How tortilla chips are helping the whales

Posted: 25 February 2007

Tortilla chips may seem an odd way of protecting whales, but one man's bright idea for whale tail-shaped chips, is doing just that. His company has just made its first donation that will help tackle pollution in Magdalena Bay, in Bahia California, Mexico, which provides shelter for Pacific Gray Whales where they rear their young before continuing their long journey to the Bering Sea.

When Ric Kraszewski, of San Diego, and his best friend, had an idea to start a socially-conscious corn chip company 17 years ago, few people would have placed odds on it ever coming to pass.

Whale Tail Chips
Whale Tail Chips
To hear Kraszewski tell it, he and his school friend Rick Grant were on a surfing expedition and looking for a snack to buy with some change they had scrounged up when Grant had a Eureka moment, suggesting they make chips in the shape of a whale tail. They'll be "better for dipping by natural design," he quipped. The two rushed home, all the while talking about creating a product that would inspire people and give back to the whales and the environment. Kraszewski's wife Terry used a whale photo as a model for a chip she cut out of a tortilla. "They looked so great, they were functional, the whole marketing idea worked," said Kraszewski, now a 53-year-old father of two grown daughters. They pursued a business plan, but soon learned that the name "whale tails" had been trademarked by a small cracker company. Not wanting to compromise on their vision, the plan was shelved, although they continued to talk about their dream and develop ideas for years. Finally, in 2004, the trademarked name went inactive and became available again.

The Ric(k)'s shifted into high gear. They found a private label food manufacturer willing to take them on, started doing research and development, made contacts, and performed some consumer testing with family, friends, and fellow surfers.

Sauce from Hawaii

Like most people who start small businesses, Kraszewski and Grant faced a lot of naysayers. Neither had a food manufacturing background, although Kraszewski has a salesman's ebullient nature, and worked for years as a promoter at trade shows. "One distributor said, 'you don't have a chance, it's all about price point .... the whales will have to wait,'" Kraszewski recalled. Undaunted, Kraszewski and Grant pressed on, selling by word-of-mouth and convincing local retailers to carry their product. Terry Kraszewski joined the venture as business developer /account manager. A well-known artist, Kerne Erickson of Mission Viejo, agreed to design their chip bag at a minimal cost. Whole Foods, a national natural food chain, agreed to carry the chips in its some of its stores and has been followed by others. Whale Tail Chips appeal to socially-conscious retailers because they are organic, kosher and contain no Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) or Trans Fatty Acids. They are seasoned with a combination of Alaea (Hawaiian volcanic clay) and sea salt, a unique spice that the business partners discovered when they were spending time in Hawaii after high school.

Whale tail
Whale tail
Whale tail. Photo credit: © Ocean Alliance
In keeping with its founders' love for the ocean and whales, Whale Tail Chips has committed to donating at least 10 per cent of its profit to whale research, education and preservation. Whale Tails Tortilla Chips reached across the International Border and has now made their first donation to benefit marine conservation.

Wetland ecosystem

Chris Pesenti of Pro Peninsula accepted the donation from Ric Kraszewski co-founder of Whale Tails Tortilla Chips. Chris of Pro Peninsula sits on the board of directors of Solis's Magdalena Baykeeper programme in Baja California, Mexico.

Julio Solis's Magdalena Baykeeper (Vigilante de Bahía Magdalena) group has been around for over a year now, just a little longer than Whale Tails Tortilla Chips. Chris Pesenti says "I have been truly impressed with their works. Julio Solís is a longtime fisher and resident of Puerto San Carlos. He started the organisation to confront the water pollution issues in Magdalena Bay.

"Magdalena Bay comprises one of the most important wetland ecosystems on the Pacific coast of North America. The bay provides shelter for Pacific Gray Whales to rear their young before making the long journey north to the Bering Sea. Julio Solis can definitely make a lot happen with a little bit of money. Rick Grant, who has spent many years surfing and traveling in Baja Mexico, put it this way. "We told everyone we wanted to give this first ten percent to someone who has struggled to get their conservation effort off the ground, just like we have had to do with Whale Tails Tortilla Chips."

The Kraszewskis and Grant are now looking at making the chips in a smaller and a larger bag, adding new flavours and are looking at other ways to help the environment with their business - one plan is to recycle the oil they use to make the chips into biodiesel fuel to run the delivery trucks.

" We just want to make a quality product so that people have a choice," Kraszewski said.

For more information about Whale Tail chips, and whale conservation, visit www. whaletailschips.com