SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Baseball players and truck drivers who chew sunflower seeds at work no longer have to down a cup of black coffee or a Red Bull for an extra energy jolt. A South Dakota company is infusing sunflower seeds with caffeine and other boosters commonly found in energy drinks.
"A lot of people chew sunflower seeds to stay awake and give them energy, and we just thought we'd combine the two of them," said Tim Walter, president of Carpenter-based Dakota Valley Products.
Sumseeds, so-named because they add ingredients to seeds, have been in development for about a year. The seeds are grown in North Dakota and Kansas and shipped to the company's Willow Lake plant, where caffeine, taurine, lysine and ginseng are added.
The 3.5-ounce bags sell for $1.99, about twice the price of normal sunflower seeds. The company is working to get them into nationwide distribution.
Sumseeds are being sold at a Sioux Falls drug store chain and should soon begin appearing on shelves in Minneapolis and the Southeast. A major convenience store chain is testing the snack in 10 of its stores, and Dakota Valley Products also is getting international interest from as far away as New Zealand, Walter said.
John Sandbakken, international marketing director for the National Sunflower Association, said he hasn't yet tried Sumseeds. But any new product is good for the industry, he said.
"Any way that there's more products on the market, obviously that's a plus for us and for farmers," Sandbakken said.
Eighteen- to 30-year-old males make up the largest market for in-shell sunflower seeds, and many of them chew and spit while playing outdoor activities or watching television, he said. They're also a favorite of truckers, who eat them during long trips.
Sunflower seeds became more popular in baseball in the 1990s when the minor leagues banned tobacco products from clubhouses.
The new supercharged seeds will be the official sunflower seed of the Sioux Falls Canaries, which begins its American Association season in early May.
Matt Meola of the Canaries said the juiced-up snack, which will be sold at concession stands, is a good fit for a team that likes its promotions on the quirky side.
"We're a team that is based on having fun and being a little over the top at times," said Meola, the Canaries' director of media and public relations. "A caffeinated sunflower seed is over the top and has got a lot of energy, too."
Sunflower seeds have long been touted as a healthy snack that's high in protein and fiber and contains vitamins and minerals.
And while energy drinks pack in the sugar, a bag of Sumseeds contains just 5 grams to give snackers a longer-lasting boost in lieu of a high carbohydrate rush, Walter said.
"Our angle is that you can't consume a sunflower seed as fast as say you could guzzle a 10-ounce or a 12-ounce can of a beverage and you also don't have that sugar," he said. "So it will be more of a sustained energy boost."
Dakota Valley Products has two patents pending, one for the way it roasts and cools the seeds and another for its method of getting the ingredients through the shell and into the kernel, which helps avoid the bitter taste caffeine can add, Walter said.
"If you would coat it on the surface of the kernel or shell, caffeine is extremely bitter you'd either have to try to hide that taste or you'd have to put up with it," he said.