Pretzilla pushing category boundaries

by Rebekah Schouten
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Pretzilla Bites and Pretzilla Bites with Cheese Dip
Miller Baking Co. is launching new Pretzilla Bites and Pretzilla Bites with Cheese Dip.

MILWAUKEE — From pretzel buns to portable snacks, Miller Baking Co. is moving its Pretzilla brand from one trending category to another with the launch of new Pretzilla Bites and Pretzilla Bites with Cheese Dip.

Brian Miller, Miller Baking Co. and Pretzilla
Brian Miller, owner of Miller Baking Co. and the Pretzilla brand

“As we grow the Pretzilla brand, obviously coming up with new platforms is really important, and with today’s consumer, the daypart of snacking is becoming such a huge part of eating today,” said Brian Miller, owner of Miller Baking Co. and the Pretzilla brand. “Our new products are unique, and that’s the most important thing about what we do. We’re not interested in creating me-too products, so when you talk about the new s.k.u.s we’re trying to develop, we want to develop things that aren’t already in the marketplace. Pretzel twists have been covered pretty well, and while there’s some new flavor profiles coming out, we’re not looking to copy what anyone else is doing. We want to create things that have never been put into the marketplace before.”

The Pretzilla Bites are soft pretzel nuggets packaged in 13-count packages and 36-count tubs, and the Pretzilla Bites with Cheese Dip are on-the-go snack packs featuring six Pretzilla Bites packaged with cheese dip. The snack packs are shelf stable, offering a 10-day shelf life.

Pretzilla Bites with Cheese Dip
The cheese cup for Pretzilla Bites with Cheese Dip is hermetically sealed before entering the facility so it does not expose dairy to the plant.

“With our product, the challenge is that we have a fresh yeast-based product,” Mr. Miller said. “Hard pretzels can stay good for six months to a year. But when you’re talking about a fresh soft pretzel bun and turning it into a soft nugget and then keeping it fresh and clean label and all our other brand attributes, it wasn’t easy, but we knew it wouldn’t be. We knew giving this to consumers in a really cool packaging format was something we were excited about, and we just saw unlimited potential.”

Developing the formulation for Pretzilla Bites with Cheese Dip took 18 months to develop, Mr. Miller said.

“The cup of cheese we’re putting in with the pretzel bites, we took six months just developing that recipe so it would be better than what you would maybe get in a movie theater or a ballpark … not to say that those are bad, but we just knew that we have a premium product in terms of our pretzel bites, and we wanted to make sure the cheese was premium as well,” he said. “I’m here in Wisconsin, so I can’t have lousy cheese.”

Pretzilla’s new snack products will help the company expand into the convenience store channel, a frontier thus far unreached by the brand, Mr. Miller said. To aid in the effort, the company is developing a warming box for c-stores to use to sell warm Pretzilla Bites in a countertop display.

Pretzilla buns
Pretzilla offers soft pretzel burger buns, mini buns and sausage buns.

Moving into c-stores is part of Miller Baking’s strategic plan for Pretzilla in the upcoming year, along with expanding distribution into more grocery chains.

Currently, Pretzilla soft pretzel burger buns, mini buns and sausage buns are sold in Whole Foods Market stores nationwide. The brand is also sold in such regional chains as Fairway, Bristol Farms, Pick ’n Save and Earth Fare.

Staying in touch with consumer trends is a key part of Miller Baking’s strategy. The company recently reformulated the entire Pretzilla portfolio to be clean label and vegan.

Pretzilla burger buns
Pretzilla's soft pretzel burger buns are the brand's top-selling s.k.u.

“Every year more and more people are getting into clean eating and vegan eating,” Mr. Miller said. “We didn’t know what the market would hold in acceptance of that, but we knew that we wanted to push the envelope to get the best possible product. We didn’t want to impugn quality, but we knew we wanted to be able to offer a better product than what most people are used to.”

The reformulation process wasn’t an easy one, however, Mr. Miller said.

“It wasn’t like we got it in a day,” he said. “But it was something we were committed to. There were definitely multiple formula ideations to get to where we are today.”

Pretzilla
Parents of children with food allergies particularly like Pretzilla products, Mr. Miller said.

In addition to reformulating its recipe, Miller Baking also transitioned Pretzilla manufacturing to a nut-, dairy- and egg-free facility in 2014, seven years after the brand launched. Pretzilla originally operated out of the same facility as its fresh route baking company, which Mr. Miller’s family purchased in 1970. The company, which still operates its fresh route business, bakes and delivers bread, rolls, muffins, cookies, donuts and other baked foods throughout the metropolitan Milwaukee area.

“As we evolved, we knew we wanted to create not only a facility but also a recipe that mirrored what the 21st century consumer is eating,” Mr. Miller said. “Clean label, vegan, kosher and nut-free. We needed to be in a facility that didn’t process any of that stuff. When we switched to our new facility that we opened in May 2014, we were adamant that we weren’t going to let any of those ingredients even into the building. It’s not like we process some of these allergens and just do a really deep cleaning — we don’t even allow them into the facility for any kind of processing.”

The shift to the new recipe and facility has boosted Pretzilla’s growth. The brand has grown more than 30% year-over-year for the past three years since the company made the switch, Mr. Miller said.

Pretzilla nut-free facility label
Pretzilla products are kosher, vegan and made in a nut-, dairy- and egg-free facility.

“The (allergen-free) community, especially the parents of kids with food allergies, are very passionate that the standards are kept very high, because obviously no one wants to make another person sick, especially a child,” Mr. Miller said. “So we went above and beyond with not just creating a bun we think is great tasting but having some really cool brand attributes that can help people be loyal to us. And we are loyal back to our customers by being transparent and letting them know what we’re up to with our food safety.”

Beyond its clean label and allergy-friendly claims, Mr. Miller said Pretzilla prides itself on just being a “great-tasting bun” and different from other products on the market.

“I wanted it to be lighter and airier, with a touch of sweetness, just a unique product that really was a great partner for protein,” Mr. Miller said. “Traditional pretzel buns tend to be heavy and dense — when people tell us they like our product, it’s because it eats so well with the protein they’re pairing it with. It’s not overpowering, it’s got a great mouthfeel, and it’s easy to chew. We want Pretzilla to be the best possible protein delivery device. We like to joke and say it’s the protein limousine.”

Pretzilla
Pretzilla pretzel buns were designed to pair well with protein.

As the company continues to grow, Mr. Miller said he hopes to get Pretzilla on more shelves and grow the business another 30% in 2017-18.

“We’re excited about continuing to grow and bringing Pretzilla to more and more parts of the country to bring some more smiles to people’s faces,” Mr. Miller said. “As an entrepreneurial company, it’s been very exciting to make a product that literally didn’t exist on store shelves 7 years ago. I don’t mean to make it sound like we’re selling holy water, but we love the joy we bring to people’s faces when they see our product on the shelves, when they tell me how much they enjoy it … or the fact that they really appreciate that we’ve taken the time to create a brand that has these cool brand attributes that they can take home to their kids who might have an allergy. Or they say, 'Hey we’re vegan, and no one really cares too much about whether the promoting on the product is vegan, but we still like to eat tofu burgers and having your bun is such a pleasure.' It’s just the joy and goodwill we’ve been able to create over the past seven years.” 
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