Ingersoll – who deployed break-dancing gorillas and giant inflatables to support the brand’s 2012 launch – said the new product line (launching at the Expo West trade show in stand-up pouches) is also banana-based, but involves different technologies (and a new co-packer) that deliver a different eating experience.
“I can’t say much more now but it’s very different from the chewy bites range.”
We’ve always employed a ‘no douchebags’ policy
The latest funding round was led by Trently Advisors with additional investment by Blueberry Ventures, Boulder Food Group and Finn Capital Partners, who all bring something to the table in addition to cash, said Ingersoll.
“We’ve always employed a ‘no douchebags’ policy when it comes to employees and investors. A lot of people were offering us money but we wanted people aligned with our strategy that really understand how merchandising in conventional channels work as we expand beyond the natural channel into more grocery stores, coffee chains [Barnana is testing products in bespoke packaging with a high profile chain], and club stores such as Costco [for which Barnana has developed large bags and multipacks].
As for merchandising of the snacks, which are now available in around 5,000 stores, he said, “everyone wants to be close to the checkout, but we do well in the store perimeter, in or near the produce department, and in new healthy snacking sets you see at all the major retailers from Target to Ralph’s, to 7-Eleven.”
Online sales account for 10-15% of group sales
Online sales via platforms such as Amazon, Thrive Market and the Barnana website – which currently account for 10-15% of dollar sales – will also become an increasingly important part of the picture, he said.
“When people buy your product through an e-commerce platform you get to keep them in your ecosystem, whereas if they buy your product at Ralph’s, you don’t have their email or their social media profile.”
Barnana is the brainchild of the firm’s founder & CEO Caue Suplicy, a triathlete who used to snack on partially dehydrated bananas when he was growing up in Brazil, and later hooked up with Matt Clifford and Nik Ingersoll in 2010 to take the concept to the US market.
It took two years - much longer than they originally expected - to get their ducks in a row, find organic growers to work with, find a co-manufacturer in the US to pack the products, and come up with a brand and packaging that they thought would appeal to consumers.
So by the time they arrived at Expo West in 2012, they had burned through pretty much all of their cash.
But the product was an instant hit, and by the time the show was over, Barnana had orders from scores of retailers, forcing its tiny team into overdrive (“work, sleep, work sleep - my social life was pretty much dead, but it was worth it” recalls Ingersoll) to deliver on its promises.
Facebook is the ad platform to be on…
On the marketing front, he said, while inflatables and other memorable marketing stunts (remember gorilla milk?) have helped Barnana punch above its weight on a limited budget, the focus for 2017 would be on more targeted digital marketing activities via platforms such as facebook, which right now, “is the ad platform to be on,” he argued.
“It’s all about grabbing people’s attention, the rarest commodity, but this year we are really going to over-index in online marketing.
“Field marketing is important and we have to get our products in people’s hands to drive trial, but with facebook – they have so much data on everyone - you can really geo-target and home in on people that shop in certain neighborhoods, shop in certain stores, everything.”
Barnana appeals to consumers looking for simple, nutrient-dense snacks, says CMO and co-founder Nik Ingersoll. Indeed, the original variant only has one ingredient: organic bananas, which are gently heated to remove most of the water, chopped into pieces in Latin America, and then shipped over to California to be packaged.
Each 40g serving of the original chewy snacks contains 110 calories, 2g protein, 800mg potassium and 4g of fiber and no added sugar, preservatives, colors or flavors.
The range includes original, chocolate, coffee, coconut, peanut butter, and apple cinnamon.
So where’s the brand heading in the longer term?
Right now, there’s a huge amount of runway in the banana snacking space, given that bananas are the #1 fruit in the US, but are still massively underdeveloped when it comes to snacks, said Ingersoll.
Longer-term however there is nothing stopping the company exploring other snacking platforms and brands, he said. “I wouldn’t rule it out.”
So what about the exit strategy? Has Barnana been wooed by a flurry of big CPG firms looking for a slice of the action in this fast-growing segment of the snacks market?
“We’ve had a lot of conversations," said Ingersoll. "But right now we are growing so fast and we’re just focused on building the brand that it’s just too early to even think about that.”
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.