Justin Wiesehan is a snackaholic. A true connoisseur of crunch, he’s been chasing how to make excellent snacks that taste good, but don’t wreck a diet.
He was always going for the bags of chips, but was always left wanting more. Despite the caloric intake, he wanted something bigger, something better that people could eat, but not feel bad about after eating. So he came up with HA!, which stands for Healthier Alternative, and he’s been off to the races ever since.
HA! was founded as a company with something for all consumers, a company with a vision for the snackaholics in all of us, but the chips had to taste good.
Finding the Perfect Protein for Healthy, Delicious Snacks
“I knew what ingredients to avoid and what ingredients to use. Protein was the first thing, but plant-based protein. I wanted plant-based protein to taste good, though, because I’ve had certain snacks that tasted like chalk and it’s like you’re eating dried protein powder, which is gross,” Wiesehan said.
He continued, “Chickpeas were a great place to start because people know it, same with brown rice flour because of complex carbohydrates. I didn’t want it to have refined carbohydrates like sugars, white flour, and starchy stuff because those don’t sustain energy. They increase blood sugar, and then they drop it rapidly. I wanted to match slow burning carbs.”
Wiesehan is a big believer in personal well-being and living a healthier lifestyle. “When I was building the snacks, we wanted all those ingredients, but we had to ask ourselves, ‘What formulation would we put together to get the nutritional value that we’re looking for?’ But keeping in mind the most important thing: taste and the texture. You can have the greatest nutritionals in the world, but if it tastes like crap, nobody’s going to come back and eat it. I wanted HA! to taste awesome.”
The Consumer Feedback Loop
Through his search to find better ways to make healthy food taste good, Wiesehan’s brand stumbled into an area he wasn’t expecting: vegan snacks. “I wanted to be inclusive of any kind of snacker. We wanted to use plant-based proteins, but the more we experimented with flavors, we quickly found out that we could make these chips that tasted great but didn’t exclude anyone because we got flavor combinations right. So, a vegan who misses Cheetos or Doritos can eat our chips with zero guilt.”
Caring about what his consumers believe in is critical to the brand’s identity. Throughout its life, HA! has relied on consumer feedback to get everything from the flavoring at just the right amount to what the snack packaging should feel like.
Commenting on their feedback process, Wiesehan said, “When we rebranded, we engaged everybody. We were called Macro Snacks at first. We literally sent an email blast out with four packaging options and asked people to vote.”
“We wanted their input,” he continued. “Rebranding is tough, and I didn’t want to lose the base we had built over the last year and a half because they didn’t like the package, so I wanted them to feel like they were a part of the decision-making process.”
The brand is growing and is now selling direct to consumers as they’re fine-tuning the future and working to make sure they grow at the right pace. “We sell on our site, we’re on Amazon, and Snack Magic. You go into a retail store now, and the shelves are empty. Retailers are going to see constant disruption thanks to supply chain issues, but we can sell directly to our people.”
Wiesehan said consumer behavior is constantly changing. “There’s always another new brand coming out. So, you’ve got to stay ahead of it, and you can’t have your ego so ingrained in your product that you think it’s the best in the world and can’t evolve.”
Packaging to Match the Delicious, Nutritious Brand Mission
Wiesehan had a vision of the packaging aspect of what HA! believes in. “During the first production run, I used the packaging supplier that was recommended by my co-manufacturer because I didn’t know any packaging manufacturers. So I was like, okay, I’ll use the people you use.”
But the results were disappointing. “It was a bad package,” he lamented. “It was cheap. It didn’t look good. It was glossy, but not shiny. It just didn’t look and feel the way that I wanted it to.
After that run, Wiesehan started researching other manufacturers. After a chat with one of his food processing partners, he mentioned ePac. “He said ‘they’re great because it’s digital and If you want to change one letter, you don’t have to buy another plate, it’s super customizable.’ Immediately after I saw the packaging, it was exactly what I’d wanted HA! ‘s packaging to look like.”
Ha! is constantly experimenting with and introducing new flavors, Wiesehan said, “…ePac is digital, it’s cost effective for us. We want to play with limited runs and this allows us to do that because we can do customizable order sizes for special projects or something unique for our VIP buyers.”
What’s Next for Ha!?
As the HA! name grows, it will be fascinating to see how the brand evolves with the changing market demands. The team is experimenting with ideas like limited run flavors, VIP experiences, and finding ways to serve consumers every time through healthy options. Wiesehan concluded, “We’re happy to be a part of their journey, one bag of chips at a time.”