Vegetable-themed snacks like cauliflower puffs and Peatos aren’t traditional potato chips, but they’re not not chips, either.
Recently, I ate some “cauliflower puffs,” which are like Cheetos, only they are not Cheetos, because they are made with cauliflower. Cauliflower is a vegetable. Did you know vegetables are good for you? I’ve heard this. The bag, from a brand called Vegan Rob’s, doesn’t exactly promise that “Probiotic Cauliflower Puffs” are “healthy” — as in, it does not use the word “healthy,” a term that the Food and Drug Administration is redefining at this very moment. But it did say it was “plant based” and “crunchy good!” and also gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan, and “powered by Ganeden BC30 Probiotic,” which, the website for Ganeden BC30 Probiotic tells me, is an “EXTREMELY stable” ingredient added to “many foods” to support gut and immune health.
The caulipuffs don’t say they’re “healthy,” but the bag exudes an general aura of health. (We reached out to Vegan Rob’s to discuss, but they haven’t commented as of press time.) The main ingredient isn’t cauliflower — it’s sorghum, no one is pretending otherwise — but still, it seems, at the very least, cauliflower-adjacent. The bag is a vegetal green with a cruciferous print and purple accents. It is granola-chic. If you were in middle school, it is what your weird friend’s cool mom would serve you after school. She would be blonde and elegant but wearing Birkenstocks.
“Love yourself, our planet, and all living things,” the cauli bag advises. “Snack as clean & kind as possible.” It says I don’t have to be vegan to enjoy plant-based snacks (true!) and that if I “meditate and focus on the crunch,” I might feel my “stress melt away” as I “reap the benefits of the cruciferous cauliflower.” Vegan Rob is kidding, sort of. Vegan Rob is self-aware.
Also, Vegan Rob is very good at making snacks, because cauliflower puffs are delicious. They taste like Cheetos with substance. Is that substance a little bit like sawdust? Maybe. I prefer to think of it as the dust of virtue. It gives them a pleasant sort of heft, like you are eating an actual food product, and not caloric air. At the Kroger I checked, they cost $3.99 for 3.5 ounces, compared to Frito-Lay’s Cheetos Puffs, which cost $1.89 for roughly the same amount.
Vegan Rob is not alone. We are living in a golden age of processed vegetable snacks. Once, we were limited to potato chips, corn chips, tortilla chips, and maybe pretzels. Those were the chips. Lay’s. Doritos. Cheetos. Fritos. Tostitos. For the health-conscious, there were Sun Chips — corn chips, but whole grain! — and Terra Chips, which are made from a variety of fried root vegetables and are mostly very pretty. Some are blue, some are red, and others are orange, like impressionism in a bowl.
But in the past several years, there has been a great flowering of alterna-chips, an uprising of vegetables in the snack aisle. (At my local Whole Foods, this aisle is called “Snack Attack!” accurately capturing the violence.) There are Beanitos (2010), which are black bean-based chips, and Splitz (2015), which are crunchy yellow split pea sticks, and ChickBean Crisps from Saffron Road (2017), a mélange of legumes in chip form. There are Peatos (2018), a pea-and-lentil product enough like Cheetos to cause a minor scandal. There are From the Ground Up cauliflower pretzels (2018); “when it comes from the ground,” the tagline reads, “it’s got to be good!”
One might note here that potatoes — the main ingredient in potato chips — also come from the ground. One might further note that, much like Vegan Rob’s cauliflower puffs, many (though not all) regular old potato chips are also gluten-free, non-GMO, and vegan. But no one is arguing that potato chips are healthy. Potato chips are an all-American villain, shorthand for everything that’s wrong with the national diet. Nonperishable, mass-produced, and cheap, potato chips, researchers told the Atlantic, are “one of the most obesity-promoting foods for youth to consume.”
The problem is that chips taste good. People like chips. Chips are designed to be liked. “It’s a classic high-fat, salty food that you just can’t stop eating,” says Traci Mann, a professor of social and health psychology at the University of Minnesota. This has historically been chips’ main selling point. “Betcha can’t eat just one,” challenged Lay’s. “Once you pop, you can’t stop,” taunted Pringles. This product is so good, you will continue to eat it until it becomes a threat to public health.
For brands, this presents a market opportunity: chips, but healthy chips, designed to capture consumers who want to “eat better,” whatever that means. Who want to eat vegetables. Who care about health, but also convenience. People who know chips aren’t great, nutritionally speaking, but who want to eat chips. People who don’t eat chips but would if they could feel good about it. People who could feel good about it if only they could be sure that their chip wasn’t the bad kind of chip.
“They’re clearly out there to convince chip-loving people that they can eat these and still be healthy,” Mann tells me. She’s tempted, she says, even though she’s a professional. “I’ve noticed them and thought, ‘Oh, you know, I could eat a delicious, crunchy chip and it won’t be bad for me.’”
Vegetable chip alternatives, by their packaging (earthy and highbrow, which you can tell because the bags are generally matte) and their nutritional brags (more protein! more fiber!), are positioned as snacks to feel good about, or at least okay about. Chips you could eat while maintaining your identity as someone who mostly doesn’t eat food from vending machines.
But are new-wave vegetable chips actually better for you? Is it worth trading your Flamin’ Hot Cheetos for Fiery Hot Peatos? How are we supposed to feel about Brussels sprout puffs, which are exactly like the cauliflower puffs, except slightly greener?
VEGETABLE SNACK CHIP-ALTERNATIVES ARE POSITIONED AS CHIPS TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT, OR AT LEAST, OKAY ABOUT
Comparing each product ingredient by ingredient — calorie to calorie, protein to protein — you see slight variations. A 1-ounce serving of original Beanitos has 7 grams of fat; an equivalent serving of nacho cheese Doritos has 8 grams. A serving of Peatos has 130 calories, while Cheetos has 160. Calorically, the differences are generally trivial.
The new-vegetable chips are mostly lower in fat than their classical counterparts, but not by much: an ounce of Vegan Rob’s Brussels sprout puffs has 8 grams of fat; Lay’s Classic potato chips have 10 grams. Sodium is a wild card: From the Ground Up cauliflower pretzels have 330mg of sodium per serving, for example — less than the classic pretzel equivalent, Rold Gold (450 mg), but nearly double a serving of regular Lay’s (170 mg).
Where the alterna-chips come out consistently ahead is on fiber and protein. Splitz, the crown prince of fiber, has 8 grams — about a third of what’s recommended daily for women, in one hip little bag — while potato chips and pretzels have a lone gram. (Most of the vegetable chips hover in the 3-gram range.) The old-school chips have about 2 grams of protein; some of the new health alternatives have double that, or more.
Are there differences? Sure, yes. Are the differences meaningful? Not quite, says Jeanne Goldberg, a professor of nutrition at Tufts. “No one should be eating [vegetable chips] thinking that they’re doing something better for themselves than eating potato chips.”
“NO ONE SHOULD BE EATING [VEGETABLE CHIPS] THINKING THAT THEY’RE DOING SOMETHING BETTER FOR THEMSELVES THAN EATING POTATO CHIPS”
The difference between 1 and 3 grams of fiber? “You can make up that difference just by how big a handful you pick up,” she says. As for the protein: Most of us are already doing just fine. “Of all the things Americans need to do to modify their diet, adding protein is not it,” Goldberg says. “There is no reason to think, ‘I’m going to eat cauliflower chips because they have more protein than potato chips.’ That’s silly.”
While it is definitely true that vegetable chips contain at least some of the vegetable they claim to be chipped from, how much of that vegetable varies wildly from product to product. The first ingredient in Beanitos is indeed black beans; the first ingredient in Splitz is, as promised, yellow pea flour. But Brussels sprout powder — that is, Brussels sprouts that have been dehydrated and ground into a dust — doesn’t appear until midway down the ingredient list for the puffs, meaning they contain more sorghum flour, sunflower or safflower oil, nutritional yeast, and rice bran.
Is it bad that there’s more nutritional yeast in the puffs than Brussels remains? Not inherently. It’s just that it’s not all that vegetal. Which is just fine, as long as you think of it like what it is: a prepackaged snack food, a chip. “We should think of them as brilliant marketing of health auras,” says Marion Nestle, a nutrition researcher at NYU and, most recently, the author of Unsavory Truth, about conflicts of interest in food science. “I think of them as dietetic junk foods.”
“If you like Brussels sprout chips and you can afford 130 or 140 calories’ worth of Brussels sprout chips, great! In terms of health benefits, don’t go for the Brussels sprout chips,” Goldberg tells me.
“It’s really sort of parallel to SnackWell’s cookies, isn’t it?” Mann says. “It’s a little better than a regular cookie but not awesome. Eating a bunch was still like eating a bunch of cookies, for the most part.”
But you knew that already; we all knew that. You’re supposed to eat whole foods, ones that don’t come in packages. You’re supposed to eat fresh fruits and fresh vegetables and not ones that are dehydrated and milled into flours and fried. Maybe they’re a little better than the alternative — a little more fiber, slightly fewer calories — but they’re not a health food, and that’s fine. Not all foods are health foods.
“I think if you asked people, they would tell you they know the products are junk foods, but slightly better ones,” says Nestle. “But the marketing is supposed to hit people below the level of critical thinking.”
What I remember most about SnackWell’s, icon of ’90s ultra-low-fat diet culture, is that they were like regular prepackaged cookies, but a little bit worse. Just a touch less delicious, a pinch less like things that exist naturally on earth. This has always seemed to me to contribute to their glow of health: They’re not as good as regular cookies (to eat), so they must be better than regular cookies (for you).
There’s research to back this up. “The finding is that ‘healthy’ and ‘tastes bad’ are highly associated in our mind, so if we hear something is ‘healthy,’ we’re going to think it tastes worse. And if something tastes bad, we’re going to think it’s healthier,” Mann says. This, she points out, presents a kind of challenge for the health-washed junk food industry. “Since they’re clearly being presented as healthy, our response to them should really be, ‘Oh, those are going to taste bad.’” But they sell. They’re everywhere. They’re pretty good.
Is it possible this is actually an asset? If no one expects “healthy” chips to be as good as regular chips, they don’t fail if they’re a little weird. As long as they’re still pretty good, isn’t the slight weirdness a sign of their virtue? Is it possible that maybe, by tasting slightly worse — or at least, less familiar — than classic potato chips, neo-veg chips feel healthier?
Goldberg buys it. I believe it in my bones, based on the fact that I have yet to leave a bag of new-wave chips unfinished. Maybe the chips will introduce people to new vegetables, make them more adventurous eaters of cauliflower in non-puff contexts. Is that possible, I ask Goldberg? “Do you think so?” she counters. I don’t, although I do like innovation, as a concept.
“THE FINDING IS THAT ‘HEALTHY’ AND ‘TASTES BAD’ ARE HIGHLY ASSOCIATED IN OUR MIND”
Everyone I spoke with for this story reiterated that if you want to eat a potato chip, you should just eat a potato chip; that if you like cauli puffs, you can have some cauli puffs; that you can be a healthy person who, in moderation, occasionally has some chips made from whatever vegetable you want. Obviously, that is true. “Personally, I love really good potato chips and can’t imagine substituting lentil chips,” Nestle says.
But maybe the primary allure of the non-chip chip isn’t exactly that it’s healthy — as Nestle says, people likely know, deep down, it’s not. But it’s just divorced enough from other classic chips — villainous chips, the chips you have been warned about — that regardless of whether it’s actually all that different, nutritionally speaking, it’s different in one important aspect: It doesn’t have the baggage.
This is sad, in a way. Wouldn’t it be better if we all had healthy relationships with food, and could eat chips of any kind in moderation, without feeling bad about it, and without convincing ourselves they’re actually salads? Yes. But the fact that we don’t presents food companies with an incredible opportunity: to reconcile the chip as a nutritionally woke snack. “These products are a proliferation of marketing genius,” Goldberg says.
There is one other detail, though, one persuasive argument in favor of the new chip revolution, and that is that it tastes pretty good. It’s novel. Have you had a cauli puff? You should, it’s fun. There is so little fun in the world. But weird chips are fun. They aren’t vegetables. They are nutritionally variable, at best. But we can enjoy them for exactly what they are: a marginally better-for-you entry into the canon of festive snacks.
Within a year since its launch, Los Angeles-based World Peas™ Brand Peatos ™ has become a national sensation, winning over taste buds across the country. For decades, corn and potato snacks have ruled the salty snack industry, but in 2018, World Peas introduced Peatos and provided “junk food without the junk.” Peatos is driving growth in plant-based snacking and has become the fastest-growing snack brand in the produce section in thousands of stores across the country, according to retailer data. The brand has quickly become a top-ranking category leader in several markets nationwide, including Southern California, the largest and most competitive grocery market and is expanding its footprint on the East Coast with the addition of Stop & Shop.
“Brand lovers, including retailers and celebrities, crave Peatos for the satisfying ‘junk snack’ style crunch and flavor that’s combined with exceptional levels of plant-based protein, fiber and clean ingredients,” said Nick Desai, CEO, Snack it Forward. “It has been an incredible year for us and we plan to double down on growth in 2019.”
Growing demand for protein and plant-based alternatives are merging and driving huge growth in categories such as meat, seafood, cereals and pasta from brands like Beyond Burger, Impossible Foods, Good Catch, Ripple, Love Grown Foods, and Banza. World Peas Brand is disrupting the $28 billion chip and “junk snack” category, with a new class of plant-based junk snacks that directly challenges the status quo. It is a deceptively simple notion, to replace the underlying corn or potato base prevalent in traditional salty snacks with a nutrient-dense, non-GMO pulse base and then clean up the seasonings. Common pulses include peas and lentils, which are full of plant-based protein and fibers. The strong growth in new product launches for plant-protein based foods and beverages continued into 2018, with no signs of slowing down.
“People are craving something different and really innovative that meets all their desires. Taste buds have evolved, and this is not the world of diet chips and stale crackers,” adds Desai. “People want the full taste, the crunch, the appeal of ‘junk style’ snacks, but they don’t want all the garbage associated with it.”
World Peas Brand™ Peatos™ is revolutionizing snacking by creating better-for-you plant based “junk food.”
Purposeful snacking has become one of the key trends shaping the food and beverage industry, which ties into the plant-based movement, according to research by Dupont Nutrition and Health. Peatos are a plant protein-based crunchy, puffed snack made of pulses that have twice the protein (4 grams) and three times the fiber (3 grams) of Cheetos® per serving. Peatos also boasts clean, non-GMO ingredients, has no artificial flavors, no synthetic colors and no added MSG. Striking flavors include the popular Classic Cheese, Fiery Hot, Chili Cheese, and Masala.
Peatos are currently available in the produce sections at Kroger and its banner stores including Cala Foods, City Markets, Copps, Dillons, FoodsCo, Fred Meyer Stores, Fry’s, King Soopers, Mariano’s Fresh Market, Metro Market, Pick ’n Save, QFC, Ralphs, Food 4 Less, and Smith’s, as well as Vons, Pavilions, Albertsons (SoCal), Safeway (NorCal), and online on Amazon. In addition to the traditional grocery channel, Peatos™ has developed a strong following in the office foodservice arena with several prominent tech companies serving Peatos on their campuses, and can even be found in green rooms from Hollywood to New York.
To reinforce the public’s positive reception of the brand, Peatos has won numerous awards, including the Editor’s Choice Award for Best Salty Snack from Supply Side CPG, Editor’s Pick Award from Progressive Grocer, and The Best New Product Award from Convenience Store News. Over the last few months, Peatos has captured nearly 5 million audience impressions with over 200 media hits in top tier outlets and trade and online publications, including Men’s Health, Wall Street Journal, Today, Cooking Light, The Los Angeles Times, and was recently featured as The Snack of The Day on a nationally syndicated health talk show, featuring TV’s most famous Doctor.
“On the heels of strong demand, Peatos is poised for massive growth in 2019, during which we plan to give away 1 million bags of product,” adds Desai. “We know that when consumers try Peatos, they fall in love and sales skyrocket! Obviously, we have ruffled the feathers, or should we say fur, of the corny cheetah, but let’s face it, tigers do live longer…and they are also stronger!”
ABOUT WORLD PEAS BRAND PEATOS
World Peas Brand™ Peatos is revolutionizing snacking by creating better-for-you plant based “junk food.” Peatos™ replaces the common corn or potato base in traditional chip style snacks, with a nutrient-dense, pulse base (e.g. peas and lentils). Peatos are a pulse-based crunchy puffed snack that delivers the bold flavor and big crunch snacking experience we all crave, without the empty-calories. Peatos aims to #unjunkyoursnack thanks 4 grams of plant-based protein and 3 grams of fiber per serving. Find us on Facebook.com/worldpeasbrand and on Twitter and Instagram @worldpeaspeatos.
Plant-based Protein Fans Across the U.S. are Giving World Peas™ Peatos a Chance.
A new disruptor in the snack industry is driving consumers to the produce section to satisfy their crunchy, salty cravings. Pea and lentil-based World Peas ™ Peatos ™ is captivating consumer taste buds across the country thanks to its bold flavor and better-for-you benefits. Peatos provide the combined taste of “junk -food” with plant-based nutrition, delivering a no-compromise snack. They are unique in salty snacking and can be found today the produce section.
Using pulses to create “junk” snacks is a game-changing revolution in snacking, according to founder and CEO of World Peas Peatos Nick Desai. Peatos replaces the traditional corn base used in many popular “junk” snacks, with a nutrient-dense pulse base (peas and lentils), and still delivers the same orange, cheesy goodness in a crunchy texture making it a junk food-tasting snack with tons of benefits.
As society demands healthier food items with no compromise in taste, especially in everyday snacks, companies like World Peas Brand are taking notice.
Consumers are also getting behind the movement of “better-for-you and the environment” options. Legumes [or pulses], such as beans, lentils, and peas are the most sustainable protein source on the planet. They require minimal amounts of water to grow, they can grow in harsh, dry climates, they grow in poor nations, providing food security. They act like a natural fertilizer as well, capturing nitrogen from the air and fixing it in the soil. Thus, there is less need for synthetic fertilizers. These are the types of protein sources we need to rely upon more often, according to Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian nutritionist, and plant-based food and sustainability expert based in Los Angeles.
As society demands healthier food items with no compromise in taste, especially in everyday snacks, companies like World Peas Brand are taking notice. Peatos has twice the protein (4 grams) and triple the fiber (3 grams) of Cheetos® per serving. The crunchy, salty snack also boasts clean, non-GMO ingredients, has no artificial flavors, no synthetic colors, and no added MSG. Flavors include the popular Classic Cheese, Fiery Hot, Chili Cheese, and Masala.
Peatos are currently available in the produce sections at Walmart (in the Northeast), Safeway (NorCal), Kroger and its banner stores including Cala Foods, City Markets, Copps, Dillons, FoodsCo, Fred Meyer Stores, Fry’s, King Soopers, Mariano’s Fresh Market, Metro Market, Pick ‘n Save, QFC, Ralphs, Food 4 Less, and Smith’s, as well as Vons, Pavilions, Albertsons (So Cal), and online on Amazon.