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The BIGS Story

Thursday, August 22, 2013
filed under: Utilization/Trade: Confection-Non-oil

Bigger is always better. End of story, at least if you ask the BIGS Brothers.

In 2008 the BIGS brothers — Justin, Erik and Josh — decided bigger sunflower seeds would also be better seeds, so they expanded their four-year-old snack food company, Thanasi Foods LLC, to introduce the largest sunflower seeds on retail shelves: BIGS.

Their first sunflower seed to hit the shelves in 2004: Jim Beam® Original Kentucky Bourbon Soaked Sunflower Seeds, also the first co-branded sunflower seed in the United States. That put the company on the map and gave them valuable insight to understand the sunflower seed category of the snack food business.

In 2009 Thanasi Foods launched BIGS, its first proprietary branded line of sunflower seed snacks. What makes these seeds different: their size and their flavor. BIGS was the first in the sunflower seed category to feature flavor co-brands, like Hidden Valley® Ranch and Vlasic® Dill Pickle.

Today, the Boulder, Colo., company has grown BIGS to include nine different flavors (seven are co-branded flavors!). You can find BIGS Sunflower Seeds in over 50,000 retail outlets in channels such as convenience stores, grocery, drug, military, concessions, sports venues, and specialty stores throughout the U.S. and Canada. It is the classic American story of three young entrepreneurs taking an idea and making it a successful business.

Justin Havlick, president and CEO of Thanasi Foods recently provided some insight into BIGS.

What was the concept behind BIGS Sunflower Seeds?

Every great brand has a big idea behind it. The big idea behind BIGS was to take the sunflower seed category to the next level with a premium brand and a product that really speaks to the public. Our flavors, our premium roasted large size sunflower seeds, and our re-sealable bags with a bigger opening were the ticket. We worked from consumers’ needs from the inside of the package to the outside. We are focused on making BIGS the top national brand in the sunflower seed category. All of our efforts and focus right now are on delivering a more flavorful experience to the consumer, bag after bag.

You offer a lot of flavors. Why? And what’s the most popular?

Our tagline is “big seeds, big flavor,” and we strive to live up to that. North Americans are accustomed to good, strong, national flavors that they’re already familiar with, flavors that already exist in their kitchens. America already has a lot of great flavors available in snacks, but until now, they weren’t available in sunflower seeds. There are always new flavors of potato chips showing up on the shelves. We thought why not do the same with sunflower seeds?

Our most popular flavor has been Vlasic® Dill Pickle, followed closely by the Original Salted & Roasted Seeds, Hidden Valley® Ranch, and Bacon Salt® Sizzlin’ Bacon Sunflower Seeds. We’re excited about the launch of our newest co-flavor, Old Bay® Catch of the Day Sunflower Seeds. Old Bay® has been known and loved for more than 70 years as the number one selling seafood seasoning.

Our customers are really what keeps us going, and trying new flavors. We have been able to test the flavors and see how consumers respond to them. The response has been overwhelming. In the last four years, BIGS has proudly been the fastest growing brand in the sunflower seed category year after year.

What makes BIGS sunflower seeds stand out?

The size of our seeds makes us stand out. Our seeds are nearly two times the size of regular sunflower seeds. We are picky about the seeds we use. BIGS seeds are the seeds sized from the outside diameter of the sunflower itself. We think the bigger seeds are better for a number of reasons, including they’re easier to crack and more satisfying to eat. Our packaging is also something we put a lot of thought into. BIGS sunflower seeds come in a re-sealable bag, which keeps them fresh longer. That re-sealable bag also means you’re less likely to spill your seeds in your car or on the go!

Our special partnerships with our co-brands make us unique. Those brands are exclusive to BIGS, so you won’t find another brand of sunflower seeds with the familiar flavors you will with BIGS. People who eat sunflower seeds often eat them all day, everyday and they are particular about the flavor. By using authentic, familiar flavors we give them what they want.

Another thing that makes us stand out is that we only use U.S. grown sunflower, mostly from Colorado, the Dakotas, Kansas, Nebraska and Texas. We use only the biggest and best seeds, so of course we’d love to see more U.S. farmers planting sunflowers to keep meeting our growing consumer demand.

What market segments do you supply?

Convenience stores are our biggest market. That’s where the majority of sunflower seeds are distributed and sold in the United States and Canada. You will also find BIGS at Target, Sports Authority, and Dicks Sporting Goods stores. There is also a lot of growing interest in other channels, including grocery stores, such as H-E-B where BIGS has a strong and growing presence on the shelf. We plan to quickly expand to even more markets in the coming years. Since our launch in 2009, BIGS remains the fastest growing brand of sunflower seeds in the U.S. and Canada.

We’ve seen north of 50% growth with the brand every year since we launched four years ago. You’ll find BIGS Sunflower Seeds in 40% of convenience stores in the U.S. today, and we are growing distribution quickly in Canada. Proudly, BIGS Sunflower Seeds are also the number-one selling sunflower seed on military bases around the world.

What does the future hold for BIGS? New products? More flavors?

Our brand is relatively young, and we’ve come a long way to be where we are today. Our future includes more flavors and more advances. We are extremely excited about the growth of not only the brand, but also of the entire sunflower seed category. We’ve got lots of things in the works. BIGS has created a following nationally and it works well as a strong platform for other nut and seed products.

I can’t say a lot right now, but I can tell you to look for announcements soon on more tasty seed snacks from BIGS.

— Jody Kerzman
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