For the next trendy health food, look to Brazil: It’s where the coconut water craze came from, after all. And those acai berries that supposedly turn whatever dishes or drinks they touch into disease-fighting, anti-aging miracle remedies? They’re Brazilian, too. And so is Caue Suplicy, the CEO of a small snack food company that he hopes will turn into the next Vita Coco or Sambazon.
As a child in Brazil, Suplicy ate partially dried banana chews that his family made at home. They were his inspiration for a packaged version called Barnana, which is having a breakout year in the US with shoppers at upscale grocery chains (Whole Foods carries it) and organic markets.
The contents of a Barnana bag are simple; each one contains the equivalent of about 5 whole, ripe bananas, minus 80% of their original water content. Some varieties have one additional ingredient—either cocoa powder, coconut, or peanut butter—but that’s it. The result is a raw, organic, dairy-free, gluten-free, non-GMO product with a taste that has been compared to banana bread.
The concept of Barnana was born in 2009. That’s when Suplicy, who had moved to California in 2001 and tried all kinds of foods to fuel his career as a professional triathlete, figured the market might welcome a commercial version of those chewy banana snacks he’d grown up with.
Endurance athletes know better than most how perfect the banana is as a performance food. But Suplicy (who also has a bike company, Suplicy Bikes) and his Barnana co-founders, Nik Ingersoll and Matt Clifford, deliberately avoided branding their product “as an athlete’s thing,” says Ingersoll. Instead, he describes the company’s target customers as “weekend warriors” and those striving for a “healthy, active lifestyle.”
According to Ingersoll, Barnana’s 2014 sales will be just over $2 million, representing 400% year-over-year growth. The product only launched two years ago, in March 2012.
It isn’t the only healthy snack having a moment. Sales for the entire healthy snack food category are rapidly expanding, according to market research companies like NPD Group and Nielsen.
The absence of added sugar and hard-to-pronounce preservatives is something consumers care more about when they buy packaged foods these days; there’s also a growing interest in sustainably sourced ingredients. Barnana ticks all the boxes: Ingersoll tells Quartz that an added benefit of making snacks from dehydrated bananas is being able to help farmers out by purchasing fruit of theirs that otherwise wouldn’t be fit for export (bananas that are too big, will be overripe by the time they’re shipped, or have spots, for example).
Barnana’s founders say their goal is to make the brand “synonymous with banana everything.” For now, that’s a relatively small universe. While bananas are the top-selling fresh fruit in the US, there aren’t any best-selling, banana-based snacks. But Ingersoll thinks there’s demand for more than just frozen chocolate-covered bananas and bags of dried (or deep-fried) banana chips at the supermarket. ”We like to think of ourselves as the anti-‘banana chip’,” he says.