The Oxnard, CA-based firm has enjoyed explosive growth since launching in February 2015 with a single SKU (a sugar-free avocado based mayo), and notched up revenues of more than $13m in 2016 as it expanded into collagen-based nutrition bars and protein supplements.
It has not disclosed its 2017 revenues, but co-founder Morgan Buehler told FoodNavigator-USA that the brand was “on target to double last year’s sales if not a little bit more than that this year [calendar year 2018],” as consumers increasingly spurned added sugar and embraced healthy fats.
She added: “We’ve had continued meteoric growth, but we’ve also maintained profitability through all this crazy growth because we’ve been lean and scrappy.”
We’re the #1 best-selling mayonnaise on Amazon
Today, Primal Kitchen still has a very strong digital presence, with online sales accounting for around 25-30% of sales and strong growth on every platform from Thrive Market, LuckyVitamin and Amazon to Primal Kitchen’s own website, but it has also seen strong growth in natural, conventional and club channels, she added.
“We’re the #1 best-selling mayonnaise on Amazon, and the best-selling brand on Thrive Market [excluding its private label], but we’re also in around 8,000+ [bricks & mortar] stores including Safeway, Costco, Kroger, Wegmans, Ahold and Publix.
“We have the #1 specialty oil in Kroger with our avocado oil and we have the #1 salad dressing in the natural channel with our ranch dressing, and even though we are in several different aisles of the grocery store, which could have been the kiss of death for such a new brand, it’s really working for us."
I was appalled I couldn’t find a product I could feel good about putting on my burger
That said, Primal Kitchen will only enter a category – especially one as mature as ketchup – if it can offer something genuinely new, said Sisson, who noted that some natural channel retailers had seen a sharp uptick in sales after merchandising all their Primal Kitchen products together.
“Ketchup is one of those products where I could not for the life of me understand why no one had got it right. I wanted something organic and unsweetened that tasted good. Consumers decided they didn’t want high fructose corn syrup in their ketchup, but brands just went and replaced it with cane sugar and coconut sugar, but it's still sugar.
“I was appalled that I couldn’t get a grass fed burger and find a product I could feel good about putting on my burger. So we set about to develop a ketchup with no sweeteners of any kind including [high potency] sweeteners such as monk fruit or stevia. We did it by using balsamic vinegar instead of just regular acidic vinegar, and that really changed everything.”
Ingredients list Primal Kitchen ketchup:
Organic tomato concentrate, organic balsamic vinegar, less than 2% of salt, organic onion powder, organic garlic powder, organic spices
Primal Kitchen has really resonated as a lifestyle brand
So how far could the Primal Kitchen brand extend?
“Primal Kitchen has really resonated as a lifestyle brand and the consumer data suggests we could be in any aisle,” claimed Sisson, who still updates his blog Marksdailyapple every day.
“But in reality, we have so many opportunities in the categories that we are already in before we go into new parts of the store. We’ve launched ketchup and mustard, a new egg free mayo and a garlic aioli mayo, and we have marinades and BBQ sauces to come.”
Buehler added: "We probably could do things like pre-packaged meals and all sorts of things where we feel we have permission to go, but it's about time and resources."
Even though Paleo for a long time was down on any legumes, I changed my stance on that years ago
While Sisson - the author of best-selling health and fitness books including The Primal BluePrint and Primal Endurance – still urges his legion of social media followers to eat more like their Paleolithic ancestors, he’s not as prescriptive as some other lifestyle gurus.
Asked, for example, if it made any sense to avoid foods such as chickpeas or bananas just because they weren’t consumed by our hunting and gathering forbears, Sisson said: “I’m not going to judge someone’s choice to eat more bananas and chickpeas. Even though Paleo for a long time was down on any legumes, I changed my stance on that years ago. Why eliminate an entire food group that contains not just proteins but fermentable fibers that are good for a healthy gut?
“But I still feel strongly that we should not be eating processed industrial seed oils, processed grains and sugars.”
Good, bad, ugly fats… which ones are which?
While some nutritionists would dispute Sisson’s contention that the scientific consensus has changed on saturated fat (the 2015 Dietary Guidelines and a 2017 presidential advisory from the American Heart Association still advise consumers to cut back on saturated fats and replace them with unsaturated fats, ideally polyunsaturated fats), Sisson claims “saturated fats can be deemed healthy up to a certain point.”
He also suggests that we could benefit from eating as much as 50-70% of our calories from fat, but cautions: “It’s not about eating unlimited bacon. There are healthy polyunsaturated fats such as omega-3s, which are generally anti-inflammatory, but I believe monounsaturated fats are the ideal choice for most of your fat intake, which is why we’ve built so many products around avocado oil."
'Mark’s a protein and veggies guy...'
As for adding butter to his coffee, he said: “I’m a keto guy but I would never do bulletproof coffee. I’d rather crunch and chew my calories, so I’d rather add salad dressings with lots of healthy fats to a big salad. What mostly drives the company is that we are food enhancers. I'm not about the quantified self, I'm about intuitive eating, making every bite of food I put in my mouth taste fabulous.
"We make healthy foods taste even better. I eat a really big salad every day and I could take the same giant bowl of mixed greens and peppers and nuts and avocados and make it taste completely different every single day based solely on my choice of dressing. It's about making healthy dietary patterns sustainable."
Buehler added: “We’re into real food. Mark’s a protein and veggies guy. He’s not walking around with a ketone breath monitor, he’s trying to take the stress out of healthy eating.”