IFT talks to Sarah Wallace, co-founder of innovative chickpea-based snack company The Good Bean, as she shares the expertise and ingenuity behind the brand

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In virtually any consumer industry, it’s often the simplest ideas that really take off, especially when they arrive at the right time and are backed by savvy marketing. As Steve Jobs famously said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Veteran natural foods marketer Sarah Wallace was well aware of this when she launched her line of roasted chickpea snacks under The Good Bean brand in 2010. Having worked with companies such as Clif Bar, Kashi, Bear Naked, Think Products, and PopChips, Wallace was already well acquainted with her health-conscious, discerning target market and introduced this genuinely nutritious product at a time when pulse-based snack foods were just beginning to catch on.

While the company has introduced new flavors to the mix — mesquite BBQ, Thai coconut, sweet cinnamon and chocolate, for example — and ventured into the popular fruit and nut bar category (in this case replacing nuts with chickpeas), the core concept of marketing unprocessed, tasty chickpeas has remained constant. Wallace says her business partner Suzanne Slatcher, who had previously worked at Pixar Animation Studios on such films as Toy Story 3, Finding Nemo and Up, has been an important asset, contributing her “love of playful storytelling to The Good Bean brand image and marketing.”

IFT recently spoke to Sarah Wallace about her experiences in the natural foods industry, how The Good Bean came to be and what the future holds for this exciting culinary trend.

IFT: Tell us a little about your background in the natural foods industry and what led you, on both a personal and professional level, to start The Good Bean.

Sarah Wallace: I’ve worked in the natural foods industry my whole career, starting at Clif Bar Inc., and then working on a whole bunch of companies such as Kashi and ThinkThin. It’s such a great industry, and we’re at a great point in its lifecycle, truly a time of innovation and cultural change. Starting The Good Bean was a natural follow-up to a decade plus spent building innovative brands and seeing the success they enjoyed in the marketplace.

IFT: How did you come up with the concept for packaged roasted chickpea snacks? Was there a specific moment when a light bulb went off and you thought “hey this is a great idea”?

Sarah Wallace: I grew up eating roasted chickpeas, and once I joined the dots between the amazing protein and fiber benefits of chickpeas, with the growing demand for salty, crunchy snacks, it was a no-brainer!

IFT: There seem to be more and more pulse-derived products on the market these days. Do you think this may be a passing trend or are these products really here to stay? Why?

Sarah Wallace:  I do think bean and pulse based foods and snacks are here to stay. It seems logical, given how inexpensive these foods are, how flexible to various flavors and eating experience, how genuinely full of nutrition, and how sustainable they are as a food group.

IFT: Do you think roasted chickpeas could eventually become the kind of snack that every American household has in their cupboard, like tortilla chips or pretzels? Why or why not?

Sarah Wallace: I do think that’s possible, and we’re witness to that change every day with the types of retailers who now carry our products. Mapping the history of hummus I think is proof enough that the American palate is very much in an exploratory place relative to historical eating habits.

IFT: Do you believe there is a risk that the big name food manufacturers will jump on the bandwagon and try exploit the public’s perception of pulse ingredients as a healthy alternative, i.e. using them as a selling point to market the same old junk food? How can smaller independent producers compete, remain true to their mission, etc. in the years to come?  

Sarah Wallace: The wonderful thing about retailers such as Whole Foods, and educated consumers, and really, the Internet, is that consumers are savvier and more engaged with their food choices than ever before. Consumers are way too smart to buy into subterfuge for too long, and big name food manufacturers are run by smart people who want to maintain a trusted relationship with their marketplace for many years to come. As such, I think the entire food industry is slowly but surely evolving to meet higher standards.

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Photo: The Good Bean’s newest addition — Bean Chips with sweet potato and red quinoa. Bean Chips are primarily pulse-based using an exclusive protein blend of chickpeas, navy beans, and red lentils for the perfect crispy tortilla-style chip.

IFT: In your view, what makes a great pulse-derived product from both a marketing standpoint and when considering the product itself?

Sarah Wallace: Actual nutrition, in other words, nutrition from whole, unprocessed pulses, so that you enjoy all the protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that pulses provide. That and taste. No one is going to eat pulse snacks that don’t taste good.

IFT: Tell us about the role of your business partner Suzanne Slatcher. How has her background in computer animation been an asset to The Good Bean?

Sarah Wallace: Suzanne’s background in animation has been an amazing asset for The Good Bean, in the expected ways (creative direction), and also unexpected (operations/finance). It turns out that animators have that perfect left brain/right brain mix of art skills and programming/mathematical skills that translate amazingly well into operations systems planning and financial modeling. She’s our secret weapon!

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Fast Company published an article on Pixar’s most creative alums with quotes from Suzanne Slatcher, as she talks about her transition from animation to health food marketing.

“Business is just an idea, like a movie,” says Slatcher. “What if we did this in this place at this time, in this style of packaging, with this choice of flavors? Would it work? There’s still a back and forth between creative and the audience, and you can’t be like ‘if I build it, they will come.’ No, we’re in a democratic world where everyone has opinions. If you’re making your cartoon and your joke’s not funny, it’s just not funny, it has to go. If people don’t like a flavor, they’re right, we’re not right.” — Suzanne Slatcher, co-founder of The Good Bean

Article published in Fast Company, click HERE!

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Packaging design for the new roasted chickpea flavors; Thai coconut lemongrass, chocolate, and mesquite BBQ.
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The fruit and no-nut bars use roasted chickpeas instead of nuts, naturally high in fiber and a good source of protein.
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Photo (left to right): Suzanne Slatcher and Sarah Wallace

IFT: Where are your chickpeas sourced? Do you have one main supplier or do you use multiple suppliers as your demand requires it?

Sarah Wallace: Our chickpeas are 100% grown in the USA. We work with a network of grower partners based on our needs.

IFT: Where are you seeing demand for your products internationally? What big untapped markets do you think are out there for The Good Bean and other pulse-derived snack products?

Sarah Wallace: I certainly see Europe, Australia and the Middle East as being key markets for bean based snacks.

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