The Lebanese potato chips market is dominated by two main local producers. But small scale productions – such as the chips produced by supermarkets Dfouni or Goodies – have always had their loyal consumers who say they prefer the artisanal homemade taste of these chips to the mass produced ones.
Recently, two reputable food establishments joined the small scale potato chips production industry, hoping to add innovation and dynamism to the sector.
Biomass, producer and importer of organic foods since 2007, began its first trials for organic potato chips in April 2015 and introduced two flavors of classic cut potato chips (thyme and garlic) in 125 gram transparent bags in late 2015.
In July 2016, Biomass introduced two new cuts of potato chips (the waffle and the sticks cut) along with a new flavour (rosemary). Mario Massoud, executive manager at Biomass, has said that they plan to further develop the Biomass potato chips line.
Classic Burger Joint (CBJ) – a popular Lebanese burgers restaurant with branches in Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Cyprus – introduced a potato chips brand under their name during the opening of The Backyard Hazmieh in June 2016.
CBJ potato chips are flavored with its “secret” signature spices, also used for its French fries, and come in the classic cut in a one size 75 gram bag.
Neither of these establishments have plans to compete with the big chips producers, insisting they only introduced potato chips to complement their main line of business. Massoud explains that while the biggest share of Biomass’s products is in the fresh foods category, 15 percent of their business comes from dry goods. He goes on to say that within the organic dry goods category, organic snack food is the fastest growing internationally. As a result, Biomass decided to enter this market by introducing potato chips to their line, the most logical choice for them to produce, given their naturally grown resources.
“The whole concept of organic snacks is that it brings a healthier component to the product. In the case of Biomass chips, the potato we use is the one we plant here and it is organic and fresh,” says Massoud, adding that the spices used to flavor the chips are also organic and sold by Biomass.
The CBJ food truck has been touring the country, participating in many festivals and events, explains Donald Battal, founder of the restaurant management company Ministry of Food, which operates CBJ and Tomatomatic. Many of these food truck events have restrictions on frying french fries on site, so CBJ would distribute Lay’s chips instead of fries, says Battal. This is how the idea to create CBJ’s own brand of chips was born.
[pullquote]They are more expensive because they are produced in a different way with good quality potatoes and have our signature imported spices on them[/pullquote]
“We have our own signature spices which we put on our fries so I thought of using them to make potato chips. That way, whenever we go to an event, we can link our own brand name with our signature recipe.”
CBJ chips are produced in MALCO’s factory, the company which produces Fantasia chips and savory snacks, under the specifications of CBJ, says Battal. “We own the brand and recipe but we don’t want to have our own factory because the MALCO factory already provides the potato chip producing experts I need, so it is not worth the investment as I wouldn’t be able to reach their expertise in this field.”
Gourmet chips at gourmet prices
Both producers admit that their chips are more expensive than the mass produced chips but claim this is due to higher costs.
CBJ produces 30,000 bags of potato chips per quarter and retails at $1 per 75 gram bag. Because of their higher price, Battal is taking his time to find the right distributor to introduce CBJ chips to the retail market. Currently the chips can only be bought at all CBJ venues, and at the festivals and events that CBJ participates in.
“I don’t want them to be treated like other chips since they are more expensive than all the other local chips. They are more expensive because they are produced in a different way with good quality potatoes and have our signature imported spices on them. It’s not produced en masse and the quantity produced is minimal in comparison to those of Fantasia. This low production quantity is also an added expense. On top of all this, there is the brand name,” explains Battal.
Massoud says Biomass utilizes 40 tons of potatoes per season to make their chips (since each ton of chips needs 4 tons of potatoes, Biomass therefore produces 10 tons of chips per season) explaining that it is a relatively small quantity which they plan to grow gradually.
Massoud justifies the chip’s price tag – $2.60 for a 125 gram bag – by saying that organic ingredients are typically more expensive than mass produced ones. “Our chips are handmade and producing through the kettle process is already more expensive than a machine, plus we are not a huge production facility. We know it’s much more expensive than the mass produced chips but we like to offer something that tastes good,” says Massoud.
Currently Biomass chips can be bought in 100 outlets across the country, ranging from the chain supermarkets which already carry Biomass products to the small grocery shops and health stores. Still, Massoud says their distribution has been rather low so far but that they are planning to increase it within two months.
“The first step was to develop the portfolio, which is what we did, and the second step is distributing and promoting the chips. We are not fully launched yet and even the portfolio is not fully completed. We will be more and more in supermarkets, and maybe in schools or restaurants,” says Massoud.
While their beginnings may be slow, both Biomass and CBJ have opened the path for food establishments to think outside of the box and develop products that only strengthen the local market.