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Technical challenges

One of the technical challenges Johan (Commercial Director Van der Meulen) 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.”

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. 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, which is first met by most marketing professionals with slight bewilderment. “It was a bit scary at first, standing out with Say Yes 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 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.”