Founder Liliana Cantrell calls it “a line of better-for-you potato chips made from sweet potatoes”.
Using only three simple ingredients—sweet potatos, a hint of coconut oil and salt, the chips are free of any allergens, artificial preservatives, gluten and excessive oils and fats. And, they are air-fried, keeping that satisfying crunch with less calories.
The three available flavors are sea salt, spicy chocolate and cheddar.
Based out of Apex, Southern Snacks was recently one of 15 startups awarded a $10K MICRO grant from NC IDEA. Other local grant recipients include Tempo Brew, Beeloo, HeirShares and LoPo Diveskins. (The links are to previous GrepBeat stories.) Cantrell said they are actively applying for more grant funding.
Sourced directly from local farms, the food brand buys the ‘ugly’ potatoes, which are those that don’t meet ‘cosmetic standards.’ These potatoes would otherwise be discarded and never reach the store. This is one of the various reasons that result in the 30% of global food loss at harvest and production stage, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
This fuels Southern Snack’s mission of sustainability and reducing food waste, Cantrell said.
Since their launch in May last year, she said Southern Snacks is up to selling 2,000 units per month. Their potato chips are available on their website, Amazon.com and Walmart.com.
The Inspiration Behind Southern Snacks
In 2015, Cantrell started Sweetie Pie Organics, a line of organic functional foods for moms and babies, sold at Walmart, Grocery Channel, Buy Buy Baby, Bed Bath and Beyond, Target.com and Amazon.com.
The company was acquired by Missouri-based Hand-Craft Company, the company behind Dr. Brown’s Baby Bottle, in 2021.
Coming off her exit, Cantrell started building a B2B spin-off from Sweetie Pie called iMama, a digital health platform where new mothers can request lactation consulting on-demand while at work. It received some early recognition, including from GrepBeat’s 2021 Startups To Watch. However, it ultimately failed to pass ‘proof of concept.’
“I started iMama because I thought that technology was where the future buyer was,” she said, “but my passion was still in the food industry.”
Back in the Sweetie Pie days, Cantrell found the younger generation to be passionate about brands with a purpose of sustainability, plus to be health conscious.
“Those are our early adopters,” she said. “That’s why I started Southern Snacks.”
From Retail to e-Commerce
With food and beverage being a challenging and complex industry to navigate, Sweetie Pie Organics has given Cantrell a number of lessons to build Southern Snacks. One of them being its go-to market strategy.
With Sweetie Pie, Cantrell said they immediately to national distribution because they wanted to grow fast.
“But, for a small brand, it’s really hard to sustain this growth and optimize,” she said.
So, with Southern Snacks, Cantrell said she and her team are focusing on customer discovery and e-commerce, rather than physical retail. It is much easier to get the product to the customer and to collect feedback.
“With e-commerce, you know who your customer is, you can track their behavior, you know how often they are buying, and if they don’t come back, you always can learn why,” she said. “As a brand, you want to know what (customers) don’t like about your product.”
With physical retail, this two-way communication and feedback is typically not available. It is also takes about 12 to 18 months for a product to actually hit the shelves.
Not to say going to physical stores is wrong, Cantrell said, but she believes that the right move for smaller brands, like hers, is to start with e-commerce, and in the meantime develop relationships with retailers.
By the end of this year, Southern Snacks is planning on adding two new flavors, sea salt vinegar and barbecue.