Dan Kaminski is pretty tired of pressed date bars. The head of product at Wheyhey is on a mission to shake up the snacking category, making healthy eating affordable and accessible to everyone.
The UK brand’s latest foray in this area is its Chocolate Crispy Clusters, made with whey and pea protein. Sweetened with maltitol and sugar, these bites offer reduced calories and increased protein, as well as marking Wheyhey’s debut in the confectionery aisle.
Kaminski tells Food Spark that the brand had been looking at ways to do something different in the market and originally considered something like a healthy version of a Malteser ball, but decided Clusters were a bit more fun.
“It’s easy to do a brownie or a bar, but retailers and buyers get hundreds and hundreds of these things across their desk. We’ve spoken to them and they say half of them just go straight in the bin, because it’s just too much and there’s not a lot of differentiating factors between a lot of them – they are just nut and pressed date bars marketed in slightly different ways,” he says.
“We wanted to do something really different and obviously snacking is on the up big time, especially sweet snacking. We wanted to do a proper on-the-go product that you could eat with one hand and pop it back in your pocket… The next part was making it low sugar and high protein, which was actually really tough to do, but eventually, working with our partners Kerry, we managed to lean on their expertise and come up with something.”
The Clusters were 18 months in the making, with the low sugar part of the product causing the biggest headache, particularly as whey has a small amount of lactose in it, which Kaminski says doesn’t affect blood sugar but still counts towards the sugar total.
“That was probably the biggest challenge – finding a way to coat the product and also use ingredients that were top quality. It would be very easy to use soy protein crisp, but we wanted to use something that was actually good for you, rather than sacrificing the nutritional benefits to make a few pence on the product,” he explains.
“That’s why we used whey and pea protein as the crisp centre. No one is doing that at the moment, so it was going through the process of having that combined. It’s a brand-new manufacturing process.”
Taste was equally important in the development of the product, which was designed to hold its own in the confectionery aisle alongside chocolate bars.
Having learned from issues around the naming of the brownie range – originally called ‘Wheyhey not so square,’ which confused consumers – the team borrowed ‘clusters’ from the cereal aisle, utilising a term that was already familiar to shoppers.
New ice cream flavours and chilled snacks
Kaminski says the snacking scene has changed considerably at the front of stores since Wheyhey launched, when there was really only Bounce making a play for consumers in the health category.
“Now there is a lot of different products cropping up, but I wouldn’t call them all healthy,” he notes. “I’ve seen the natural trend at the moment with products like Naked, but I think consumers are wising up to that fact that these products have quite a lot of sugar in them. I think we are in a good position where we offer that protein benefit but also low sugar as well.”
The NPD head honcho believes the same USP holds true for Wheyhey’s sugar-free, high-protein ice creams – a category pioneered by Halo Top but now also filled with bigger brands like Ben & Jerry’s as well as retailer own-label ranges.
“I can see that people are becoming more educated that it’s more than just calories, it’s about what’s in it and the sugar content as well, so we will continue to push our ‘no sugar’ message as the main thing and it’s definitely a differentiator for us,” he says.
“We try and add value back into the category right now, because between Halo Top and Breyers it’s a bun fight as to who can promote the most and push the most volume. Consumers will buy one or the other depending on who’s on promotion, which isn’t a sustainable model. When we look at all our NPD, we are sticking to our guidelines that no sugar and protein are the most important things.”
Kaminski says he has a list of 10 flavours he would love to add to the ice cream range, including cinnamon, hazelnut, chocolate mint and chocolate coconut, while with the brownies (which entered Asda two months ago) he is looking at different formats, such as multipacks and sharing bags.
One thing the brand won’t be attempting anytime soon is frozen yoghurt, following a flop debut in 2014.
“We released very briefly a frozen yoghurt push-up. It was in a plastic tub with a stick at the bottom to push it up to come out and it was cool flavours like pina colada and bubblegum,” he recalls. “It was great but the commercials didn’t stack up in the end – and also frozen yoghurt is a declining market and people didn’t really understand it, even though it was sugar-free.”
Wheyhey still has its eyes set on the chilled snacking category, but Kaminski is tight-lipped as to what form this will take, saying only that the project is still in its early stages.