“We turn down probably 90% of the requests that we get [to be certified as Whole30] because the vetting process is pretty intense,” said Melissa Hartwig, co-creator or the diet, which is similar to but stricter than the paleo diet and is touted as a way to reset consumers’ health, habits and relationships with food by cutting out sugar, alcohol, grains, dairy, legumes, carrageenan, sulfites, MSG, baked goods and other "treats."
She explained earning the certification is difficult because “we are looking not only at their individual product and whether their ingredients are compliant with the program that is a bare minimum for inclusion,” but also at “do you offer products that are in the spirit and intention of Whole30. Is the product line fitting with our philosophy of real food and whole food and cooking at home and those real food values?”
In addition, Hartwig said, she considers how many products in the company’s portfolio are Whole30 complaint. “If you have 10 products and only one is Whole30 approved it doesn’t make sense for me to send my community your way,” she explained.
“And then on top of that, it is a really big discussion that includes the founders and owners, the marketing team, the social team,” and they consider “how are you serving your community, how do you envision serving our community, how can you help us share the Whole30 mission, how can we help you share your mission,” she said.
“It is a very extensive process,” she concluded.
But for the companies that can clear these hurdles “the use of the Whole30 trademark in their marketing and advertising and promotions and social media and packaging has a huge value,” Hartwig said.
For example, she explained on Instagram 2.8 million photos are hashtagged Whole30 and the diet has more than 2 million combined fans and followers and 2 million unique visitors on the website every month. Plus, there are four New York Times best-selling books that are prompting consumers to ask stores, restaurants and markets if they have Whole30 items.
“So, the access to our community and the fact that our program is pretty exclusive and is not just ‘Oh, you fit, let me give you a checkmark,’ adds a lot of value,” Hartwig said.
This value is directly reflected in the sales of program partners, she added, noting that one partner saw sales orders in January 2017 that were more than their entire sales in 2016, which could be directly tied back to a Whole30 marketing promotion in January.
Whole30 logo helps brands earn shelf space
The trademark also helps brands get into retail outlets, said Jason Burke, the founder of The New Primal – a brand that made its name selling clean-label, paleo-friendly meat snacks, including meat sticks for children.
“The power of [Hartwig’s] brand and what she has built over [at Whole30] is a pretty amazing platform,” Burke said. “She has extremely loyal consumers and being able to tell the story to category managers that there is a consumer out there looking for these kinds of items” that can be hard to find is a powerful message that can help secure distribution.
Burke’s accolades come from experience. Earlier this month The New Primal launched a line of marinades and cooking sauces nationwide in more than 400 Whole Foods Market locations with the Whole30 approved logo.
The trio of marinades and sauces came about a bit “unintentionally,” but when Burke realized that they were Whole30 compliant he jumped at the chance to secure the use of the logo.
He explained that the marinades were created as a way to improve quality control of the company’s jerky production outsourced to different facilities. Originally they were created simply as an ingredient, but later the team discovered they are great on their own for fish, meat, poultry and vegetables.
The current lineup includes Classic, Spicy and Citrus Herb – all of which sell for $7.99.
‘The tip of the iceberg’
Reflecting on the marketing potential of Whole30 and the more flexible and broad paleo categories, Burke says innovation is just at the tip of the iceberg.
“I think there is white space in every category still,” he said. “Any brand that goes into a category [as Whole30 or paleo] tends to disrupt it or tends to be the growth driver in that category. There are countless examples of stale categories that paleo brands have entered and all of a sudden that category is reinvigorated and amazing.”
For example, he said, “we can now sell $10 jars of avocado oil mayonnaise in a grocery store where there is a traditional mayonnaise next to it for $3.99 and it is the number one seller at that store because it is authentically positioned a certain way and it has the backing of these communities.”
With that in mind, he said, paleo and Whole30 compliant brands will “continue to go aisle by aisle in the grocery store and continue to disrupt, so I just think we are scratching the surface here.”