Nick Desai’s bi-cultural Indian American upbringing was the impetus for the creation of PeaTos®, a better version of America’s favorite “junk food” snacks.
The founder and CEO of this pea-based snack company and I shared an enjoyable conversation about our experiences as first generation immigrants and food “apasionados.” We reminisced about visits to our homelands with our parents, and about how we experienced our own birth countries through the prism of our American upbringing. We talked about taking in the aromas, observing our homelands’ intrinsic palate for pure ingredients and listening to others speak our native language, all the while, thinking about how to bring some of our culture back to America.
Let’s get started.
How did culture influence the origin of your pure idea?
My ability to witness two cultures simultaneously with a direct correlation to food and snacking served as the inspiration. If it weren’t for my Indian American culture, the idea may not have come to me. As bicultural Americans, we see how culture influences a marketable idea in the U.S. such as coconut water, a favorite among Korean and Hispanic Americans for years. Most of these food/beverage products are a bigger business opportunity here than in the country of their origin. Take my food culture – the vast majority of the “chickpea” ingredient brands are led by Indian entrepreneurs – Good Bean, Biena, Saffron Roll. This staple eaten by the masses in India is considered a healthy snack among affluent Americans. What is taken for granted in our culture is enticing within the American culture. While plant-based burger popularity rises in the US, Indians want real hamburgers.
Why did you pursue a healthier option to snacking?
We pursued the trend toward cleaner, better eating, by creating an analogue of America’s favorite snacks. Even though American consumers are becoming more health-conscious, they’re not necessarily sacrificing taste. It’s an overarching strategy to satisfy the genetic hard wire with a healthier option of what they enjoy eating. We have easy access to everything we want. We can get anything anywhere here. You can buy fresh fruits like bananas and strawberries at convenience stores like 7-Eleven. That’s not the case in many other countries.
Instead of preaching to eat healthy, PeaTos® offers a better “junk food” snack without the junk option. It’s literally like eating Cheetos, but cleaner and better. We’re not pretending to be healthy. If you’re a junk food eater, PeaTos® is better “junk food.” Hence, we are creating a new category of snacks that are essentially better “junk food.”
Why are peas a better option than corn, especially for kids?
Peas are more nutrient dense, because they fall within the ingredient class of legumes. Higher in protein and fiber than corn. For example, Cheetos® is roughly two-thirds corn, but when you’re buying Cheetos® – it’s not about the corn – it just so happens it’s a low-cost ingredient to make the base.
The beauty of marketing to kids right now is that human taste buds are not fixed. They can change and evolve. The value claim is conditioned. We see it with tons of moms who email us about how their kids will only eat “junk food” like Cheetos and now love eating PeaTos®. They still enjoy the genetic stuff intrinsic in snacking – fat and salt.
We can raise an entire generation on Peatos®!
Did your cultural taste buds influence any of your flavor options?
Early on we launched a masala flavor as a nod to the culture. While our customers enjoyed the masala flavored PeaTos®, they gravitated to the flavors they were used to snacking on. We’re already convincing them to swap their Cheetos for PeaTos® – we’d rather stick to the basics for now and not expand with niche flavors.
My advice to food entrepreneurs is “core flavors bring in big dollars.”
Let’s discuss spices and chilis in your salty flavored assortment.
Spices such as turmeric can be a good natural source of color and, also have health benefits, but that is not core to our product or marketing. PeaTos® is about staying natural – not artificial. But overall, we are focused on the broad appeal mainstream flavors. Again, I would encourage food entrepreneurs to consider scalability – avoid being too niche. We don’t believe our product offering needs to market based on cultural seasoning. We are revolutionizing the category with our new style of Better “junk food” snacking. The bigger brands need to push unique flavors to gain market consideration and publicity. The media needs new exciting flavors and things to talk about – no one is going to get excited about a new ranch flavor. Yet, broad traditional mainstream flavors are still a vast majority of category sales.
Build the majority before the minority.
Share the convenience of ordering directly for home delivery.
Where are people hanging out these days – they’re hanging out on mobile. Post- pandemic, we have had tremendous growth online. The pandemic forced consumers who never bought online to move online – especially since they are spending a lot more time at home. At this point, most of us are buying food, or having product delivered to our homes and cooking at home.
Share the power of culture.
Culture is incredibly important. It teaches you to see life from a different perspective – unique to first generation immigrants. First generation immigrants experience their parents talking in their native tongue, cooking their traditional foods, and watching their favorite movies in their native language. It’s a wonderful gift to see different things from different people. As I get older, I realize culture is an asset – there isn’t just one approach.
Culture allows one to be uniquely well rounded.
In my personal experience, the American Dream is very much alive and kicking.