Campus & Community

For Snack Entrepreneurs, Audience Profile is the Key Ingredient

Students on the Corny's project hold up the product to show off the packaging they designed and the flavors they selected based on their audience profiling.
The team of students behind Corny's shows off the packaging and various flavors of the snack. From left, Jasmine Mina, Anthony Montufar, Laura Garbarini, Andreas Eisenmann and Nayad Manukian.

All that and a bag of chips? The Stevens students behind Corny’s say you wouldn’t need “all that” if the bag of chips were more filling and flavorful.

That’s what makes them so passionate about their snack product. Each bag of corn puffs is much larger than your typical bag of chips, comes in a variety of flavors and, despite its size, is only 70 calories. 

The team of Stevens seniors is importing the traditional Egyptian snack as its Innovation Expo project, and is crafting a branding and marketing strategy that will appeal to U.S. consumers. The major challenge — besides dealing with a supplier half a world away — was getting a handle on their target audience, said student Anthony Montufar.

“We talked to about 50 to 75 people with active lifestyles, but our product didn’t fit with that group,” Montufar said. Those people, he said, made their own meals, and generally weren’t interested in prepared snacks — even healthier ones like Corny’s.

The students quickly pivoted to on-the-go people with active lifestyles, like young professionals and college students. There, they found a match, said Jasmine Mina.

“The problem those people had with current snacks is that they’re unfulfilling,” she said. “That’s where we came up with our slogan, ‘full bag for a full you.’ ”

It’s also why the packaging is clear. On a store shelf, you can easily tell a Corny’s bag is filled with corn puffs, instead of being mostly air.

“A Lay’s bag is not see-through,” Montufar said. “One of our selling points is this bag is full, so we want customers to see that — they’re not getting a quarter of a bag, even though they paid for a full bag.”

Extensive market research with dozens and dozens of potential customers colored everything about their brand — from the size of the graphic showcasing the calorie count to the different colors used for different flavors. And it doesn’t hurt that the corn puffs are tasty — testers said they were willing to pay $2 per bag, with nine of 10 willing to buy a bag on the spot. 

Knowing how to identify that audience and crafting branding and social media strategies — and making adjustments as needed — was something the students credited to their Stevens classes, especially in project management and marketing.

“When we first talked about this project, back in August, we thought, ‘Wow, there is so much to do,’ ” said Montufar, who will be working as a systems engineer with J.P. Morgan Chase upon graduating in May. “But we fell back on lessons from our project management courses, which showed us how to draw up timelines, set deliverables and so on.”

Learning to 'be a leader, not a manager'

Of particular use, Mina said, were Dr. Donald Lombardi’s classes.

“He teaches you how to be a leader, not a manager, which is a big thing in our project,” she said. “You’re dealing with different schedules, people are working full time, and communication between us is so important.”

The students are working on this business project in the lead-up to Stevens' Innovation Expo, an annual event where seniors apply their lessons from their academic and internship experiences to start a company or take on a consulting project for a New York-area company. The expo draws participants from the Stevens community, the city of Hoboken and beyond.

The Corny's project adviser, Professor CV Harquail, had high expectations for the team to meet, and directed team members Mina and Nayad Manukian — both of whom are continuing their studies in Stevens’ graduate programs next year — to attend a Lean Startup Machine event earlier in the academic year, to help them think differently about their business.

“It gave us a path on what we should do if we want our business to succeed,” Mina said of the Lean Startup event. “It gave us a map, and a lot of open trails to explore, and if we had stayed home that weekend, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity and would have less direction on where we want to be.”

Their professor helped, too. Harquail “didn’t say, ‘Here’s the road map, you follow it,’ ” Mina said. “She said, ‘You guys have to go out there and test it out. When are you going to say enough is enough with the research? You’ll have to decide that.’ ”

At roadblocks, Montufar added, “she was there to point us in the right direction, without giving us the answer. She lets us make our own decisions based on our research, and supports us along the way.”