Big interview: Kevin Cleary, CEO Clif Bar & Company

Clif Bar CEO: 'The protein trend is hot for men and women right now'

By Elaine WATSON

- Last updated on GMT

Clif Bar CEO Kevin Cleary: 'For the past 10 years, we’ve had a compounded annual growth rate of 17%'
Clif Bar CEO Kevin Cleary: 'For the past 10 years, we’ve had a compounded annual growth rate of 17%'

Related tags Organic ingredients Nutrition

Nutrition bars enter - and exit - the snacks aisle at the speed of light these days. So how has Clif Bar managed to sustain the kind of growth rivals can only dream of, year after year? Elaine Watson caught up with CEO Kevin Cleary to find out.

How far can the Clif brand stretch? Are you limited to bars and snacks?

People are busier than ever and they continue to seek ways to make their lives easier and healthier on-the-go. At Clif Bar our focus goes beyond bars to create nutritious and delicious foods made with organic ingredients that are portable and convenient.

Can the company sustain recent growth rates?  

For the past 10 years, we’ve had a compounded annual growth rate of 17%. With this growth, we are very careful about the way we grow and want to make sure that our growth is sustainable over the long haul and that it is in tune with our five, equally weighted bottom lines: Sustaining our business, brands, people, community and the planet.

Our growth is driven by a variety of factors, which include new products, greater distribution in the US and expansion into international markets. However, what it really comes down to, more than anything, is that consumers are seeking a combination of nutrition, convenience and great taste. And, consumer interest is only increasing around health and fitness, organic ingredients, and essential nutrients such as whole grains, fiber and protein.  

Which products are growing the fastest?

Our top sellers continue to be energy and nutrition bars— CLIF Bar is the #1 energy bar brand in the natural, grocery and mass channels, and LUNA is the #1 functional nutrition brand in the natural and grocery channels. We’ve also seen a lot of growth with our CLIF Kid Zbar, which is now the #1 kids bar brand in the natural and grocery channels.

Cleary won't comment on sales figures, but Symphony IRI data (multi-outlet and convenience) seen by FoodNavigator-USA suggests sales topped $508m in 2012

The protein trend also is hot for men and women right now; consumers want to snack smarter by consuming nutrient-dense calories that provide satiety. To meet this demand, we recently expanded our CLIF Builder’s line which now offers great-tasting bars with 10, 20 or 30 grams of protein to help people customize their intake needs based on the day's activities. Additionally, LUNA Protein, a gluten-free high protein bar for women, features five delicious flavors that provide satiation in under 200 calories.   

How does Clif remain agile and entrepreneurial as it grows larger?

As a privately-held, family- and employee- owned company we have the freedom to chart our own course, which also allows us to nimbly adapt to changes and opportunities in the market. With a focus on grassroots marketing and an in-house consumer service department, we maintain a close relationship with our consumers. This connection paired with our market research, gives us direct insight into emerging opportunities and trends. Additionally, as a company of foodies and athletes we benefit from our amazing internal resource of talented, creative people who are passionate about creating healthy, delicious and organic food.

What is key to differentiating the Clif brand as more rivals get into the healthy bar space?  

We stand apart through our use of organic ingredients to make nutritious, delicious food created by athletes and foodies. More than 70% of the ingredients in our foods are organic. As foodies, we think organic ingredients taste better. As athletes, we think bodies run better on clean energy from organic ingredients, which are grown without harmful pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.  Keeping those pesticides and synthetic fertilizers away from people and the planet helps protect the places we all live, work and play.

Where are the gaps in your distribution and are you exploring new channels to market?

We still have a lot of opportunity in the US. The portable healthy nutrition category is robust and growing, with the category growing more than 10%. There are a variety of factors behind the growth, including an increasing interest in fitness, nutrition and overall healthy lifestyles. We are continuing to expand internationally. In addition to Canada and the UK, CLIF Bar is now distributed in Japan, Germany, Austria, New Zealand, Australia and Switzerland.

Just label it logo
Kevin Cleary: 'GMO labeling empowers people make informed choices for their families'

Have you got a position on GMO ingredients and labeling? 

As an organic food company, we’ve been committed to sourcing ingredients that are not genetically engineered since the late 90s. And, we know people care about GMOs which is why we have been an active supporter of ‘Just Label It’. The simple truth is that GMO labeling empowers people make informed choices for their families.

How easy is it to find organic ingredients for your products? 

In many ways organic ingredient sourcing has gotten easier... as there are now greater quantities and varieties of ingredients available. That said, the organic ingredient supply remains dynamic and the marketplace continues to be competitive.

What are your hiring plans for 2013/14?

We're doing a lot of hiring again this year. As we bring more people into the organization, we are careful to make sure that the people we hire are truly passionate about our business model and whom we are confident will thrive in the Clif Bar culture.



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