His pitch was surprisingly simple, but effective: There’s a gap in the market and I can fill it, because this is the only bar around that actually contains just fruit (not purees, powders or juice concentrates), and nothing else.
No added sugar, no preservatives, no binders, flavors or colors – unlike the fruit leathers targeted at kids that some nutritionists – and plaintiffs’ attorneys – argue are little better than candy bars. Just two servings of fruit in a portion-controlled pack with 100-110 calories, and an 18-month shelf life.
(The manufacturing process is top secret and requires specialist equipment, he tells FoodNavigator-USA - “all I can say is that the key is our proprietary drying process” – but he will not go into any more detail.)
And while brands like Peeled Snacks and Bare fruit chips have taken the category in a welcome direction by going back to basics, That’s it occupies a different position (it’s a bar, not a bagged snack), and has a moist, more juicy texture like dried fruit (which is typically sold in bags rather than a portion-controlled bar), but without any preservatives.
It became clear almost immediately that we were onto something
It also ticks all the boxes when it comes to what consumers say they are looking for from snacks: simple, nutritious, portable products with short ingredients lists, names that they recognize, and fruits or veggies that are convenient, but not so heavily processed that they cease to deliver any meaningful nutrition – or fiber, he adds.
“We’d tested them out in local farmers markets, and it became clear almost immediately that we were onto something. We contacted Whole Foods Market and sent them some samples, and they wanted to stock them nationally.”
18 months later, the bars went through a rigorous testing process at Starbucks, passed with flying colors, and the brand started to explode. Today it is in tens of thousands of locations nationwide from Kroger and Target to schools, cafes, and gyms, but he still feels like he is “barely scratching the surface”, when it comes to the addressable market.
“The convenience store market is very interesting as buyers are really looking for healthier snacks, but there are also huge opportunities in K12 and in foodservice.”
Fewer than a third of Americans get the fruit that they need each day
In grocery stores, meanwhile, the bars can be stocked next to KIND bars and other nutrition bars, in the dried fruit section, in the gluten-free section, and even in the produce department, creating a lot of opportunities for secondary placements, he says.
He also believes that the product has global appeal, in part because of the simplicity of the packaging, where the ingredients list is displayed visually: one apple plus one pear, or one apple plus one banana.
As for the target audience, “It’s a cliché, but it’s true,” says Dr Lewensztain, “But it really does appeal to everyone. We target Moms, but people are buying them for themselves, their kids, all of the household. Millennials also really love the simplicity of the product because everyone is trying to eat more fruit, but they find it hard to build it into their routine. Fewer than a third of Americans get the fruit that they need each day.”
While eating more fresh fruit is obviously an important goal for schoolchildren – and everyone else - the reality is that “a huge amount of fresh fruit in schools is thrown away,” he adds. Put it in a bar and it will get eaten.
Choc-coated bites rolling out over the next six months
The That's it brand, meanwhile, could potentially extend into several new formats, says Dr Lewensztain, who says his next product – non-dairy ‘chocolate’-coated fruit bites in 150-calorie single serve packs – has been extremely well-received by retailers he has shown it to, and will roll out nationwide over the next six months.
Several other products are also in the pipeline, adds Dr Lewensztain, who is based in LA: “We’ve got an umbrella brand that is about clean and simple ingredients, so there are a lot of opportunities to develop new products.”
So what keeps him awake at night?
Not much, but the pace of growth has unsurprisingly created some challenging moments, he says: “I have a bit more grey hair today than when I started, but it’s also really enjoyable to come to work each day when the product you are selling is something that people really love, and is also healthy.”