NEW YORK -- Americans really love their snacks, but will they pay to have them delivered to their mailboxes?
That's the bet behind new snack delivery services that want to inject an element of surprise into the snacking ritual. Rather than letting people pick what they want, the companies usually assemble packages based on the customer's general preferences.
Martin Abrams, marketing director of the 301 innovation unit at General Mills, likened the company's new Nibblr snack delivery service to the music subscription service Pandora, which offers personalized radio stations based on music people like. He called it the attraction of the "controlled surprise."
Personalization and surprise are especially desired by Millennials, the generation in their 20s or early 30s, Abrams said. That's why snack delivery services also often offer unusual flavors that might not be found in a vending machine.
Here's a look at what three services promise:
How it works: The company started in the United Kingdom in 2008 and arrived in the U.S. late last year, where CEO Anthony Fletcher says it already has 100,000 subscribers.
People pick whether they want a regular or a calorie-counter box, with the latter option delivering only snacks that are 50 to 150 calories. There are only four single-serving snacks per box.
There are about 100 different snacks in the rotation, including dried fruit, nuts, savory snack mixes and miniature granola bars.
You can't pick the snacks you want, but you can log onto your account to say whether you "like," "love" or want to "try" them. As you continue rating the snacks, Graze says it will get better at guessing what you like.
Graze says the snack lineup is continually refreshed so people don't end up getting the same snacks over and over again.
Delivery: The boxes, which fit into standard mailboxes, are delivered weekly, every two weeks or once a month by the U.S. Postal Service. Delivery isn't available for Alaska or Hawaii.
The company makes a point of saying it's easy to pause and restart service.
Price: $6 a box, including delivery. With four snacks to a box, that works out to about $1.50 per snack.
Nature Box, www.naturebox.com
How it works: A box is delivered each month that contains five, 10 or 20 bags of snacks. These snacks don't come in individual portions; each bag is 4 to 6 ounces and contains what is supposed to be three to five servings.
"We try to keep it under 150 calories (per serving), but that's not the main focus," said Ken Chen, chief marketing officer. "Our main focus is providing wholesome, natural food."
Many customers are moms looking for better snacks for the family who don't live near a health food store, he said. Unlike Graze, the service also lets subscribers choose the snacks they want.
Those who want to be surprised can still indicate preferences such as "no sugar added," "vegan" or "gluten conscious." Chen notes the last one isn't an official gluten-free certification and that wheat products are made in the same facilities.
The company, based in San Carlos, Calif., launched in early 2012 and doesn't disclose how many subscribers it has. But last year, Chen said it shipped more than 1 million orders.
Delivery: Monthly deliveries are made by the U.S. Postal Service.
Price: A box with five snacks costs $19.95, 10 bags cost $29.95 and 20 bags cost $49.95. Deliveries outside the continental U.S. have additional shipping fees.
How it works: The concept from General Mills seems modeled after Graze. The boxes also fit in mailboxes and are delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.
Customers can't pick which snacks they want, although the company is considering adding that option. But people are encouraged to rate snacks they've tried so that the deliveries can be better tailored to their tastes.
There are 59 snacks in the rotation, including mixes of nuts or dried fruit, although the company is looking to boost that number.
There are four single-serving snacks per box, as with Graze. About 70 percent of the options are 150 calories or less.
The boxes also come with a "reality bite" card intended to make people smile or laugh. One shows a kitten and the text "Research shows that looking at cute animals can increase productivity."
Abrams wouldn't say how many people have signed up for Nibblr since its launch in November. But he said many of the subscribers are young working women who want healthier alternatives at the office.
It doesn't hurt that the white, rectangular boxes are reminiscent of a Russell Stover box of chocolates.
"The box literally looks like a gift -- that was intentional," Abrams said.
Delivery: Boxes are delivered weekly, every other week or once a month.
Price: One box is $5.99. Paying for four boxes at a time costs $23 or 12 boxes at a time for $66.
There are four snacks to a box, so that works out to a little less than $1.50 or less per snack.
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