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Say Yes To No? That’s a weird name…

Yes, we know. But we wanted a name that said something about what our product is: bread chips are a snack that you can say yes to. They are all natural. Nothing more, but also nothing less. Because it doesn’t contain all those things you probably would rather say no to. And we believe people have basically had enough of slippery marketing claims and empty advertising promises.

Bread chips? Never heard of them.

That’s because they’re completely new. Proudly developed by us in our family bakery in Hallum, a village in the north of the Netherlands. So what? I hear you say. Well… Apart from the fact that they taste great, Say Yes To No bread chips really are less fatty than potato chips. They also have no artificial flavourings or additives. So while we’re not going to pretend for a minute that Say Yes To No are some kind of health or power food, it does make them rather more natural than traditional chips (not difficult, we admit).

Busy? Lazy? Slow reader? Here you go: the quick version

NO, not a health food or going to make your dreams come true.

YES less unhealthy, less fatty and more honest. Say Yes To No. Natural as bread, tasty as chips.

3 great flavours. Nothing more.

Dutch Gouda breadchips

Dutch
gouda

A simple taste that’s simply tasty. Dutch Gouda’s flavoursome without being overwhelming. Say NO to artificial flavours or colouring and YES to the real taste of the countryside.

Sour
cream
& onion

Nothing to get sour about here. This classic combo comes on all fresh with just a hint of a kick. And with NO artificial flavours or colouring, they’re a lot more natural too. Oh YES.

Sour Cream breadchips

BBQ breadchips

BBQ

These guys have bark and bite. A truly sizzling combination. And there’s more good news: YES we avoid all artificial flavours and colouring, and NO they don’t taste like Dad burnt them.

Sounds tasty, but what’s in them?

While we’d never call them light, being made out of bread and toasted rather than fried, Say Yes To No are less fatty than potato chips. Only natural ingredients are used, so unlike most snacks they have no artificial flavours, unappetizing additives such as MSG, or unnatural colouring.

So instead of that ‘moreish’ feeling you get with traditional potato chips, where you end up grazing through huge piles of chips without ever feeling satisfied, when you eat Say Yes To No bread chips you start to feel full. Which is only natural, after all.

For those interested, here’s a list of exactly what’s in Say Yes To No.

 

The birth of the bread chip: why Say Yes To No had to happen

Johan Bruinsma was a snack and beverage industry diehard. A salesman with a talent for persuading us to pile our shopping trolleys high with traditional chips. But then a combination of circumstances led him to wonder whether there couldn’t —and shouldn’t — be another way to go.

“Listen, I’m the last person to want to change the world.” says Johan, Commercial Director at Van Der Meulen, the makers of Say Yes To No. “I’m just a very down-to-earth guy, happy to be working for a very down-to-earth family business. But I have always believed that if you can make a product better, you should. And after a while I just came to see that, in the case of chips, that meant doing things differently.”

From corporate man…

For many years, Johan Bruinsma was a successful sales director at PepsiCo and later Hero. “Don’t get me wrong, I loved my time at those companies, which are full of good people just doing their best. But while I was there we began to realise that things needed to change in the way we produced and marketed chips and other snack foods.”

So why the need for change? Aside from all the artificial colouring and flavouring, a key issue for Johan is how producers give their snacks that familiar ‘moreish’ quality that has you grazing through huge quantities of chips without ever feeling satisfied. Most traditional chips contain a lot of MSG, which gives chips that added umami taste that intensifies the savoury flavour of foods, but that some (though to be fair not all) experts believe also has addictive qualities.

Whether that’s true, Johan feels there’s something unnatural about the fact that with most potato chips, when you eat more you don’t feel less hungry. “When you eat a few Say Yes To No bread chips, you start to feel full, just like you do with other normal food. That’s got to be healthier, if only in terms of obesity issues.”

Johan soon realized, however, that it would be difficult if not impossible for the big players in the industry to really change their ways. “First, the drivers will always be profit and volume. Moreover, managers are always answerable to more senior managers, who in turn are answerable to shareholders. In the end, the big decisions are made a long way from the consumer. No matter how committed your technical, sales or marketing people may be, they’re not in a position to challenge the basic principles behind why you’re trying to sell these chips. Not because they’re bad people, but because abstract economic drivers like volume and profit remain the basis of the business model. If you don’t follow them as a corporation, your business isn’t sustainable.”

…to family man

Fortunately for Johan, there are still companies around with other business models. And even more fortunately, in 2009 he got the chance to join one. “When I was offered the position of Commercial Director at Van der Meulen it wasn’t a difficult decision. It was a genuine family-owned business, which appealed to me. And it was near our home in Friesland in the rural north of the Netherlands, and commuting to work with a family with two young boys was becoming a real strain.”

Given his background, it wasn’t long before Johan saw a gap in the market that Van der Meulen might be able to fill. He knew from industry research there are six snacking moments in the average person’s day. Over the decades, Van der Meulen had become world beaters in traditional baker’s products, toasts and breads on which you spread paste, cheese, jam, etc. But these are more or less exclusively used by people at just two of those snacking moments (breakfast and lunch). “I thought, what if we can produce a natural bread product that people will eat at other snacking moments, like in the evening watching TV or with drinks, as an alternative to chips?”

Technical challenges

One of the technical challenges Johan immediately faced concerned flavour. Being bakers, his colleagues immediately reached for flavours that traditionally work well with bread, such as tomato or olives. But the snacking industry offers flavours like cheese and BBQ that tend to appeal to people more at those chip snacking moments.

“So I said, let’s try to make a snack using those flavours. But from the start I was determined that it had to be natural: no artificial flavours, no MSG, no quick-wins.” The trouble is, as Johan soon discovered, when a baker flavours something he chucks it in with the dough. “But I knew that wouldn’t work. For technical reasons, the flavour has to be added to the outside of a chip for it to have that added umami taste effect people love.”

In addition to his colleagues at Van der Meulen, Johan drew on his extensive network to get some of the industry’s best technical people to apply their know-how to the problem. Nevertheless, it was still some 2-3 years before finally the team produced a bread chip with no artificial flavours or colourings that tasted great, in 3 flavours that Johan and his colleagues were convinced people would love.

Little guys in a tough world

Cue the next big challenge. Don’t let the smiley-happy people in the commercials kid you: the multi-billion dollar snacking industry is hard as nails. Obviously big companies have big marketing budgets, but it can also get dirty. For example, in some markets companies don’t only pay retailers to place their products in the most strategic locations in the store. They also ensure the competition’s products are shoved away in places people won’t see them. In short, Johan knew that to compete it wasn’t going to be enough that the product itself was different, and even a bit healthier.

But he did have one advantage over the big boys. When developing something genuinely new, at a family business you sometimes get something you never get at big corporations, where products have to deliver bottom-line results within months — time. Johan and his colleagues could plan properly how to introduce their new product into the market. And he knew what the first step had to be: listen to the consumer.

Listen first

“I’m a consumer myself, one with children. I knew we mustn’t make the mistake many so-called ‘healthier’ products make, of telling the public what they need. I wanted to hear what people thought of the chip industry, and see if maybe our product could meet some of their needs.”

Together with the agency Increation, Johan ran some sessions with consumers (“Actually, I like to think of the people who helped us out so much in these sessions by their first names, rather than as ‘consumers’”). But whether they came from the UK, the US, the Netherlands or Germany, Nathalie, Ingrid, Janet and everyone else were all saying the same thing. And with a ferocity that Johan and the people from Increation had never seen from consumers before.

Really different

“They were pretty angry, actually. And what it boiled down to was that they felt they just couldn’t see the wood for the trees any more when it came to all the empty and often misleading health, low-fat and other claims chip manufacturers were making. We realised that to help people see the wood for the trees, our product would have to stand out and be clearly different in every way possible.”

They started with the packaging, which is made of paper. “Not material made to look like it’s paper to create a fake ‘recycling’ effect — no, genuine paper. We’re still working on creating a paper inner lining but there, too, we want to be honest and open about it. We’re not going to hint that our packaging is all paper when it isn’t. We really do want to do things a little differently.”

What’s in a name?

Next was the name, Say Yes To No, which is first met by most marketing professionals with slight bewilderment. What sort of a name is that? It’s not slick, shiny-happy or hip-healthy. It’s not cynically targeting a market segment. It’s… what is it actually? Which was pretty much the reaction Johan and his colleagues had hoped for.

“It was a bit scary at first, standing out with Say Yes To No at those early industry trade shows. But we quickly realised we were standing out in the right way. Retailers were intrigued at first, and on closer inspection liked what they heard. Which wasn’t so surprising, as good retailers listen to their customers, too. They knew that, while this product wasn’t going to change the world, once people saw it they’d want to try it.”

And the retailers were right. Sales are going well and reactions have been positive from everyone from people on the street to Jamie Oliver. “When he offered Say Yes To No a stand at Jamie Oliver’s annual Big Feastival, we were really thrilled. Because apart from being a global cooking phenomenon, he’s also a dedicated campaigner for sensible healthier eating, especially for kids.”

It’s only a chip but…

“When all’s said and done, we’re only talking about a bread chip here. Nevertheless, if I see someone enjoying my product, I feel proud. Especially as I know it’s a good choice and other chips are a bit less healthy. And I do have a (modest) dream. That one day soon, all retailers with whom we do business will have a special section on one of their aisles with all the products (not just ours) that people can be confident are better for them than products outside that section. Less fat, less additives, less colourings, whatever.”

And Johan is optimistic about the future. “Consumers have been crying out for some time now, not just for healthier products but for more transparency and… honesty from food manufacturers. And slowly but surely, I do see changes. If Say Yes To No can make even a small contribution to that, then up here in Friesland you’ll find some very happy bakers.”

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