The 25g lunchbox-friendly bars, which will launch online on February 19 ahead of a bricks & mortar rollout, are free of the big 8 allergens, ‘school-safe’ and contain 5g sugar, 3g fiber and 1g protein per 100-calorie bar.
The nut-, soy-, gluten-, and dairy-free formulation helps solve a problem for parents, CEO Paul Yoo told FoodNavigator-USA at the Specialty Food Association's Winter Fancy Food Show.
“Parents were telling us that they can’t put a product in their kids’ lunchboxes that their kids will eat that’s also allowed in schools. We’ve tried to solve this problem with our new bars, which have 100 calories each, and are allergen-free with fewer than 5 grams of sugar, and are made with clean ingredients.”
Kids’ bars were a logical extension for the brand, which uses the box to help children learn more about how their choices can help children that don’t have the same advantages in other parts of the world, he added: “Kids know when something isn’t fair.”
But as with all of the brands’ products, he said, taste is paramount. “We do our R&D in house and we’re incredibly stubborn about product quality. Our internal mantra is that we must be the best tasting product after you take the wrapper off and strip away the mission.”
So far, the approach has paid off for the brand's original bar line, he said: “We’re experiencing very fast growth. We’ve launching with Whole Foods Market in Florida, Gelson’s Markets, 200 Super Targets, all Starbucks nationwide, and new launches in regional grocery chains including Jewel and we’re about to launch with Wegmans.”
‘Any time there is an opportunity to have the space to tell our story, that’s what we gravitate towards’
Like most brands competing for attention in the crowded bar category, the brand performs the best when it is sold in shippers, at the checkout, or in a place where it has room to tell a story, he said.
“Any time there is an opportunity to have the space to tell our story, that’s what we gravitate towards, so we’ve been at the checkout at Whole Foods last year in the South Pacific region and we’re at the checkout at Starbucks.
“Sometimes retailers forgo slotting fees but in many cases we have to play by the traditional rules.”
We’ve never thought of ourselves as a bar company; we’re a social impact platform
Moving forward, “the brand can extend as far as your imagination,” he said, although its initial focus has been on snacks: “We’ve never thought of ourselves as a ‘bar company.’ We’re a social impact platform.
“We’re really building two enterprises at a time. We started as a mission, we were a mission with a company, not the other way around.”
While the ‘buy one, give one’ mantra can be a margin-sapping endeavor, especially for a start-up, the brand’s ‘go big or go home’ approach to social impact has its advantages, he said, noting that companies that attempt to tack on a social mission retrospectively can be viewed with cynicism by consumers, while small steps can also go unnoticed amongst all the noise.
“There’s so much noise out there and we have so much to talk about that it’s tempting to try and say everything to everyone. But you need to crystalize your message as a brand.
“There’s certainly a cost involved with building a social component into your business, but we’ve found we don’t have to do as much brand marketing because our customers are spreading our mission via word of mouth.”
Each time you buy a This Bar Saves Lives bar, the company donates a packet of PlumpyNut (a paste made from peanuts, milk powder, sugar, vegetable oils, vitamins and minerals) to a child in need via non-profit partners, said co-founder Ravi Patel (speaking to us at Expo West in 2018).
"Social enterprise, I think, when run well, can serve as a marketing line item. But in order to get to a reasonable ROI on that expense, you have to have a certain scale to your business, and getting to that point is extremely difficult, especially when the things you are donating are really expensive.
“But we’ve created an ecosystem of like-minded people who know that it feels good to do good, but that it can also be really good business, because consumers today more than ever before wear food brands like they do clothing brands, it’s part of their identity, it’s about voting with your wallet.”
‘The brand must stand on its own merits’
Asked how the celebrity founders – Kristen Bell, Ravi Patel, Ryan Devlin, and Todd Grinnell – factor into the marketing plan, he said that while they “help drive the strategic direction of the business,” Yoo doesn’t wheel them out to leverage their celebrity status at drop of a hat.
They talk about the brand, he says, “when they have something meaningful to say... The brand must stand on its own merits.”
So will consumers pay a premium if they know the money is going to a good cause? “You’d be surprised," said Yoo. "If people know where the extra money is going, they will pay more. What we say to our consumers is that you’re not just a consumer, you’re a change agent. By spending your money on this rather than that, you can improve society.
“We’ve also partnered with like-minded organizations that take on some financial responsibility around the distribution of our food aid and all the logistics so we can help each other out more effectively.”
To other brands thinking about giving back, he said: “If you want to suddenly include a charitable component, start with your core values – something you can’t sacrifice down the road when the going gets tough.”
This Bar Saves Lives was born after actors Ryan Devlin and Todd Grinnell met children suffering from acute malnutrition during a visit to Liberia in 2009 and witnessed first-hand how effective PlumpyNut emergency food packets could be in tackling the problem.
The concept was simple (buy a bar, feed a child), said Devlin, who – along with Grinnell - spent the better part of a year wrestling with granola, fruit, binders and nut butters before teaming up consultancy JPG Resources (run by former Kashi exec Jeff Grogg) to work out how to turn their idea into a commercially viable business.
“When we started we had absolutely no idea what we were doing,” Devlin told FoodNavigator-USA in 2016.
“We wanted something with broad appeal but also gourmet flavor profiles and very high quality ingredients. The team at JPG helped us with everything from scaling up for production, finding co-manufacturers, getting Non-GMO Project verified, and since meeting them I’ve learned more than I think I ever wanted to know about how to build a granola bar.”
Launched in 2013 via a direct to consumer website, This Bar... has since picked up business with Whole Foods, Amazon, Thrive Market, Target, Jewel, HyVee, and Delta Airlines, among others.