BakeryandSnacks caught up with Joel Warady, Enjoy Life Foods' sales and marketing officer, at the Winter Fancy Food Show this year to see how the love story between the global snacking powerhouse and the free from brand producer has unfolded over the past decade.
“I’ve been involved with Enjoy Life Foods since the inception in 2001. From the onset, all of our products are free-from what the FDA called the top eight food allergens,” said Warady.
“Back then, when we talked to retailers about food allergies, they looked at us as some aliens who landed from Mars. Food allergies were just not on anyone’s radar.”
The company grew slowly for the first decade, with growth skyrocketing from 2011, said Warady.
"Our goal is to not only be a leader in the $6.5bn free from category, but to set the trends in the growing healthy and clean eating category."
“In 2011, 2012 and 2013, we had significant growth both in distribution and in sales (around 40% YOY),” he said.
“In 2015, Mondelēz approached us and we had a number of discussions. Initially, we did not think it was the best fit, but it has been a great partnership.”
Warady said Mondelēz allowed Enjoy Life Foods to operate as a standalone business.
"That’s very important… When some other businesses acquire a brand, they immediately have their conventional sales team selling the brand. We did not do that – Enjoy Life Foods sales and marketing teams are independent from Mondelēz’s," he said, noting the the reason was because “our products are in the natural channel and Mondelēz didn’t have a significant amount of expertise in that area.
“We help Mondelēz engage in the natural channel… However, when it makes sense, we do leverage their resources. For example, we share distributors.
“Also, as part of the publicly traded company, we don’t report our growth separately, but we just finished the year 2017 with double-digit growth again,” said Warady.
Conventional retail goes ‘natural’
Enjoy Life Foods, with the help of Mondelēz’s distribution network, has transitioned from a purely natural channel brand to a multi-channel brand.
The expansion is also the result of conventional retailors wanting to play in the natural space, according to Warady.
“That said, most conventional retailers still segregate their natural products and natural aisle, and the majority of them will use either UNFI (United Natural Foods) or KeHe as their natural distributors.
“But there are a few that have started to integrate. Kroger is one of them, bringing natural cookies into their regular cookie aisle,” Warady added.
When asked about the fate of Enjoy Life Foods’ products sold on shelf as experts speculate grocery stores will move their centerstore dry goods online, Warady said: “There are always consumers who will buy their staple foods online and that number will continue to grow.
“Brick-and-mortar stores are not going away, but they will change: The average consumers who goes into Kroger’s cookie aisle might see four Enjoy Life cookie SKUs, but then Kroger will tell them there are 12 additional SKUs on Kroger.com and they could place their orders the next day.”
He added Kroger’s $280m purchase of Vitacost.com in 2014 was the retailer’s first major move into the online space.
“We do extremely well on Vitacost too,” said Warady.
“E-commerce has been a focus for a number of years and it’s growing with high-double digits. Our goal by 2020 is to have e-commerce represent 20% of our business. We are on track to achieve that.”
New packaging and plant-based protein bars
Enjoy Life Foods recently rebranded its products, switching to teal-colored packaging – a move the brand would not have achieved without Mondelēz’s financial resources, said Warady.
“We want to pop up on shelf and catch consumers’ attention within the first few seconds,” he said.
“We tried to pick a color that stands out... teal just happened to be the unofficial color of food allergy. Although blue has been considered an unappetizing color for most CPG brands, we decided to use the color anyway.”
The company has also introduced a line of plant-based protein bars, Grain & Seed, to compete against Clif Bar.
It is the brand’s first line to combine three types of the ancient grain sorghum in four flavors: Chocolate Marshmallow, Banana Caramel, Maple Sweet Potato and Cranberry Orange.
“Our goal is to not only be a leader in the $6.5bn free from category, but to set the trends in the growing healthy and clean eating category,” said Warady.
Enjoy Life Foods produces its products at its 200,000-square-foot, allergen-free facility in Indiana that Mondelēz helped build in September 2016.