Six Generations of Pretzel Innovation

SNAC International Member Profile: Unique Pretzel Bakery

June 27, 2018

Currently in its 6th generation, the Spannuth family began making pretzels in the Philadelphia area in the 1800’s, and Unique Pretzel Bakery was incorporated on February 11, 1921.  Springing from the origins of U.S. pretzel production by early German settlers in Pennsylvania, Unique Pretzels have spread through the United States, with launch plans in Canada currently underway.  

Like the cornerstone of the snack industry, the potato chip, Unique’s signature product – the “Split” was invented by accident in 1930.  Adored by pretzel fans, Unique Splits were originally branded as “Mistakes” until the 1960’s when the company decided to rename the product to “Splits”. 

The baking team allows the raw pretzels to set to perfection prior to baking, during which they burst open creating deep hollow pockets and crevices to form split-open pretzels. Unique still makes its “Splits” using the same recipe and process today. “Splits” are extra crunchy and full of flavor and texture, product attributes that Unique consumers have come to love and expect over the last half-century.

As the popularity of “Splits” grew over the years, the Spannuth family marketed variations of the product including Extra Dark “Splits” in 1990; Unsalted, Extra Salt, and Multi-Grain in the early 2000’s; and the first 100% Sprouted Whole Grain Pretzel in 2010.

“Navigating growth has been our biggest challenge,” stated Justin Spannuth, Chief Operating Officer/Vice President and 6th generation owner.  “As the popularity for our products has grown, managing the distribution logistics, regulatory compliance and increased production capacity have become increasingly demanding areas of responsibility for our team.”

Through its growth over the past decade, Unique has maintained its culture of innovation that has helped the brand stand out from other pretzel brands in the marketplace. In 2011, Unique launched the first hollow pretzel on the marketplace – “Shells,” which deliver the crunch of a pretzel without the filling. The company worked hard to discern why some snacking consumers don’t enjoy pretzels, discovering that they find them too dry and dense. Thus, Shells were born. 

“Product quality and innovation is our passion. Our employees know that everything we do is held to a higher standard and the decisions we make daily revolve around that,” Justin said. “When we developed Pretzel Shells in 2011 they gave the category a completely different product, and they were even our #1 selling product, having only recently been surpassed again by our original “Splits”. That success has allowed us to be a bit more aggressive with rebranding the rest of our line, which has helped to fuel our continued growth. The company has more than doubled since 2008 just by reinventing ourselves and rebranding.”

Fans of Unique Pretzels are very brand-loyal, and because the product truly is one-of-a-kind, the company does not engage in co-packing. Many have tried to replicate “Splits”, notes Justin, but none have succeeded.  Despite this brand loyalty, the company has noticed the growing popularity of store brands (such as Trader Joe’s, Aldi and Lidl) and continues to work to capture the hearts of new consumers.

“Our focus on maintaining the highest standards of quality has allowed us to be successful for so many years since the business was incorporated nearly a century ago. We have continued our process of quality slow-baking and use of only simple ingredients. Fortunately, the trends pushed right towards us. We are non-GMO certified because of the push from our consumers, but otherwise we don’t deviate from what we’re good at.”

Over the years, Unique has seen its sales outpace the pretzel category as a whole, a major reason for the company winning the Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery’s Snack Producer of the Year award in 2016. According to IRI data, Unique “Splits” clocked in with 16.6% growth to $7.9 million in sales, per IRI data for the 52 weeks ending April 16, 2017, making it once again a top performer in the category.   The company has recently expanded its in-plant production capacity, making it well-positioned for future growth in various U.S. channels as well as export markets.

SNAC International is glad to welcome Unique Pretzel to its family of members. “Unique has utilized SNAC for training as well as its SNAXPO trade show,” notes Justin. “SNAC has done a great job protecting and promoting the industry to ensure we are able to effectively manage regulations and that lawmakers understand our issues.”

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