WOATS is basically a soft form of granola. Like so many innovative foods, the product has a personal story behind it. As a teenager, Justin Anderson liked granola, but his braces didn’t.
“After breaking a wire on my braces on a chunky granola piece I started to experiment in the kitchen to see if I could come up with a softer version,” Anderson told FoodNavigator-USA. “There was really nothing like it on the market back then, and there still isn’t.”
Anderson started his company 2003 on the small and on the cheap. One of his first marketing helpers was his aunt.
“My aunt drove me around Denver to different health food stores. I saw Bare Naked granola on the shelf about six months after they launched,” he said. “I started Anderson Trail as a brand originally selling to friends and family.”
Anderson used a tiny amount of seed money from friends and family and capital obtained by maxing out a no-interest credit card to get his company off the ground. In 2006 he attracted the interest of an angel investor and that’s when things really started happening for the brand. He did his first trade show in 2007 and learned a lot about the B2B environment.
“I learned a lot about how trade shows work. We got into the Whole Foods southwest region and we did some business with Costco,” Anderson said.
But even with his modicum of early success, Anderson said he didn’t really understand what he had with the product. He has tested it early on with friends on camping trips, and he said it would all be gone out of the bag, eaten out of hand, before breakfast came around, the typical meal occasion for oats.
A relatively new partner, Bill Scheider, formerly of Frito Lay, picked up on this aspect of the product quickly. Anderson said Schneider wanted to take a step back from the corporate world and was looking to get involved with a smaller, younger brand where he could make more of a difference.
“He liked the fact that people snacked with Anderson Trail granola. But it was not positioned as a snack. It was positioned as a cereal. He said, how about if we turn this into an intentional snack? A healthy indulgent snack? So I got into the kitchen and tried to reformulate the product to make it chunkier, easier to snack on,” Anderson said.
Comparing apples to apples
The reformulation of the product to turn it into an indulgent snack included ingredients like crumbled cookies. It is now offered in three flavors, Nuts About Berries, Cookies-N Dreams and Peanut Butter Graham Slam. It also now comes with a slug of added calories, so that the product now significantly outpaces typical granolas in that department. But Anderson said it’s misleading to compare WOATS to granola, and that as a snack, it compares well with its peers.
“It’s really something different. It’s really transforming how people think oats should taste. You could eat Oreos (160 calories for a 3 cookie serving) or you could eat my product, which is 120 calories for a 1/4 cup. As a healthy indulgent snack, you really don’t need to eat that much and we find at that amount most poeple are satisfied,” Anderson said.
“Plus oats are just great for you. It’s good for your cholesterol and good for your heart, and it’s kind of a magical ingredient that people tend to associate with a health lifestyle,” he said.
Sales ramping up
Anderson said the company is on the way toward surpassing $1 million in sales this year.
And part of that process is helping to grow the whole healthy/indulgent snack category, he said. In addition to interest from retailers in the natural and health channel, the company had a right time/right place experience when it launched the reformulated snack at the Expo East trade show last year when a snack buyer for Target happened on to its booth.
“There is a learning curve to the alternative healthy indulgent snack set. Most grocery retailers either don’t have this section or are developing it. We hit Target at the right time and when all is said and done, we will be in 1,200 Target locations nationwide,” Anderson said.