Winter Fancy Food Show

Whoa Dough takes to the skies & schools to drive trial, boost retail velocities

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Fancy Food Show startups

While many entrepreneurs adopt a “sky’s the limit” mentality, few literally reach it the way that Whoa Dough did when American Airlines began offering its first class passengers the company’s better-for-you, plant-based and protein-packed cookie dough snack bars.

The partnership is just one of the many unconventional ways that Whoa Dough helps drive velocities through more traditional distribution channels and reaches a broader consumer base with its allergen-friendly products that are designed for everyone.

The startup, which launched its first product in January 2021, began like many other food and beverage brands with distribution in a local grocery chain and online through Amazon and it’s own website. But to drive trial and velocities at retail, founder Todd Goldstein, said he quickly realized he needed to get his product into more consumers’ hands, which prompted him to explore different distribution options – from grocery delivery boxes to schools to American Airlines.

Whoa Dough takes off with American Airlines

Within a year of launching its first product, Whoa Dough was in talks with American Airlines to give first class passengers its gluten-free, allergen friendly and better-for-you cookie snack bar. And while the bars were free for passengers, the deal was profitable for Whoa Dough and gave the brand much-needed exposure.

After launching onboard American Airlines, Goldstein said, Whoa Dough began moving 8,000 bars a day.

“When we did the analysis it was profitable, plus the amont of product we got into people’s hands, it would have cost us over $5 million if we did it from a true direct consumer marketing effort. So, not only did we make money, we got a lot of new consumer adoption from it,” he explained at the Winter Fancy Food Show in Las Vegas. He added that the company is exploring additional partnerships with multiple airlines.

Distribution at schools boosts sales as students teach families about Whoa Dough

Other unconventional, but strategic distribution partnerships that have helped Whoa Dough drive velocities at more traditional retailers include school districts, where hungry kids first try the bars and then ask their parents to buy them in stores to eat at home.

“I started looking at my kids and watched them eat my product every single day and take it to school and give it to their friends. And I started thinking to myself, like I need to go to where my consumers are right? And really, everyone eats cookie dough. But kids love cookie dough,” Goldstein recalled.

After attending the School Nutrition Association show in 2022 and verifying nearly all of Whoa Dough’s bars qualified as a Smart Snack and as a whole grain credit, the brand now offers its snacks through 50 school districts nationwide.

In the school districts where the snacks are distributed, Goldstein said he is seeing a lift at retail as students tell their caregivers about a “great snack” they tried at school and asking for it at home or in their lunchbox.

“While [the schools] may be a little bit lower margin, you’re getting right into kids hands. If you can get product into a kid's hands at 5 years old or 8 years old, you're building a lifelong customer … who is trying our bars first, and then eventually could eat our ready-to-bake… And then you build that loyalty that hopefully one day as they get older and then they have kids, it then transfers,” he said.

Partnership with PlantX eases shipping of refrigerated ready-to-bake cookie dough

When Whoa Dough recently launched its take-and-bake cookie dough it once again teamed with an unconventional partner – the online vegan grocery platform PlantX – to reach a core consumer group and alleviate some of the challenges of shipping a refrigerated item.

“As a small brand, it is really difficult to dropship a refrigerated product, and when Whoa Dough had this option with PlantX where they do refrigerated products that are plant-based, it was a no-brainer, because consumers are going to PlantX looking for plant-based products. They are looking for the next thing, and for us, we are launching the next thing,” Goldstein said.

So far, Whoa Dough has launched its refrigerated ready-to-bake dough in 600 retail locations nationwide with strong velocities that are outpacing the category by more than 20%, he added.

To drive sales further and better capture consumers attention, Whoa Dough will debut a new flavor bar at Natural Products Expo West in March and new packaging later this year.

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