Long a fixture in supermarkets in South Korea, a machine that creates fresh snack cakes with an emphatic “pop!” is getting an American makeover.
So far, U.S. retailers like the what they see — and hear.
“Right now we have machines in A&P, ShopRite, Stew Leonard's and Fairway Market,” said Joseph Lee, assistant sales manager for Delice Global/Kim's Magic Pop, Moonachie, N.J., adding that the tabletop fixtures boomed out $1.5 million in sales at Stew Leonard's four stores last year.
The fixtures — fully mobile and relatively simple to operate — come from established companies in Asia that only recently opened offices stateside. Kim's started here about 5 years ago; another company, Coco International, Ridgefield, N.J., began operations in 2008.
“We just minimized the size of the machines to make them more modern for the U.S. stores, but when I was young they were really big and were difficult to move,” recalled Eunah Cho, Coco's assistant sales manager. The company also has placed machines in ShopRite, as well as in Wegmans stores.
If there's one thing retailers like about snack cake stations, it's the theater accompanying the manufacturing process. Premixed ingredients are poured by a store associate into a hopper at the top of the machine; the mix (usually a base of wheat, rice and corn) is heated and in seconds an explosive burst of air sends the finished cake — accompanied by an enticing aroma — out into a bin for packaging. Cakes vary in size, from silver dollar minis to dessert-plate jumbos. A slight concavity makes the larger snacks easier to stack in plastic sleeves, which are tied shut and merchandised for sale.
“The whole concept is that these are made fresh in front of the customer, at the store,” said Lee. “They weren't prepackaged a month ago.”
Supermarket operators also like the fact that it's basically a turnkey deal. The companies supply not just the machines, but decorative elements, supplies and training for store associates.
“We already formulate the mix with wheat, rice, corn and a little bit of water,” said Cho. “We pack four, 10-pound bags to a box.”
The clean ingredients and healthful profile of the finished product are also draws right now. Accustomed to prepackaged, dry rice cakes, a new generation of dieters and healthy snackers seems captivated by the action and pleasing scent of warm grains.
“A lot of people are very health conscious today, but they wonder about things like rice cakes because they're afraid it's going to taste like cardboard,” said Lee. “Because this has a little bit of sweetness to it, a lot of people are surprised it tastes so good.”
A visit to one of the stations in an A&P supermarket in New Jersey found the fixture situated right inside the front doors of the store. Young children seemed drawn to the noise and activity while a store associate offered samples.
The manufacturers of the cake machines plan on expanding flavor options as the product catches on, though retailers can already opt for strawberry, cheddar cheese and onion-imbued mixes. Depending on the market and the size of the product, a 15-count bag of the large-size cakes can retail for $2.50-$2.99.