Pik-Nik Foods USA: Delighting the World, One Canister at a Time

It’s a wonder no one says “as American as potatoes,” because for over 70 years Pik-Nik Foods USA (Pik-Nik) has proven that what Americans – and Kuwaitis, Icelanders, Saudi Arabians and Filipinos, for that matter – really want are golden, crispy, deliciously savory shoestring potatoes. The company’s origins stretch back to San Jose in the 1930s, and the shoestring potatoes that launched the brand remain its flagship product. Pik-Nik Shoestring Potatoes provide the crunch of a potato chip with the full potato flavor of a French fry, because the fresh potatoes are cut slightly longer and thicker than a traditional julienne-cut matchstick yet not quite so thick as to lose their crispy texture.

Over seven decades later, Pik-Nik’s all-American snack has found success satisfying consumers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers both domestically and abroad, and the company offers a global selection of flavors on a palette of 100 percent American-produced snacks. In fact, Pik-Nik products established such a foothold among consumers in the Philippines that Filipino conglomerate Alliance Global Group Inc. (Alliance Global) purchased the line in 2000.

Alliance Global’s other business interests run the gamut, from a network of McDonald’s franchise locations to glass manufacturing, distilling brandy and vodka to real estate and resorts. The former owners of the Pik-Nik brand, Tri Valley Growers, marketed the Pik-Nik shoestring potatoes under the S&W flag. Tri Valley Growers (TVG) also sold canned fruits and vegetables under the S&W brand and eventually decided to spin off the Pik-Nik shoestring line.

“When Pik-Nik came up for sale, Alliance Global decided to purchase the whole product line because they didn’t want to lose the source of an established brand in the Philippines,” explains Alma Dacanay, CEO of Pik-Nik. “Even though the ownership has changed, we still make everything here in the U.S., just like they did over 70 years ago.”

Everyone Loves Potatoes

Dacanay joined the company as operations manager in 2000 and was later promoted to CEO. Dacanay immediately positioned the company for growth by expanding upon Pik-Nik’s greatest strengths to diversify its presence within the snack food niche. She determined that Pik-Nik’s best course of action would be to focus on product development and distribution, areas that were sadly neglected by the previous owners. Pik-Nik employs just seven full-time employees today, with a head office in Burlingame, Calif. Domestic and international shipments are distributed via five warehouses peppered across the nation in California, Oregon, Florida, Texas and Illinois. This reorganization and repositioning has resulted in an efficient company building on its long tradition of using premium ingredients to satisfy an increasingly broad variety of tastes.

“One little-known fact about Pik-Nik is that we offer shoestring potatoes in seven different flavors,” adds Dacanay. Shoestring products include the original salted classic, as well as Honey Mustard Shoestrings, spicy HOT! Shoestrings, Chili Lime Shoestrings, Cheddar Shoestrings and Ketchup Fries. The company also produces a 50% Less Salt version of the Original Shoestring Potatoes for sodium-conscious indulgence, plus the Fabulous Fries, a wider-cut variation of the original shoestring potato snack. In an effort to further expand its product offerings, Pik-Nik launched French Fried Onions in 2010 and Cheese Balls and Cheese Curls in 2011. Pik-Nik has also anticipated consumer trends toward healthier snacks by offering the original shoestring potatoes in a zero-trans fat, gluten-free, no-preservative version in 1.75 oz., 9 oz. and 14 oz. canister sizes.

Consumers across all 50 states can find Pik-Nik products at the local grocer and supermarket, though flavors beyond the original salted version are primarily distributed to Pik-Nik markets overseas. Dacanay estimates that Pik-Nik’s domestic sales account for roughly 50 percent of its total volume in 2012, with the Philippines, the Middle East and other countries (including Iceland) accounting for some of its largest markets. “If Iceland had 500,000 people, we would ship 500,000 canisters of original shoestrings,” jokes Dacanay. “Our European distribution is actually quite limited, but Iceland is surprisingly one of our most loyal markets.”

Committed to Quality

One of the reasons these new varieties of product have caught on with such strength is because Dacanay and the team never waver in their commitment to ensure everything produced under the brand holds fast to the company’s commitment to quality. Pik-Nik products use only American-grown fresh potatoes, cornmeal, and onions with 100 percent pure vegetable oil. Pik-Nik still packages and distributes all of its products in the company’s signature spiral-wound composite canister, which helps give Pik-Nik products a shelf life as long as two years.

“The most important thing to me is the quality of Pik-Nik products, from the raw materials received at the plant to the moment a consumer opens that canister,” asserts Dacanay. “What we have found over the years is that the canister packaging is not only sturdy, but it actually keeps the product fresh whether it’s consumed in a hot, arid climate like Saudi Arabia or in a cold climate like Iceland.”

Next up for Pik-Nik will be the launch of a Sea Salt and Vinegar edition of the classic potato shoestring and a larger push to expand Pik-Nik product distribution domestically, while maintaining a steady growth in markets overseas. “We’re definitely still in the growing stages,” opines Dacanay. “Even though our product is available through most grocery outlets in the country, we don’t really have any kind of presence in the drug stores, club stores or convenience stores.”

Part of the Pik-Nik team’s efforts will focus on developing the right format for Pik-Nik products to find success and shelf space outside of the grocery store. The other major component, as Dacanay sees it, will be for Pik-Nik employees to make sure its distribution and brokerage partners can keep up with the increased distribution and uphold the same level of customer service on which Pik-Nik customers rely. Whatever flavors and market frontiers lie ahead for the company, Dacanay and the team will work to ensure the world’s favorite shoestring potato snack reflects the freshness of its ingredients and the care and dedication that defines Pik-Nik Foods USA.