Halfpops Aims To Take on Trail Mix with Off the Trail Launch

Carol Ortenberg

Sometimes, consumers want a vegan, high-protein, hemp-based, collagen-enhanced superfood snack. And sometimes they just want a better version of a familiar favorite. That’s what Sherbrooke Capital-backed snack brand Halfpops is betting on with the launch of a new brand, Off The Trail, aimed at on-the-go consumers.

The line will debut with two SKUs, Adventure Mix and Trek Mix, which will retail for between $1.79 to $1.99 for a single-serve 2 oz. bag. The adventure mix is a blend of Halfpops, chickpeas, chocolate and cherries, while the trek mix contains chickpeas, chocolate, cranberries, apples and seeds. President and COO Mike Watts told NOSH the goal is to shake up the sleepy trail mix category, which largely has been dominated by private label players who use commodity ingredients such nuts, raisins and candy-coated chocolate.

According to IRI data provided by Halfpops, in 2016 (when the line was conceived) the trail mix set was valued at a $1.1 billion dollar category growing at 6 percent year-over-year. The brand also cited Mintel data showing that 59 percent of American consumers in 2016 purchased Trail Mix, with expected sales of 10.6 billion by 2021 across nuts, seeds and trail mix categories.

“People don’t really eat the same way that they used to, Halfpops’ founder and CEO Mike Fitzgerald told NOSH. “A lot of people, especially younger people, are grazing more than they are sitting down to meals. Everybody is busy and that’s just normal now. I think trail mix has caught fire a little bit because of that.”

Off The Trail will aim to differentiate itself from the competition by eschewing nuts and being certified gluten-free in order to curry favor with allergen-sensitive consumers. The brand also uses non-GMO ingredients, a differentiator in a category that is largely populated by conventional brands including Hershey’s, Oberto and Planters. Halfpops has its own facility in Arizona and can roast everything in an allergen-free environment, its founder said.

Off the Trail carries a modern, clean look. Watts told NOSH that the company downplayed the brand name, relegating it to a smaller upper left presence, in favor of highlighting what was inside the packaging with an ingredient list on the bag’s front and a window into the bag itself.

“It’s highlighting what’s inside first,” Watts said. “Consumers want to know they are getting wholesome ingredients. It’s not necessarily about discovering the brand name, at least at the lifestage [Off the Trail is at] now.”

The new line is also aiming hard at single-serve experiences, a strategy that has evolved with its parent company. Halfpops, which is currently sold in roughly 10,000 retailers, launched in 2011. Fitzgerald originally thought the “half-popped popcorn” would be a social snack served in bowls at family gatherings — much like potato chips and popcorn are.

However, the company soon learned that Halfpops consumers preferred the snack on-the-go and appreciated that it held up better than potato chips or popcorn, which are easily crushed during travel.. The company kept the larger bags but launched a single serve in 2014, along with a rebrand, and switched both packages to a taller, skinnier format that made it easier for consumers to pour the kernels into their hands. Since its launch, the single-serve line — which Watts says is the company’s primary focus among the HalfPops brand — has a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 92 percent.

“Halfpops is a personal consumption item,” Watts said. “People eat it by the handful and the usage occasion is much more similar to nuts: grab-and-go.”

He hopes Off The Trail has a similar, portable focus on portable snacking. The brand will start with two SKUs but may expand to more. How it connects to the Halfpop brand in terms of packaging is also to be determined.

“We wanted to make a statement that trail mix has been the same thing forever and no one has interested on this category,” Watts said. “There are so many options, now that we have [this] platform… there’s a lot of things that we can do and there’s a lot of excitement around the flexibility of where this can go next.”


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