Calbee North America

Calbee North America endeavors to be the snack food company focused on ingredients, taste and transparency. Its primary product is the Harvest Snaps family of products that include Snapea Crisps and Lentil Snaps. These products come in several different flavors, with ingredients based on peas and lentils. But the company is always innovating new, tasty and healthy products. Soon it will be launching Whole Cuts, a potato-based product shaped like a french fry that crunches like a chip.

Calbee North America is a 50/50 joint venture owned by Calbee Inc. of Tokyo, Japan and R.D. Offutt (RDO) Company of Fargo, ND. Calbee Inc. is the largest snack maker in Japan, while RDO is the largest potato supplier in North America. The strategic partnership brings innovative products from Japan and RDO brings farm produce and business systems from America.

Calbee North America president, Gene Jensen reports to the board of directors, and is given a lot of leeway in achieving its goals and objectives.

“Part of our company mission statement is to treat the vendors of goods and services as valued partners,” says Gene Jensen, president of Calbee North America. “Our growth has been so rapid, which has been very good for our partners because their businesses have benefited.”

Transparency Throughout
Calbee’s rapid growth could be attributed to its marketing strategy, where it focuses more on social and digital media.

“We focus on long-term, sustainable trends and our digital platform allows us to do that,” explains Steve Kneepkens, vice president of sales and marketing at Calbee North America. “We spend a large percentage of our resources on organic growth, such as talking one-on-one with consumers. We do a lot of events and get into the communities, sponsoring local events. That way people can get out and shout about our products with other people.”

Calbee North America even has a loyalty club called the Snap Packers, whose members are “extraordinarily boisterous,” according to Kneepkens. They are the brand ambassadors on Calbee’s behalf, getting the word out on the ground level.

But Calbee North America is not simply targeting health-conscious people. It wants to find consumers who still enjoy snacking regularly that may be looking for a healthier alternative. “That generally falls into the millennial group but is not exclusive to a particular age or demographic,” Kneepkens says. “People that are looking for honest and simplified ingredients.”

And that shows through even on the packaging. The graphics are clean and simple and the bag’s message reinforces what’s actually inside the bag. “When I look at my bag our packaging, we’re highlighting the field of peas and we’re showing them not only the field but what a peapod looks like and what the product in the bag looks like,” Kneepkens says.

Due to this simplified, straightforward message, Calbee North America has even won awards for its packaging, along with 2015 Grocery Headquarters Trailblazer Award, 2014 Progressive Grocer Editor’s Pick for being “ahead of what’s next” and 2013 Gourmet Retailer Editor’s Pick award for Best New Product.

Because the product is made primarily of peas, it’s actually sold in the produce section of most stores. Many grocery retailers are focusing on the perimeters of the stores for fresher and more innovative products and Calbee’s products fall into that category.

“We’re making a product that we can be proud of and that makes a very positive difference,” Jensen says. “You can be proud to tell your friends you work for the company that makes these products.”

“The great thing about Calbee is that it wants to inspire you to be creative and it allows you to be creative because that allows us to drive innovation,” Kneepkens says. “Our culture reflects the products we sell: honest and transparent.”