Based in Santo Domingo in Ecuador, the gourmet snack maker’s plantain, cassava and tannia chips can be found in more than 35 countries worldwide, from South America, the US and Canada to the UK, France, Italy, Switzerland and the Caribbean.
Mónica Alatorre, marketing manager at Samai, said the company wanted to double business in volume terms over the next five years, upping bag sales to 30 million per year.
“We’ve already started work on the re-packing operation in the US - in Florida as it’s a natural entrance to South America. That plant should be open around July or August this year. Then in 2015 we should start re-packing in Europe,” she told BakeryandSnacks.com at Sweets & Snacks Expo 2014 in Chicago, last month, where the company showcased two new products - Jungle Root chips and Artisan Plantain chips.
The European location had not yet been confirmed, she said, but France, Spain and the UK were all of interest.
“Having two re-packing facilities will give us a lot more flexibility,” she said, particularly as demand grew for pack size variety – from club and supermarket to vending sizes. In addition, she said retailers tended to prefer ordering products locally. “They don’t want the hassle of having to source from South America.”
Samai was currently looking for external investors to fund its expansion program.
Europe promise: ‘They’re accustomed to ethnic’
Europe, in particular, held a lot of growth promise for Samai because of consumer taste profiles and familiarity with ethnic foods, Alatorre said. “With most markets, we enter through the ethnic sector, or natural.”
She said European consumers were particularly eager about Samai’s snacks because they were already accustomed to ethnic foods and were also becoming increasingly aware of healthier and more natural foods.
Turkey too held great promise, she added. “Turkish consumers are really accepting of our products. I guess they have a palate for gourmet food. They don’t eat as many bananas as Europeans, but they have a palate for new flavors being situated in the middle of Europe and Asia.”
Currently, Europe comprised around 30-40% of Samai’s global business in volume terms, Alatorre said, but the aim was to drive that to at least 60% over the next five years.
Manual production important to keep amid expansion
Samai’s snacks were manufactured in Ecuador – sourcing all raw materials from local, family-run certified farms – but a lot of the processing happened by hand.
“It’s interesting. No-one has been able to make a machine that can open a banana plantain properly, so that’s a process we do manually,” Alatorre said. The cassava plants were also peeled by hand, she explained.
Asked if manual production would be sustainable amid expansion, she said: “We could try and find machines, but we try to help the community as much as possible and we know there are a lot of people who need work in that area.”
Maintaining that manual labor would be a priority amid growth, she said.