I have recently had the opportunity to talk to a number of entrepreneurs who are willing to start new extrusion plants in their countries in order to produce snack or snack pellets.
I noticed most of them are 3D pellets oriented. In other words, most of them are willing to buy snack pellets extrusion lines equipped to produce 3D products instead of starting with easier shapes and processes. I find this to be a wrong choice for a newcomer. In fact, producing 3D snacks pellets is not as easy as it may seem looking at a production line run by senior operators and possibly supervised by Programmable Logic
Controller. Low yield, low hourly output and quality discontinuity are amongst the most serious issues to solve before producing 3D snack pellets profitably. Besides, with regard to both volume and value, 3D snack sales are far behind sales of traditional snacks. However, 3D’s have always had a strong appeal on snack producers much less on snack consumers.
3D pellets are made of two overlapped sheets joined and cut in a way that once being puffed either by frying or toasting, the outcome is a final product whose depth can be perceived by either just looking at the product or touching it. The are so many examples of 3D snacks around the world but the first one is the Bugles.In 1965 someone in General Mills, today’s sixth largest food company, had the brilliant idea to come up with a cone shaped salty snack. The snack was first test-marketed and then introduced nationally in early 1966. 44 years later it still desired by millions! As already said, the Bugles might be the first so called 3D salty snack. They are now available world wide under different name or brand. They have a unique shape and flavour and they still remain a target product for many producers. Bugles opened the way to a new snack concept and many other 3D shapes have been introduced since then. About 10 years ago, probably one of the most well-known snack company in the world launched these three dimensional snacks called 3D Doritos, an “evolution” of traditional Doritos well known in US and overseas. A triangular shaped corn based products obtained by overlapping two extruded sheets, which are then formed and cut into single pieces and finally dried and fried. This sharp geometric shape was launched in USA, Europe and in some far east countries. In many of them the product did not last long. Someone speculates about reasons of short shelves life such as the super-bold tastes where a little too hot to handle or geometric shape were too difficult to swallow. 3D Doritos where launched packed in traditional flexible snack on the go packages strongly supported by advertisement. However they failed in Europe and Far East as well.
Beside Frito Lay and General Mills, which distribute their products world wide, there are many national snack companies that distribuite their own 3D products so as several pellets producers offering a variety of 3D shapes. In addition, during the last 15 years, 3D snack pellets have gone through some kind of evolution. At the beginning, quite a few companies tried to match bugles’ quality, taste and flavour using hot extrusion processes (which ispretty different compared to processes used to produce the original GM corn cones) and of course no one could match the original. Also, other and simpleshapes where introduced, such as square and rectangular 3Ds. All of them produced using cereals as ingredients, especially corn flour. Some other producers came up with original shapes like 3D hearts or peanuts still using corn or cereal based formulation. Then, in the late 80s, someone in Italy and in The Netherlands tried to introduce potato based 3D. Some of them fancy coloured. However, most of them failed almost immediately, and some of them were never introduced as finished products. Around the early 90s, the original perception of 3D as a “tool”, which generates new interests around a tired and boring snack and snack pellets world, evolved to a product that could also occupy, once expanded, a larger volume with a reduced weight. In other words 3D suddenly become a way to sell more economically. Therefore traditional 3D with plain surfaces start to appear also with perforated surfaces. In other words, before being formed and cut into final shapes the two sheets are perforated. Once immersed in the fryer, the hot oil can go inside the product and also in between each sheet hole. The heat exchange is well distributed around and inside the pellets, therefore the expansion is very uniform and powerful so that a much bigger expansion can be obtained compared to traditional 3D with plain surfaces. Also texture and flavour are sensibly different between plain and perforated 3D with first one more crunchier and intense flavour compared to perforated ones. So the final choice of product to sell depends not only on the expansion ratio or appearance but also on the flavour and texture.
To conclude, I believe that producing 3D right form the real beginning of snack pellet manufacturing experience is both a brave and admirable attitude. In fact, all the products shown in the pictures in this post require a deep knowledge of raw materials and process conditions in order to produce efficiently with high yield and constant quality. In other words, lots of experience usually built over several years of hard work with 2D or “traditional” products is normally required before moving to more demanding production types.
3D Samples from several different producers