barkTHINS - irregular strips of dark chocolate ‘bark’ with fairtrade sugar, cocoa butter and chocolate liquor covered in nuts, seeds, dried fruit and grains in re-sealable packs – first hit shelves in August 2013, were an immediate hit, and are now available nationwide in chains from Whole Foods to Target, Costco, Kroger, and Safeway.
“Our growth has just been meteoric,” Semel told FoodNavigator-USA.
“I’ve been working in this industry for a long time [Semel is the founder of New York-based Cody Kramer Imports, which specializes in developing branded and private label candies and cookies, and created a new company, Ripple Brand Collective, which owns barkTHINS] and to go from start-up to scale in the timeframe that we have with barkTHINS, I think only a handful of other brands have done it.
“It just took off like a rocket ship.”
Our growth has just been meteoric
Chocolate bark itself is not new, he acknowledged; go into most gourmet food stores and you’ll probably find it, usually in large unwieldy blocks near the deli counter or perhaps in tins, glass jars or in clear wrap tied with a ribbon in the seasonal gift section, often with a hefty price tag.
But as a high-quality, yet every-day packaged snack? Not really, said Semel.
“When I first starting thinking about this, there wasn’t really a commercial packaged product out there. I wanted to have something that looked hand-made, irregular, with healthy ingredients such as nuts and seeds and a clean label, so I started to develop some prototypes and pitch them to retailers.”
Initially, he said, the idea was to develop a private label product, but the reaction was so overwhelmingly positive that he quickly changed tack and the barkTHINS brand was born.
it is unique, yet familiar
While you could argue that all chocolate is ‘snacking’ chocolate, that’s not how consumers or retailers necessarily see it or merchandise it, observed Semel, who said simply adding on-trend ingredients (almonds, quinoa), presenting the chocolate in individual pieces, and putting it into re-sealable bags (4.7oz packs and 2oz single-serve packs) has effectively created a new category.
“I think what makes it work is that it is unique, yet familiar. People love the taste, the authenticity and the fact it consistently delivers from a value standpoint [the 4.7oz bags typically retail at $4.49-$4.99].”
We’ve gone from being a start-up to employing close to 40 people in 25 months
And retail buyers weren’t the only ones paying attention.
Just three months after barkTHINS hit shelves, Semel was approached by Alliance Consumer Growth (a private equity firm that has invested in brands from KRAVE to Suja Juice) and in March 2014, it took a minority stake in the business.
While generating such explosive growth right out of the gate is something most entrepreneurs can only dream about, it also brings challenges, he added.
“It has been amazing how fast everything has happened. We’ve gone from being a start-up to employing close to 40 people in 25 months.”
My goal is to build a world class brand
And while delivering on promises to customers and “executing our strategy” is the current focus, he also has to keep an eye on the future, and build a pipeline of new products to keep up the excitement.
“The possibilities are unlimited. My goal is to build a world class brand. We’re first movers, and that gives us a big advantage, but I’m not naïve enough to think that no one else could come in and do this, so we need to leverage that first mover advantage to put distance between us and the competition.”