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Paleo boom or bust? The Primal Kitchen hungry for US expansion

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By Kacey Culliney+

14-Aug-2014
Last updated on 19-Aug-2014 at 10:15 GMT

The Primal Kitchen founder: 'Because of the paleo trend in the states the way it is, if I don’t do it now I’ll miss it completely and I would kick myself if I missed the boat'
The Primal Kitchen founder: 'Because of the paleo trend in the states the way it is, if I don’t do it now I’ll miss it completely and I would kick myself if I missed the boat'

Expanding into the US snack sector needs to happen now or never and CrossFit could be the way in, says the founder of UK Paleo bar start-up The Primal Kitchen.

Established in late 2013, The Primal Kitchen already retailed three fruit and nut bars in gyms, CrossFit clubs and health food stores in more than ten countries, including the UK, South Africa, Portugal and United Emirates. In the UK, bars had also hit mass market stores with listings in Superdrug and negotiations being finalized with Tesco.

The next target market was North America, said founder Suzie Walker, but the move had to happen fast.

“Because of the Paleo [caveman diet] trend in the states the way it is, if I don’t do it now I’ll miss it completely and I would kick myself if I missed the boat… It’s now or never,” she told BakeryandSnacks.com.

The goal was to be in the US by April next year, she said, but there was a lot to be done to get there. 

Firstly, a move to the US would involve a brand name change, she said, because ‘Primal Kitchen’ had already been trademarked in the country’s snacks category. “We’ve got another brand name, very similar, up our sleeves but it’s confidential for the time-being… But our new one will work.”

Walker said the long-term plan for US expansion would be to secure co-manufacturing and distribution, ideally in California first. 

CrossFit, gyms and yoga – the way in 

The Paleo Diet & CrossFit explained

The Paleo Diet - commonly known as the caveman or stone age diet - is the concept of eating plants and animals that were available to man in paleolithic times

CrossFit is a high-intensity, full-body exercise concept that started in Los Angeles and has since expanded across the globe

The Primal Kitchen planned to manufacture a US-branded batch in the UK to take over as samples for negotiations, she said. Interest would also have to be garnered in potential outlets, she said.

“I think we’re safe to dip our toes in the market. It won’t cost much to reprint the new brand and sell into the US,” she said.

Whole Foods Market USA and Trader Joe’s could be an entry point in the US, she said, but “the easiest route would be to go in via the gyms, CrossFit boxes and yoga classes”.  

CrossFit had proved the strongest network for expansion so far, she explained, because clubs tended to follow each other. “We’ve had a few requests from Europe this week – it’s a good addition to their business and they don’t have to do any explaining on what the product is and why you need to have it.”

Providing the company could resource on-the-ground expansion and establish a strong network, Walker had no doubt the brand would succeed in the US market.

CrossFit has been the strongest way for The Primal Kitchen to expand so far, says founder Photo Credit: CrossFit West Essex

Sports nutrition or free-from? 

The Primal Kitchen bars competed in both free-from and sports nutrition, she said, the latter of which came as a surprise. In the UK, for example, Naked Bars were the main free-from rival and Bounce Balls the 

sports nutrition competitor.

“We were always going to go into free-from, it was never intended to be a sports product, but the sports nutrition sector has taken to it more,” Walker said.

Ocado retailed the bars as a sports nutrition product, for example, and Tesco had plans to do the same, she said.

It was the nature of the product – being a bar – that created the appeal for the sports world, she said.

“I’m happy with that because actually, the more niche the market; the easier it is to target. When I stand at a CrossFit or sporting event, people taste it and want to buy it. You sell it at Whole Foods with samples and questions come up – what’s Paleo? What does this mean? How is it different? It’s such a different ball game.”

The Primal Kitchen bars compete in the sports nutrition and free-from sectors

Paleo: Boom or fad?

Asked if the Paleo diet was just a fad, Walker said: “It might be. That’s why I haven’t called it ‘The Paleo Kitchen’. The primal side is just a brand; it’s not a reference to the diet. Most people see it as a natural bar; it doesn’t alienate people who aren’t doing the diet. It’s even been picked up in the vegan and vegetarian world too, which I didn’t expect.”

The name choice also enabled future development beyond Paleo, she said.

However, Walker said the she believed Paleo was more than just a fad. "It emphasizes on clean, healthy eating; focusing on real food," she said. In addition, food intolerances were on the increase and consumers were rightly becoming more aware of what was in their food, she said. 

The Primal Kitchen will launch two new bar flavors by the end of the year and Walker said there were also plans to expand the product portfolio beyond bars, but development was only at very early, conceptual stages. 

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