Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA a month after joining the firm as CEO, CPG veteran Chris Hickey acknowledged that the bar market was exceptionally “cluttered,” while everyone is seeking to cash in on the plant-based protein trend.
However, the rapid growth trajectory of D’s Naturals, which went from zero to “nearly $10 million in revenue in less than two years” led by a founder - Daniel (‘D’) Katz - who is just 20 years old, coupled with its potential to become a broader lifestyle brand, had made him sit up and pay attention, said Hickey.
“It’s really important to be discerning as a consumer, as a retailer, as an investor, and certainly when you’re dropping in as potential CEO. But what I saw was a high-protein [each No Cow bar has 21g of pea and brown rice protein], very low sugar [the bars are sweetened with stevia, monk fruit and erythritol] non-dairy bar with a compelling macronutrient profile that tasted great and had a real point of difference in the market.”
Building a brand personality
He added: “Beyond that I saw a brand (No Cow) with the potential to transcend the bar category and compete in multiple product platforms – whether it’s cookies, protein powders, ready-to-drink products or other things. All of our products will stand for non-dairy, high protein, low sugar and will compete in all the major on-the-go and active lifestyle product categories that you can imagine.
“But really the point of difference over time is giving the No Cow brand a personality and creating an emotional connection with consumers. It also has a distinct ‘no bull’ voice in the market.
"You see how [fellow protein-fueled brand] Quest [Nutrition] has done an absolutely wonderful job when it comes to building a brand from the beginning, building the digital marketing, social media marketing, influencer marketing so that people became believers and flag carriers preaching the gospel of your brand for you.
“We also want to activate a community of influencers who are really doing the education and marketing for you.”
No Cow to appear in at least two new forms beyond bars in 2018
The No Cow brand appeals equally to men and women, and attracts both active lifestyle consumers and hardcore fitness enthusiasts, said Hickey, who is working with Austin-based design agency ptarmak on a new look for the brand to be unveiled in January 2018 along with new packaging and at least two new product platforms beyond bars.
“Our goal is to be a $100m+ brand in the coming years.”
He wouldn’t go into specifics on whether there might be formulation changes to the bars ahead of the rebranding, but said a key benefit of backing from General Mills 301 INC (which invested in D’s Naturals in February) was access to General Mills’ R&D teams, who had considerable experience in formulating bars.
Rapid distribution growth
From a distribution perspective, D’s products are currently available on Amazon, plus around 12,000 stores including GNC, Vitamin Shoppe and CVS, with significant opportunities to grow in fitness and health club chains, specialty retailers and up and down the street accounts, said Hickey, who is based in Long Island, while Katz is based in Denver.
“We will be building our distribution rapidly both this year and 2018; the focus is to do so with specialty retailers who are focused on building brands with our active lifestyle consumer.”
While Hickey and Katz are in two different locations, both are constantly traveling (and often attending meetings together), so are not finding the distance a problem, said Hickey, formerly president and CEO of sports nutrition company Isopure (now part of Glanbia), who has also worked at a series of high-profile businesses including Procter & Gamble, General Mills, MolsonCoors, Abbott Laboratories, and Athletes’ Performance Inc (now EXOS).
“The whole goal is building one team with one culture and one purpose, but the capability in Denver is around digital social influencer marketing, and innovation - all around D [Katz]; whereas in Huntington [Long Island] we’ll focus on product supply, and running sales and finance.”