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Dispatches from European Sandwich and Snack show

Real crisp success underlines consumer shift to hand-cooked crisps

By Lindsey Partos , 05-Mar-2009

Spotting a market opportunity ten years ago, John Mudd set out to create an alternative to mass-produced crisps, building a business that today sees 2.5 million packs of Real hand-cooked crisps sold each week in the UK.

"My objective was to design a crisp that tasted of potato, and my selling concept was 'why pay 40p for ordinary crisps when you can eat hand-cooked for the same price?" said Mudd, now a consultant to the firm he created after selling the business to Irish food firm Tayto.

 

Price was key to tackling the fiercely competitive crisp market: Real crisps entered the marketplace with its prices on a par with the mass-produced versions.

 

Mudd hit the trend for thicker, hand-cooked crisps at the beginning of the curve: moving from £1.3 million is sales in 2003 to about £13 million in 2008.

 

Today Real crisps has won a considerable slice of this competitive market, and is now the number two hand-cooked crisp product in the UK behind the market leader, Kettle Chips.

 

The cooking method: hand-cooked versus mass-produced

 

For mass-produced crisps, the potato is sliced and placed in a 'hot wash' for blanching, to remove the starch. The produced is then blow dried, and placed in a cooker that maintains the same temperature until the crisps are cooked.

 

"We don't hot wash to remove the starch, which ultimately gives our crisps a natural, darker look," Mudd told BakeryandSnacks.com at this week's European sandwich and snack show in Paris.

 

"In addition, we slice the potatoes thicker than for ordinary crisps, and use smaller 50 kg cookers for our crisp product," he added.

 

The cookers at Real crisps work their way through 130 kilos of potatoes an hour, in approximately seven batches, working 24 hours a day, five days a week from the company's 65,000sq ft state-of-the-art factory at Newport.

 

With potatoes composed of about 70 per cent moisture, the firm "gets about 30 per cent back from the weight of potato we put in".

 

Sold in 35g, 50g and 150g bags, according to Mudd one of the firm's most popular flavours in the Real crisp range is 'roast ox'. A choice that also includes upgraded classics such as 'sea salt and malt vinegar' and 'sea salt' along with flavours with an original twist like 'sweet chilli' or 'jalapeno pepper'.

 

The firm also markets a Real.chips brand sold in 50g designer-led packaging with flavours that include Spanish-inspired 'patatas bravas' and 'mature cheddar and spring onion'.

 

Crisp market, recession-proof?

 

Like the chocolate industry, crisp firms have traditionally upheld the belief that their products are largely recession-proof. A position that stems from the notion that in an economic downturn, consumers keep up the 'small treats' once the restaurants and holidays abroad fall from the household budget.

 

But the economic climate today, rooted in a global contraction of the economy and not in a singular nationwide downturn, is slightly different from recent history.

 

However Mudd is optimistic, eyeing more opportunities for the Real crisp brand during the recession as adults seek out quality products. "We believe people will be wanting more for their money, and a better product. Real crisps are a premium adult product."

 

Northern Ireland-based Tayto, the third biggest crisp brand in the UK following its acquisition of Golden Wonder, bought Real crisps in 2007.