The Vermont-based firm has all five elements and its YaffBar has the last one – differentiation – in spades. It is an energy bar specifically created for people and their dogs to share, Brooks said.
Brooks said he knew when he launched YaffBar three years ago that the energy and nutrition category “was very competitive and [that] this isn’t the kind of project to take on if you are faint of heart.” But, he said, he did it anyways because “the way I look at it is, I don’t know any industry that isn’t hard if you are creating and selling something because there is not that much that is original anymore.”
But, he added, “there are derivations from the original” that are successful and to be one of those Brooks said he knew he needed “a different take” on energy bars.
He landed on creating an energy bar that appealed to people but was safe to share with dogs after his wife suggested it and the motion was seconded by a close friend and dog-owner, said Brooks, who owns several dogs.
He knew from the beginning though that people would not buy and eat a bar that they perceived to be pet food.
“I knew my angle had to be for people, and while people can share the bars with their dogs, the bars are for people first,” he said, explaining: “There is a ton of stuff in the pet industry called human grade, so you and I can eat them and be alright, but that doesn’t mean they are good and tasty.”
Developing a people-bar for dogs
And Brooks wanted to create something tasty. He finally developed the right recipe after more than 80 attempts and months of testing and tasting.
A low point in the formulation process was when his then 16-year-old daughter said she refused to try anymore of his “dog treats,” Brooks said. “After she said it, I stopped and looked at what I was doing and thought, oh my god, she is right. I was doing what I didn’t want to do,” which was creating a dog treat that people could eat.
After that Brooks took a different approach and found the right formula for YaffBar, which includes only a few recognizable, clean ingredients that are safe for people and dogs.
“My original goal was to limit the bars to seven ingredients. That didn’t quiet workout, but I wanted you to be able to turn it over and know what was inside it” without having to use “a magnifying glass and dictionary to understand what was inside,” Brooks said.
For example, the recipe uses honey instead of sugar because it is easier to digest. It also skips the wheat because it made the bars too dense and the ingredients typically added to lighten wheat-based products are not healthy for dogs, Brooks said. Instead the bars use crispy rice, which also allows them to easily break for sharing with a furry, four-legged friend.
The bars come in three “recognizable” flavors that could comfort buyers who might otherwise be unsure about the product, Brooks said. The flavors include Blueberry Crunch, Banana Peanut Butter and Honey Almond Cranberry.
Positive packaging is a must
No matter how healthy or tasty a bar is, people won’t buy it if the packaging or label claims do not grab their attention or instill confidence, Brooks said.
He learned this “very expensive” lesson the hard way. The original bar wrappers “had a funny, antique-y look, which when you buy food is not a good idea,” he said. Part of the problem was the company tried to save money by printing all the wrappers at once, which limited its ability to produce vibrant colors.
The wrappers were “an obstacle that was hurting and limiting our sales” because “people eat with their eyes firs, then their nose and then their mouth,” he said.
So, Mudd+Wyeth “trashed them all, which was amazingly expensive, and redesigned them. Now we have beautiful packaging” that is vibrant because each wrapper was printed separately, Brooks said.
The wrappers also have clearer messaging that explains the bars are “all-natural,” “made for you + your dog,” and are “made to share.”
Persistence is required
An energy bar maker also must have persistence in marketing to succeed, Brooks said.
He supports YaffBar with a variety of marketing, including direct advertising through giveaways, media out-reach and attendance at tradeshows.
By reaching-out directly to consumers with giveaways and at events, Brooks said he learned that not just dog lovers were buying YaffBars. Endurance athletes also used the bars “because they don’t get acid burn like from other products because it is a very clean product,” he said. This in turn has helped shaped his outreach and distribution efforts.
Because Mudd+Wyeth is a small company, it can’t afford to use all these marketing tools at the same time, Brooks said. So the company alternates between them and subsidizes its marketing with a lot “patient persistence,” which is especially important when creating a new category and trying to connect buyers to consumers and vice versa, he said.
Fighting for space with fortitude
Mudd+Wyeth has faced several challenges since launching YaffBar, proving that success in the bar category requires fortitude, Brooks said.
One common industry challenge that Brooks ran into was balancing supply and demand. He noted that while YaffBar has “a good shelf life, it doesn’t have preservatives.” Thus, during the first year the firm struggled to find a balance between having enough product to meet demand and having too much. At first, Brooks said, he miscalculated how long it took to make, ship, stock and sell the product, so the firm ended up having to dispose of some expired product that didn’t have enough time to sell.
“We had some hard lessons, but that is okay. That is part of the process,” he said.
Relying on the kindness of strangers
Despite these challenges, Mudd+Wyeth is succeeding in part because so many people have helped the firm make connections, Brooks said.
“I have been surprised at how kind and wonderful people are in helping us get visibility and make connections. It is remarkable how many people have said, ‘I know so-and-so and you should talk to them,” Brooks said.
He explains this kindness has helped him expand distribution of the bar to nearly 80 stores in 13 states and the District of Columbia. Sales also have slowly and steadily grown over the years, he said.
The success recently allowed Mudd+Wyeth to expand the product line with the launch six months ago of YaffBits – a 5.5 ounce re-sealable pouch of smaller portions of YaffBars that consumers can eat and save.
Brooks said he came up with the idea when he noticed some consumers do not eat the entire bar at once. Rather they take a bite, wrap up and toss the remainder in a bag, which collects crumbs at the bottom.
Like YaffBar, YaffBits would not be possible without the kindness of strangers spreading the word about the product and helping identify places for distribution.
Networking has been a key part of Mudd+Wyeth’s success. “And the truth is, we are reaching the end of 2014 and we are still in the energy bar market, which is not an easy market. I have seen tons of bars just disappear,” but we are still here thanks to the “natural sharing and caring world” of dog lovers.