The explosive success of Health Warrior’s chia bars - which were launched in December 2011, went national with Whole Foods in 2012 and are now in 12,000+ stores - has in no small part contributed to chia’s stunning rise from niche to mainstream in food culture.
However, the brand – which has recently had a packaging refresh - has never just been about one ingredient, said Emmett, who will be speaking on the CEO panel at Food Vision USA 2016 in Chicago in November.
“We’ve always been about more than chia seeds. Chia seeds are the paradigm of a nutrient dense whole food, but they are not the only one, and we’re also looking to celebrate some other superfoods in new snacks for next year that are really exciting and will broaden the brand’s definition.
“Health Warrior’s ultimate goal is to transcend the grocery store shelf and become a lifestyle brand like Patagonia; we’d love to be a true umbrella brand for healthy nutrient dense whole foods from snacks to mini meals to eventually, who knows, owning our own line of gyms.”
But that won’t happen overnight, said Emmett, who launched Health Warrior with Dan Gluck and Nick Morris in 2011: “The best way to get where you want to go is to stay focused, to be excellent in the next five minutes, the next day, the next week and the rest will follow.”
We want to go deep before we go wide
On the distribution side, said Emmett, “We’ve only dipped our toe into grocery and mass, and haven’t got into convenience or drug [channels] yet, so there is still a lot of room to grow. Online is also a very significant driver of sales now, and the good thing is that consumers that buy our products on Amazon still buy our products to grab and go at Whole Foods.
“But there’s always a tension; with the brand and our backgrounds we believe in the accessibility of healthy foods, but we are also very cognizant of the warnings that the best way for young food companies to go out of business is to get out over their skis on channel strategy, so we’ve taken that to heart. We want to go deep before we go wide.”
So what’s happening in the nutrition bar category?
Retailers that Health Warrior is working with are almost all allocating more space to nutrition bars, a category dominated by some very innovative brands such as Clif and KIND, although the space within the set is not very clearly delineated, he said:
“You see the breakout of protein in some retailers, and some stores are experimenting with paleo sets, but normally it’s just a case of brand blocking – which raises the question, are people shopping by flavor, by function, by brand loyalty? You see some people scanning for a certain protein or sugar level, and other people focusing on the ingredients list.
“It’s funny, the two biggest trends I see right now [in the bars/snacks category] are meat snacks and plant-based claims, at least from the optics, although I don’t know if the numbers back that up.
“My guess is that the motivations are different for everyone, which presents a conundrum for retailers. However, one thing we are definitely seeing is more multipacks, which is better value for consumers, who can still use singles to sample and try new things.”
“We did 4,600 demos last year with our own team and we’ll do about 8,000 this year; our product is different so people really need to try it.”
Shane Emmett, co-founder and CEO, Health Warrior
Protein: ‘Many Americans are getting way too much’
As for protein, he said, while it’s vital, the jury is still out on whether the current focus on adding it to everything is a fad or a sustainable trend: “I weigh 235lbs and I have no problem getting as much protein as I need, and I think people are eating way too much, whereas almost no Americans are getting their daily recommended levels of fiber.
“When you order a salad and they say, ‘would you like some protein with that? it means salmon or chicken or beef, which all have more calories from fat than they do protein, so they should really say, would you like some fat with your salad? Of course, protein is vital in the diet, but the truth is that we’re just getting too many calories overall.”
While Health Warrior itself calls out protein on the packaging of its larger superfood bars, the brand is not built around protein, he said: “If every company developed a new product based on whatever diet book is hot at the time, you’ve have to come out with new products all the time, which is why we focus on nutrient-dense ingredients that have been around for thousands of years.”
“In 2012, the world completely ran out of chia, whereas in the last 18 months the market has been complete inundated with supplies, but I expect things will even out.”
Shane Emmett, co-founder and CEO, Health Warrior
Wooed by big CPG companies?
So what’s the exit strategy for Health Warrior, which completed a series C fund-raising round just over a year ago that saw VMG Partners take a minority stake?
“We’ve certainly gotten a lot of calls from bigger publicly traded companies," said Emmett, "but we just focus on doing the right thing and building the best business we can.”
Shane Emmett will be speaking on our CEO panel at Food Vision USA 2016 in Chicago on November 9-11 along with PureSpoon CEO Alyson Eberle, Veggie Fries CEO David Peters, and MALK Organic CEO August Vega.