An unlikely recommendation from your personal trainer: chips. But not just any chips. These aren’t made from corn or potatoes. The main ingredient is dried milk protein, the same stuff used in fitness shakes.

The new chips from Quest Nutrition in El Segundo will soon go on sale at gyms and specialty shops. Called Quest Protein Chips, they’re the latest entry in the growing market for low-carb snacks.

OK, so they’re not as delicious as, say, Ruffles. But the main attraction is their nutritional content: A snack-size bag has 120 calories and 21 grams of protein, close to the calorie and protein content of a small serving of lean chicken.

Tom Bilyeu, president of Quest, said he wanted to develop a snack that was high in protein and low in carbohydrates while still delivering crunchiness.

“When you go low carb, you really give up crunch as a texture in your life,” Bilyeu said. “It’s one of the things low-carb people really crave.”

Quest Protein Chips come in three flavors – sea salt, barbecue and cheddar-sour cream. They’re now available only through Quest’s online store. Soon, Bilyeu said they’ll be sold at gyms, GNC and Vitamin Shoppe locations, and eventually at health-food stores and mainstream grocers.

That’s the same strategy Quest followed with its original product, Quest Protein Bars.

“We go after personal trainers and other influencers first,” Bilyeu said. “People listen to them. Our goal is to win them over so they’ll tell people about these.”

The strategy seems to be working: Quest’s revenue has grown from less than $150,000 in 2010 to $83 million last year. That growth put Quest at No. 2 on this year’s Inc. 5000, which lists the nation’s fastest-growing private companies.

– James Rufus Koren

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