Natural and conventional retailers, he says, recognize the commercial opportunity for 'Paleo-inspired' products, especially in the snacks category, where consumers are looking for more nourishing options that can become part of their daily routine rather than a sugary/occasional treat.
“Many retailers are carving out a Paleo set in their stores," says Running, who says revenues at Caveman Foods surged 50% last year. "Even Walmart is exploring this, and I expect to see more retailers carving out a distinct Paleo set that will include gluten-free. Paleo will be bigger than gluten-free; gluten free is just one part of Paleo.”
Club and drug channels are also embracing the Paleo trend, adds Running, who cut his CPG teeth during stints with alkaline water company Eternal Beverages and Muscle Milk maker CytoSport:
“We do very well in Costco and Sam’s Club, but also in convenience and specialty – chains such as Vitamin Shoppe and GNC, gyms, fitness chains, foodservice, vending, online at Thrive market, Amazon and BodyBuilding.com, and the military. But it’s not about a land grab; it’s more a case of working with retailers on a case by case basis to build partnerships.”
Caveman Foods, which Running launched in 2011, is now doing "well over $20m", with products in "upwards of 20,000 doors", he adds.
"We started with snacks, but the brand could be a platform that could go multi-category as we're not locked into a particular ingredient or product. I love protein and I'd love to develop a protein drink for the Caveman brand, but we could go into cereals, frozen meals, or anything spanning breakfast to dinner."
Following the 'rules'?
When it comes to formulating 'Paleo' foods, cynics may query whether maltodextrin, alkalized cocoa and evaporated cane syrup or indeed chicken (all of which feature on the ingredients lists of Caveman products) were enjoyed by our Paleolithic ancestors, but Running says he's more focused on building products from the core Paleo toolkit - meat, fish, fruit & veg, and nuts – than slavishly following the ‘rules’.
“Look, it's 2016, and we're not all going to be 100% Paleo. I'm probably around 80% Paleo.
"But I think people recognize that in the last 50 years, our diets have really been turned on their heads with heavy carb-rich diets with refined sugars and processed foods that have led to such high levels of obesity, diabetes and coronary heart disease, and Paleo to me is just about following a healthier eating plan.”
Definitions vary, but most advocates of the Paleo diet think the dietary rot set in once humans stopped hunting and gathering and started to grow crops and raise animals for food. So grains, legumes (soybeans, peanuts, chickpeas), and dairy are typically off limits (although some Paleo fans say grass-fed dairy is OK).
We’re trying to mainstream Paleo
As for the target audience, he says, “Paleo is big in the CrossFit community, although more broadly the active Millennial generation is probably driving this movement. But we’re trying to mainstream Paleo; we want to be the leading brand that appeals to a broad audience of men and women.”
Running, who knows a thing or two about food formulation and marketing from his days at CytoSport (Muscle Milk), says this desire to appeal to a broad audience was also a key motivating factor in the development of Caveman primal bars, which he claims are “far superior” to (the hugely successful) EPIC bars “in terms of taste, mouthfeel, and digestibility”.
He adds: “I think there will be two, three or four leaders in the [meat bars] category – Caveman, EPIC and maybe KRAVE [which is launching a new range of meat bars in August].”
The biggest challenge, says Running, is "how do we break through all the clutter and the noise in such a competitive fast-moving environment, and building a brand is key to that. But we've spoken to a lot of retailers and private equity brands that are looking at this market every day, and there is a feeling that Paleo could be bigger than gluten-free."
'Epicurean ingredient combinations'
Caveman Foods' product range includes: Nutrition bars (wild blueberry nut, dark chocolate cherry nut, dark chocolate cashew almonddark chocolate almond coconut); chicken jerky (spicy BBQ, chipotle honey, buffalo style); and chicken primal bars (smoked jalapeno, sweet cherry, blueberry pepper).
New products in the pipeline include beef-, bison- and turkey-based snacks, and Caveman Bites, launching June 1, bite-sized pieces of chicken infused with "epicurean ingredient combinations" from sundried tomato and kale to toasted sesame ginger.