The stevia-sweetened bars – which contain 14-15g fat, 9-10g protein, 6-7g fiber and 2-3g naturally occurring sugar per 40g, 200-calorie bar – appeal to keto fans, but don’t have the look and feel of heavily-processed ‘special diet’ products, said Kitirattragarn, who launched the bars online in September 2018 ahead of a nationwide launch in Whole Foods in January.
“It surprised even us when we saw the numbers," said Kitirattragarn, who impressed his first major customer (Whole Foods) with his toasted coconut chips via a chance encounter at a trade show in 2011, and has since added sticky rice chips and bars to his product line up.
"I’ve never seen anything like it before. Dang Bar is one of the best-selling nutrition bars at Whole Foods, boasting the #1 spot for unit velocity at 22.3 units/store/week in the first quarter of 2019. What’s also been encouraging is that every promo we’ve run we’ve seen 40% sustained lift, so when people try it, they incorporate it into their daily routine.”
Dang bars are also available in The Fresh Market, Sprouts, OTG, and Wegmans and will be launching soon in Publix, H-E-B, and Hudson News, with more conventional accounts to follow further down the line, he added.
“I think they meet a lot of checkmarks with consumers, being plant-based, keto certified, whole foods based and non-GMO, but I think the low sugar aspect is really important too. Keto is a strong talking point but in the long term I think brands that position themselves entirely around keto could grow fast and probably decline just as fast, whereas we’re trying to position ourselves towards long term growth.”
The flavors - from cardamom chai and toasted coconut to lemon matcha - also set the brand apart, he said: “You see brands like Quest Nutrition going for flavors like birthday cake, donuts, and cookies, but we’re leading with cinnamon, chai spices and so on.”
Asked about ingredients he had been experimenting with lately, Kitirattragarn said he was excited about allulose, a rare sugar that has virtually no calories, and no impact on blood sugar, but 70% of the sweetness of sugar. "Personally I think the flavor outperforms any sugar substitute I've seen."
CBD, the hot ingredient of the moment, however, is not likely to appear in Dang Foods' snacks any time soon, he predicted. "There's a lot of claims and not a whole lot of evidence, yet, so I'm a little skeptical, although I know anecdotally people say it relaxes them. But I feel like there's way too much hype."
Jon Sebastiani at Sonoma Brands, an early investor in Dang Foods, said he was "ecstatic" by the bar's initial performance given how notoriously competitive - and crowded - the nutrition bar category has become. "We look at repeat purchase rates, and they're off the charts."
He added: "Most people recognize Dang as a coconut brand, so to leverage the keto friendly nature of coconut as the foundation for their bars makes sense. They have also created Thai flavors so there is connectivity to the core brand through that as well."