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How AI Created A Manufacturer

Peter Barrick Headshot
Photo Courtesy of Peter Barrick
Founder Barrick couldn’t make Rivalz snacks until AI showed him the path to production.

It’s one thing for manufacturing chiefs to apply artificial intelligence to existing products and processes with the intention of making them better. It’s another thing to use AI in manufacturing to establish the entire basis of a company.

The latter is what Peter Barrick has done with Rivalz, a manufacturing-based startup that is leveraging AI, predictive analytics and “digital twinning” in the difficult pursuit of making “healthy” savory snacks using existing technology in the food-processing business. In doing so, Barrick has launched a fast-growing company partnering with a co-manufacturer to challenge orthodoxy in an industry that always has been dominated by PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay unit.

Savory-snack makers have tried for decades to get consumers to take them seriously on the basis of nutrition instead of just taste and convenience, coming up with innovations such as baking instead of frying corn and potatoes, making chips out of vegetables such as carrots and beets, even filling pretzels with peanut butter. But Peter Barrick believes he’s trumping those long-running efforts with his new protein-packed Rivalz brand.

Barrick is declaring Rivalz a “nutrient-dense” solution to the perpetual problem for salty snacks of little nutritional functionality, positioning it as a light meal replacement and as an athletic-recovery snack. “We’re not claiming that we’re a meal replacement per se, but a snack is a meal,” he tells Chief Executive.

But Rivalz was only an idea until Barrick figured out how to actually manufacture the snack. And that was a huge problem, because Rivalz Stuffed Snacks have a crunchy vegetable layer and are stuffed with pea and brown-rice proteins as well as vegetable components. That structure made them almost impossible for the food industry’s existing extruder technology to handle.

Barrick explains how Rivalz is made is crucial to the proposition. “Extruders love high carbs: corn and potatoes. They don’t like high protein, high fiber and low carbs. If you go to a co-manufacturer and say, ‘We’re going to use our ingredients, so make us a great-tasting, indulgent product,’ they’ll just laugh at you because they’ll say it’s not going to work. As you minimize carbs, you’ve got to figure out other things to create the same cell structure and expansion rate. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing and why we filed a patent for it for novel product design.”

Barrick worked with extrusion engineers to come up with manufacturability for the Rivalz formula by “going down to the molecular and particle-size level” to solve “a highly complicated problem.” Traditionally, engineers would “set one processing parameter and then view the outcome.” That trial-and-error approach might have required hundreds of thousands of experiments, and up to three years, he says, to come up with a precise formula that could make Rivalz given the challenges of the ingredients involved.

“So we asked ourselves if there was a better way,” Barrick says. Through the use of AI and predictive analytics, his team created a database of formulas and “known outcomes” and went from there. “These ingredients behave differently under stress at the molecular level, which impacts sensory and nutritional properties. We created something you’d call a digital twin and ran experiments where we helped to funnel and predict what trials we needed to run to achieve a given outcome. That was hugely powerful. That streamlined the number of experiments down to 71 to get to the flavor and texture we needed. And it only took six months.”

Believing no co-manufacturer could do what needed to be done to produce Rivalz, Barrick formed a partnership with one that took out an equity stake in his company in exchange for dedicated production, extensive investment in automation and “favorable terms and unit costs and line rates” at one of its facilities in California, with plenty of room for output expansion as Rivalz sales grow.

Rivalz’s expansion is being fueled by a recent injection of $6 million in seed capital. Barrick says he’s expecting $4 million in Rivalz sales this year after notching about $1 million last year, the brand’s first. After starting online, Rivalz has burgeoned into 300 retail stores across the U.S. on its way to 900 stores soon, he says, as well as the lunch and snack menus of 10 major school districts, including the sprawling one in Los Angeles.


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