Americans eat a million tons of tortilla chips a year. But when we munch on our snack foods, few of us realize how much water they cost. Millions of tons of chips have a water footprint of 180 billion gallons.
Josh Death, founder of Kazoo Snacks, wants people to enjoy a fry without decimating the Earth’s water supply. Its new brand of water-efficient tortilla chips recycles corn germ to save 20 gallons of water per bag of chips. Death told Inhabitat why potato chips require so much water and how he hopes to change American snacking.
Related: Surprisingly Vegan Fast Food, Snacks & Treats
Inhabitat: How did you find out that traditional chip making processes consume so much water?
Death: I can see how some might assume it’s the chip production that uses a lot of water, but the heavy water use actually takes place before the corn is even in the hands of the makers.
Tortilla chips are made from large amounts of corn, and growing this corn requires water. Lots of water. Growing just one pound of corn requires 110 gallons of fresh water. In 2020, for example, the United States consumed 1 million tons of tortilla chips. To grow enough corn to meet this demand for a year of consumption would require 180 billion gallons of water.
Very few of us are aware of the demand that our food consumption places on our agricultural systems, but that is why sustainable agriculture, combined with environmentally friendly manufacturing, is so important. At Kazoo, we are able to save water by using recycled corn germ, which happens to be the most nutrient rich part of the corn kernel. This allows us to make a tortilla chip that uses less corn and less water, without compromising taste.
Inhabitat: How did you get into the flea business?
Death: I am an intellectual property lawyer and have worked in the pharmaceutical and banking industry for over 20 years; but deep down, I’ve always been a bit of a frustrated entrepreneur who really wants to make a difference.
Several years ago, I was involved in the co-development of Cleanwell and Benefect non-toxic sanitizer. I entered the potato chip industry through a confluence of three factors: a desire for a new business opportunity, an internal call to create a better snack for the Earth, and an inclination to create a better snack for people who doubly served as an example. how food manufacturers can save water and waste less. I experimented with several ideas before finding the promise of the three factors in Kazoo.
Inhabitat: Tell us about the development of the water saving process.
Death: The water saving aspect comes from sourcing corn germ for our chips, which is a by-product of the corn starch industry. Ironically, the difficulties we encountered during the development of Kazoo were related to the corn germ. Namely, getting a large amount of corn germ into a tortilla chip that tasted good and was doable in a typical tortilla chip factory.
I worked with three different labs for about three years to get a bench workable product, then about another year to find a co-packer who could work with our revised process and increase bench samples. The last lab I worked with was with the best corn scientist in the world. They were eager to work with me because no one had ever accomplished what I was aiming for.
My co-packer was also amazing. Scaling up from the testbed to full commercial production revealed many more challenges that needed to be overcome. I encountered a number of obstacles, as many leading scientists and food manufacturers did not believe that producing a chip using 40% recycled corn germ and only 60% fresh corn was possible – but we did it.
And our water-saving claims aren’t just talk. We went the extra mile to have our calculations verified and validated by former FDA food advocates. We also presented our demands to the American Water Council, which called Kazoo a “unicorn”.
Today, we are the only 100% sustainable tortilla chip on the market and the only brand to feature our water saving claims on our packaging. We do this because we believe consumers want to eat more sustainably, but just need to be informed about what is actually sustainable when buying in-store. Putting our water saving claims front and center on our packaging will hopefully allow consumers to choose the most sustainable option.
Inhabitat: Do you know of any other products whose production requires surprising amounts of water?
Death: All corn products require a significant amount of water to grow the corn. In 2020, approximately one million tons of tortilla chips were consumed in the United States. Assuming all US corn was used (probably), it would have required about 180 billion gallons of fresh water. If our process had been used to process the same amount of corn, we could have saved 58 billion gallons of water per year.
We are only a few years away from a global water crisis. It has also been documented that things like coffee, meat, rice, and wheat require a significant amount of water to grow.
This is interesting because almost all GC brands require water to make their product. And if you look at the data, it’s clear that the food industry is partly responsible for the state of our water crisis, as it regularly uses 70% of the world’s water.
A new study by an organization called Ceres describes the destruction that the food industry has on our world’s water supply. This goes to show that most GC brands just don’t act fast enough.
It’s a great and humbling feeling to be among the few progressive brands on this issue, and the only brand on the market to focus exclusively on water conservation, without compromising taste.
It’s not common for any of us to think about wasting water while snacking on our favorite foods, but we hope to change that with Kazoo.
Inhabitat: How did you come up with the name Kazoo Snacks?
Death: Environmental sustainability is a difficult issue that has polarized people and some of the best known advocates are quite divisive. I wanted a brand that was innocent, fun and brought back good carefree memories to people – making music on the kazoo when you were a kid – no matter how musically talented you were, you could play the kazoo and sound great.
Inhabitat: What should readers know about Kazoo Snacks?
Death: That we try. There are a lot of things we want to accomplish, but it’s a journey. We want more sustainable packaging, but it’s a huge challenge for the industry, and we’ll follow the leaders as new materials become available.
We’d love to offer consumers organic tortilla chips, but our goal is to reduce waste by using corn germ that would typically go into waste streams or animal feed – which is mind boggling because that’s the worst part. more nutrient dense than corn. As more mainstream brands switch to organic corn, there will be more organic corn germ to use in our products. As this happens, we will be sure to make the change.
We would also like consumers to know that we need your support. Grocery chains and other retailers recognize that sustainability is a trend, but they don’t know how it will pan out and whether it will be a good business. As such, we need customers to support products like Kazoo so that we can be more recognized in the public eye as “organic” food was. Our goal is to save one billion gallons of water by 2025.
Sustainability is not just a trend. It is a way of life towards a better future. Together we can move the needle.
+ Kazoo tokens
Images via Teresa Bergen and Pexels