Interview With The Creator
April 7th, 2023
I had an opportunity to talk with the man responsible for launching PB Crisps in the 90's: Mr. Tom Barbitta . Tom told me the story about how PB Crisps came to fruition. It was fascinating hearing the details from the source, because up until this interview, a lot of the details behind PB Crisps were just speculation.
Tom was happy to see that the BBPBC movement exists and that the passion for PB Crisps still lives on.
Q: What was your role?
Tom: I was responsible for launching PB Crisps along with the entire line of innovative Planters products in Stand-up bags during the 90's while managing the Planters franchise for Nabisco.
Q: Can you share the story of PB Crisps?
Tom: The core Planters brand (cans/jars) was under duress in the 90's. New snacks were emerging led by microwave popcorn and the research showed Planters had some major hurdles to overcome, namely old/tired image, price/value (expensive), high fat, and not portable. Further, there were no younger consumers entering the franchise and older core consumers were slowly dying out. I was made responsible for Innovation/New Products - I was a Marketing Group Manager (I can't recall exact title) at the time. My charge was to; youthen the franchise, identify a package that would be portable, improve margin (vs core brand), and (internally) give the organization energy and "lift" to re-invent the Planters image... A very tall task! This led to intense work to bring the consumer new flavors and sensations from Mr Peanut!
Tom: Working cross functionally, especially with R&D but also with engineering the technology known was extrusion surfaced initially with little interest on marketing's part. Extrusion is not new (think Cheez Doodles), they are extruded. What I challenged the team with was to leverage the extrusion technology by shaping the "rope" exiting the extruder into an in-shell peanut shape. Engineering developed a clam-shell clamping mechanism that would clamp the rope exiting the extruder into peanut shapes. Peanut flour was the base material (versus corn as in Cheez Doodles). But that wasn't enough, challenge #2 was to fill the shape with a tasty filling (i.e: peanut butter) - and co-extrusion was born! We even conquered tri-extrusion when we launched PB&J Crisps (peanut butter, jelly core and peanut cookie outer). The team did an amazing job. Next, we had to address portability... but since Planters is delivered to stores through the warehouse and not direct to stores like say Frito-Lay snacks, the package that we needed would have to have: 1) memory to "stand-up" on the shelf if crushed in handling, 2) a 52 week shelf life (same as cans/jars), and 3) need to be resealable. Structural packaging team first identified a pouch but it had too much foil and would not recoil to stand - the second try nailed it, a metalized polyester pouch. The new Stand-up bag line was launched!
Tom: Along with PBC, we launched Planters HEAT, Planters Caribbean Crunch, Planters Sweet N Crunchy and later Planters Honey Crunchers (Honey roasted sun seeds). We created with our agencies the 1st animated Mr Peanut, PBC TV spot to run on Saturday mornings to target kids. Our ad agency was FCB (New York). Package design was (I think), SGC out of San Francisco.
Tom: The organization adopted the mantra "The Futures in The Bag". It was hard work, very rewarding and fulfilling. The line earned many awards in the industry.
Q: Do you have any idea what happened to the product line?
Tom: I left Nabisco in '95 having been there for 10 years and went on to market Oberto Beef Jerky, Cheerwine soft drink and Duke's mayo. Also, since I believe in giving back, I went to work for the non-profit Rise Against Hunger. Additionally, my wife and I founded a charity in 2009 called Cake for Kids Cambodia where she and I spend much of our time these days between consulting projects I am asked to work on.
Tom: As you know, the brand was sold to Kraft, and more recently Hormel. My recall is the brand (cans/jars) was still hemorrhaging and focus returned to supporting base brand, away from these innovative products. Truth be told with so many leadership and ownership changes it would be hard to focus on the SUB (Stand-up bag) line. Personally, if I had remained at Nabisco/Planters I would have allowed that to happen.
A huge thanks to Tom for allowing me to share this story, and for providing some history to the greatest snack ever invented.
If you are someone who makes annual donations, consider his charity, Cake for Kids Cambodia .