From the school lunch box to the dinner table, consumers have been digging into Pik-Nik Foods’ canisters for more than 75 years. Originally established in San Jose, California, Pik-Nik Foods now calls Burlingame home and continues to market its beloved crispy, crunchy Shoestrings made from 100 percent fresh potatoes and no artificial ingredients, additives or preservatives.
With just eight employees, Pik-Nik Foods remains a smaller company in the greater scheme of the snack food industry, in vivid contrast with giants, such as Frito-Lay.
“We’re in the major snack food business, but we’re a relatively small player,” notes Alma Castillo-Dacanay, CEO of Pik-Nik Foods. “With so many products in the snack aisle, many come and go, but we’ve stuck with our Original Shoestring snacks for decades—and people just keep on buying them. We’ve also added new items and grown our business, but we still focus on quality, all-natural ingredients.”
Nothing but quality in the can
All Pik-Nik Foods products are made from superior ingredients; fresh potatoes, pure vegetable oil, sea salt and fine seasonings make up Shoestrings. Fresh onions and premium seasonings combine in the French-fried Onions—a holiday mainstay. “They’re all packed in our famous reclosable stay-fresh canisters to keep them tasty and crunchy until the very last bite,” adds Castillo-Dacanay.
Castillo-Dacanay explains that Pik-Nik Foods was a bit ahead of the curve in terms of foods labeled non-GMO or gluten-free. “Pik-Nik Foods’ Shoestrings are gluten and GMO free and they’ve been that way for years and years – before it was so popular,” she comments.
Pik-Nik Foods is developing new ways to eliminate harmful trans-fats from its snacks, as well. “Our Original Shoestrings in 1.75 ounces, 4 ounces, 9 ounces and 14 ounces are now trans-fat free,” reports Castillo-Dacanay. Our Original, 50 percent less salt and Fabulous Fries skus are also GMO free, transfat free and gluten free. Our French-fried Onions are trans-fat free and contain no preservatives.”
A California original
The company, formed in the 1930s, originally manufactured its signature Shoestrings in San Jose. After a change of ownership, Original Shoestring Potatoes were sold under the Pik-Nik Foods label in the western part of the country, while shoppers in the East knew them as Kobey's. In the 1980s, S&W Fine Foods purchased Pik-Nik Foods and updated the canister’s design to sell the popular shoestring potatoes throughout the United States and beyond.
“Pik-Nik Foods has been in the market for 75 years, during which the company has changed hands, but we took over the brand in 2000,” recalls Castillo-Dacanay. “We’ve added more salty snacks to the line – cheeseballs and cheese curls; new shoestring flavors such as Sea Salt & Vinegar and spicy Hot!; and French-fried Onions. All are still packed in our signature canister.”
Based in Burlingame, Pik-Nik Foods runs very lean with just eight employees on staff. “We own all of our equipment and we do the production schedule, but on the line we use another operating company,” explains Castillo-Dacanay. “We’ve subcontract with experts in the food processing business, and they help us by maintaining our commitment to quality as well as keeping a close eye on the operational details.”
Tapping into a global market
While the company has conquered the domestic market as the number-one selling shoestring potato brand, the demand for Pik-Nik Foods’ Shoestrings extends well beyond the U.S. The company is now selling more products abroad than at home, from the Philippines to Iceland, Europe to the Middle East.
“We’re a smaller player in terms of the snack-food industry, but we do have a niche,” asserts Castillo-Dacanay. “We’re the No. 1 branded product for potato Shoestrings in the U.S. and we’re the No. 1 export item, as well. Our brand is well-known all over the world.”
Castillo-Dacanay reveals the company is readying an expansion of its current production site. “We’re looking at improvements of about $3 to $5 million in 2015,” she notes.
This is a significant step for Pik-Nik Foods, having survived the lows of the recession and many shifts in the grocery industry. “The grocery business has really changed. Companies are going out of business or merging—and every time that happens it impacts our volume,” explains Castillo-Dacanay. “Luckily, we’re generating a great deal of new customers outside of the U.S., and these customers make up for the lower domestic volume.”
Castillo-Dacanay says expansion will allow Pik-Nik Foods to ramp up its capacity for the growing global market and prepare the company for a domestic market that she says will come back. “We’re growing all over the world – one of our largest markets is the Philippines,” she details. “We sold 500,000 cases there last year and about the same amount in the Middle East and even in Iceland.”
The long shelf life of Shoestrings makes Pik-Nik Foods a great choice for consumers around the world. “Our packaging keeps the product as fresh as when it was packed, no matter the climate: hot and dry as in the Middle East or humid in the Philippines,” assures Castillo-Dacanay. “Our goal for the next year is to focus on our export markets and build global connections.”
While working to improve products, create new ones and tap into a global consumer base, Pik-Nik Foods continues its long tradition of using premium ingredients to produce a classic snack.