The ‘humble’ potato gets a sustainable makeover
By Nithya CalebBusiness Operations Bake & Snack Food Editor pick Humble Potato Chips Humble Snacks Ontario packaging sustainability
Humble Snacks, Inc., is disrupting the snack industry with the Humble Potato Chips, Canada’s first plastic-free packaged, organic potato chips.
Founded by Jeff and Alicia Lahey, the chips—made from locally sourced, organic potatoes—are traditionally cooked with the skins and lightly dusted with seasoning. The birth of their son, Wilder, in 2017 motivated Jeff and Alicia to help people continue to enjoy fun, delicious foods but not to the detriment of the planet or their health. The husband-wife duo then began a five-year journey that ended with the launch of Humble Snacks, Inc. By offering consumers the chance to buy savoury snacks in compostable packaging, the couple hopes Humble Snacks will be one of the CPG companies that puts purpose ahead of profit.
Both Alicia and Jeff are not new to the packaged foods industry. One of the roles she held in her 20-year career was vice-president of sales and innovation at a CPG company. Jeff has been a food and beverage sales executive with more than 20 years of experience gained while working at companies like Amplify Snacks Brands, Guru Organic Energy, and Frito-Lay. In an e-interview, Alicia and Jeff share their journey so far and future plans.
What inspired you to start Humble Potato Chips and when did you start it?
Years ago, we realized that there were not any organic potato chips in Canada that were cooked light and crispy. We knew from our past, working at Canada’s largest salty snack company, that light and crispy, traditionally cooked potato chips are the largest portion of the total potato chip category sales. It would be a great opportunity if we could launch a product like that. But first, we had to solve the Achilles heel of the packaged food industry—plastic packaging! We quickly decided that we would only launch Humble Potato Chips if it could be packaged in plastic-free compostable bags. It has taken five years to get the packaging to a place where it could be commercialized. We persevered through many failed attempts, and in February 2022, we launched Humble Potato Chips in the Canadian market.
What types of products/flavours do you sell?
We sell five flavours of light and crispy, traditionally cooked, certified organic, gluten-free potato chips. The five flavours are: the Original (lightly salted), sea salt and apple cider vinegar, BBQ, creamy dill and honey mustard.
Where are these products manufactured?
We manufacture our chips in Ontario and our organic potatoes are locally grown in Ontario as well.
What challenges did you encounter on your food entrepreneurial journey?
What didn’t we encounter? Ha! Ha! The packaging was by far the largest roadblock to overcome. We are pioneers in certified plastic-free compostable packaging and with that, comes a lot of trial and error. We tested at least eight different versions of this type of packaging before landing on the one we would commercialize, and even then, we had an issue with our first production run that went out to stores. Once the bags landed on store shelves, we quickly noticed an odd wrinkle pattern on the outside of the bag. Upon testing, we determined that grocery stores have extremely low humidity compared to food labs and homes in the coldest of Canadian winters. Our bags are made from plants, and when a plant dries out, it shrivels up (think of a dry carrot, which is full of wrinkles). Essentially, one layer in our bag dried out a bit and created this wrinkle. While it was not harmful to the product inside the bag, it was devastating to see an esthetic issue with our beautiful snack bags. We have fixed the issue, and new bags are starting to hit the market now. Besides the packaging issue, supply chain delays, ingredient shortages, cost increases and logistic challenges are a weekly occurrence. We are doing a really great job of mitigating those challenges and working closely and respectfully with our partners, but as with any entrepreneurial journey, challenges are always present.
What’s unique about the company and the product?
At Humble, we have put sustainability at the core of our values. We want to leave this Earth in a better place for future generations. Humble Snacks is our way of giving back to the environment through the work that we do. Quite simply, we lead with purpose, not profit.
Humble Potato Chips are the only organic potato chip on the North American market that is cooked light and crispy. Most of the better-for-you potato chips are kettle cooked, or hand-cooked, as some might call them. We prefer our chips crispy, not overtly crunchy. Coupled with our chef-created, gently seasoned, organic, gluten-free, lower in sodium seasoning blends, Humble Potato Chips aims for quality with its delightful snacking experience. We like to let the organic potato shine through and feel like our seasonings are just the perfect touch to create a delicious palatable experience. Of course, our chips are also packed in plastic-free and compostable bags, the only potato chip in North America to do so.
Where are your products sold?
We are so grateful to be available in over 700 stores across Canada. Many natural and independent retailers like Whole Foods, Goodness Me, Community Natural Foods and Natures Fare along with other major retailers like Loblaws, Zehrs and Superstores stock our products.
How are you managing supply chain issues?
Taking things one day at a time and fostering authentic honest relationships with our partners. Timing is everything so we’re trying to stay ahead by ordering materials with more than enough lead time and sourcing backup suppliers and ingredients to ensure we don’t run out!
What are your future plans?
Humble Potato Chips is just the beginning for us. We hope to develop other salty snack products and even potentially other categories, always in plastic-free compostable packaging. We also hope to help other companies secure sustainable packaging for their brands. It is so encouraging to see how many people have reached out to us to learn more about sustainable packaging. We are here to help however we can!
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