"The question for us has always been, 'Why aren’t you at Whole Foods?' And our answer has always been, 'We haven't talked to them yet," but not for lack of trying, ALOHA CEO Brad Charron told FoodNavigator-USA.
"We’ve submitted four or five times with largely no response. And we don’t take it personally; you can’t take ‘no’ personally, because a lot of times it means 'not yet'."
After many unreturned calls and emails, Charron finally got the call back he was waiting for from Whole Foods Market's principle category merchant Allie Hausladen who was ready to not only talk but take a bet on ALOHA and get the brand into all 526 of its store locations where it could help update the retailer's current bar set, said Charron.
"They’re not dabbling with us. They’re giving us four SKUs (peanut butter cup, cookie dough, peanut butter chocolate chip, and coconut chocolate almond) with a fifth SKU in May and perimeter and end cap placements," said Charron, who noted that ultimately ALOHA's multiple attributes (low-sugar, plant-protein, B-Corp Certified) and taste profile won it Whole Foods' business.
ALOHA’s plant-based protein bars feature a proprietary brown rice and pumpkin seed protein blend and deliver 14g protein and 5g sugar per serving along with being Certified USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, Certified Vegan, and made without gluten, dairy, soy, and sugar alcohols.
"You’ve got to have more than one attribute at your disposal to win. The worst thing you can be is a one-note brand and consumers want optionality," he said.
Outside of the brand's core bar business, Charron added how the company is beginning submissions at Whole Foods for its single-serve plant-based protein drinks made with coconut milk, which the company will be "really pushing" this year.
Charron added that ALOHA has the sales track record to prove itself a worthy adversary in the competitive bar category through its online and brick-and-mortar business.
ALOHA has doubled its sales each year since Charron took over as CEO in 2017, according to recent SPINS data for the latest 52 weeks, which showed it is the fastest-growing plant-based protein bar in the Natural Channel (Total US Food, & MULO).
"We’re at over 200% growth on Thrive Market, and we’re driving that category. In Sprouts, we’re a top ten velocity brand in dollars and velocity. And on Amazon, we have almost 30% higher repeat rates than our competitive set," said Charron.
"Once consumers try it, we have very heavy repeat [purchase]."
Charron noted that while Whole Foods distribution opens up a new retail account for the brand, there is significant overlap between the Whole Foods shopper and its current consumer base who are both searching for more plant-based options.
"This is a reach play for us, not a new [type of] consumer," he said.
The year ahead
Looking ahead to the rest of the year, Charron said that the company is focused on growing distribution and availability for the rest of its portfolio, which includes RTD plant-based protein drinks and mixes.
"We're opening up distribution more in 2022 with HEB in Texas, Meijer, and Lucky's. And we're figuring out our supply chain. I spend about 50% of my time on improving our supply chain because it's impossible to make a sale when you're out of stock," said Charron.
"It's the crucial break-even between your products getting on shelf and off the shelf from a velocity standpoint."