Popchips CEO Keith Belling didn't want to just make and sell a new brand of the same old snack; he wanted to create a whole new category.
In the five years since Belling's company started making Popchips in San Francisco, it has become one of the fastest-growing snack brands on the market, expected to record $100 million in sales this year.
And today, the chips go on sale in the United Kingdom, where snack consumption per capita is second in the world after the United States. Waitrose, the British version of Whole Foods, will carry the brand in its 300 stores.
Keith and his partner, Pat Turpin, visited a rice cake manufacturing business and realized they could use the company's air-popping technology (the same as making popcorn) to pop potato chips. So in 2005, they bought the private-label rice cake manufacturer near Los Angeles. For a year and a half, they continued to make the rice cakes to pay the bills while focusing on developing Popchips.
After numerous tests and trials, they came up with a winning formula. They turned potatoes into tiny pellets, which they could then pop using heat and pressure. They didn't need to use oil - just a little for the seasoned coating - or a deep fryer or even an oven. The result: snacks with less than a third of the fat of fried chips and about 40 fewer calories per serving. But it's the taste that got Belling and Turpin the most excited.
"We weren't trying to beat people over the head with 'this is a better-for-you product,' " said Turpin, 45, the company's president. "It's not that difficult to create healthful foods. What's tricky is coming up with healthful foods that taste good."