“We started in the natural channel but we’re also growing very fast in conventional now; we’ve gained distribution in Kroger nationwide and in chains such as Safeway and Target,” co-founder and CEO Bill Keith told FoodNavigator-USA.
“At the end of 2015 we were in around 7,000 stores and now we’re in around 12,000, but our velocities are also continuing to build. We could have expanded overseas, but we want to be very strategic about our growth so we can really take care of our stores and service them properly, especially as more competitors are popping up.
“You’ve got Fresh Bar out of Minnesota, Wella Bar out of Texas, and Core bar out of San Francisco, there are more players in the refrigerated bar category now. You can’t be as successful as we have without having some competition.
“I think all retailers now are looking at how they can build their refrigerated bar sets and we’re seeing outrageous velocity at retailers where we are part of a healthy refrigerated fresh snacking set,” added Keith, who has recently attracted a series of high profile CPG executives from Kashi, Udi’s, General Mills, and 5-Hour Energy to take it to the next level.
Exploring the fresh snacking opportunity: Near the registers, in the produce set, in the dairy set
Gelson’s Market and Wegmans, for example, both have a grab & go refrigerated healthy snacking section close to the checkout, where you can pick up smoothies, salads, hummus, fruit snacks and refrigerated bars such as Perfect Bar – as opposed to a can of soda and a candy bar – as you prepare to check out, he said.
“Ideally of course I’d love to see refrigerated snacks at every checkout, but another place we really do well in is in the produce set next to kombuchas, juices and cold brew. And then other retailers are looking to build a fresh snacking set within the dairy aisle, where you’ve got refrigerated high protein snacks, so there are lots of opportunities.
“I really think we’re on the verge of seeing more and more mass retailers start looking seriously at refrigerated snacking, because consumers are asking for it.”
As for online channels, Perfect Bar is already available for purchase online via the Perfect Bar website, but will launch on Amazon in 2017, a big deal for the brand, despite the fact that Perfect Bar as a chilled product faces distribution challenges not facing most other snack brands, he said.
“We have to be in that channel. A lot of snack bar brands do a large portion of their sales online now so we’ve figured out the refrigerated shipping and have distribution points across the country so consumers will receive our product cold in great condition.”
Beyond bars? Brand extensions are coming…
Gluten-free Perfect Bars - which combine whole food powders, organic nut butters, honey, and rice protein - have a chilled shelf-life of nine months but no emulsifiers, so the oils will separate out after a couple of weeks if they are not refrigerated.
Manufactured in-house at a facility in San Diego and at a SunOpta facility in Nevada on a contract basis, they are also free of artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners and sweetened with organic honey, said Keith, who says the three latest additions to the range, launched at Whole Foods in September – Blueberry cashew; Maple almond; and Coconut peanut butter – are already among Perfect Bars top five selling SKUs at the retailer.
Not surprisingly, given the brand’s success in the nascent refrigerated bar category, retail customers are now asking ‘What’s next?’ said Keith, who founded the brand with his siblings a decade ago and only relatively recently took on private equity funding (VMG Partners took a minority stake about 18 months ago and has a representative on the board).
“We’ve hired a director of innovation to explore other platforms for the brand. Do we do desserts, bites, look at different eating occasions? Innovation will be a real focus for next year.”
I wanted smart money
Working with VMG Partners has also given the brand a huge boost, he claimed. “They provide a playbook on how to market products, different ways you field team can work, which marketing strategies might work for you and why.
“It’s not just about money. I had several private equity groups say, Oh we’ll give you the finances and let you get on with running the business, but I didn’t want that. I wanted smart money.”
So given the meteoric growth the company is experiencing, and the decade of hard work he’s put in to transform his dream into reality (read here about the early days of sleeping in the car and credit card bills), is he now thinking about cashing in and taking a well-earned break?
No, says Keith. “A lot of folks are calling [with an interesting in buying the business] and it’s a testament to all the good work everyone here has done over the years, but there’s no my eagerness on our part to even think about that, we have a lot more to do.”
What are the emerging trends in snacks?
From sprouted mung beans to Japanese-inspired onigiri, the snacks market is a hotbed of innovation. But what’s next? Hear from Peeled Snacks, Dang Foods, Field Trip Jerky, Protes and board advisor and guru Brad Barnhorn at our FREE-to-attend online Snacking Innovation Summit on Feb 15.