanded and blew out. So, finding that in-between mix was tough, but fun.”

Beanitos had out-sourced production of the puffed line, LaRocca said, and had no plans to bring that in-house like its bean chip line. “We’re pretty happy with the co-manufacturing model. It allows us to branch out and keep our margins at a consistent level across the States.”

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