Clif Bar adopts ambitious ‘transformation’ to expand portfolio, consumer-reach & sustainability

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Clif Bar & Co.
Source: Clif Bar & Co.

Related tags Clif bar Sustainability Marketing Innovation

Less than a year after taking the helm at Clif Bar & Co., new CEO Sally Grimes is spearheading the company’s first transformation in 30 years with an ambitious goal to double its business to $2 billion and double its positive impact on the world.

To do this the company is embracing a new structure that will allow it to more quickly identify and meet the evolving needs of consumers and appeal to a broader shopper base with timely, innovative launches in new categories for more eating occasions, Grimes told FoodNavigator-USA.

The company also will adopt a more balanced marketing mix to build brand awareness beyond its loyal core consumers of athletes and weekend warriors who rely on its energy bars to fuel their active lifestyles, Grimes added.

“When the founders brought me on, they knew that a reset was going to be needed,”​ and that for Clif to grow it needed to be closer to consumers to better understand their lives and desires, Grimes said. She added the pandemic accelerated this need by shaking up overnight consumers’ shopping preferences, eating behaviors and exercise patterns.

New talent focus on advanced analytics, innovation

To better understand and connect with modern consumers, Clif is brining in new talent and creating 50 jobs that are focused on advanced analytics, technology, agile innovation, design thinking and modern revenue growth management.

Among the new hires to help lead the transformation are Jennifer Bentz, who will lead Clif’s newly created applied insights and technology group, which “is going to help connect the dots for us on what’s working, what not and what consumers want,”​ Grimes said. Rizal Hamdallah also joined Clif in November as the company’s first chief innovation officer.

“Between the two of them, the advanced analytics and the ability to innovate with speed, I think our chances are pretty good here,”​ Grimes said.

The company also will eliminate approximately 125 positions across the company, which Grimes said was a difficult decision to make, but necessary to drive growth long-term.

“During this process it is incredibly important to stay true to our values,”​ Grimes said, explaining: “We have a five-aspiration business model,and our people aspiration is first. So, we really, really, really care about taking care of our people.

“Which is why we are going above and beyond to help people transition out of the organization with resources​. We’re offering a separate benefit with continued healthcare coverage through the end of 2021. In addition, over the next 60 days we’re going to have workshops, we’re going to help build resumes. We want to take care of our people.”

To further support employees, Grimes said, Clif soon will launch a happiness index that will be grounded in research and created with input from experts at Harvard to measure and build workforce wellbeing.

An expanded portfolio that is ‘fit for movement’

As the company continues to build out its team, it will focus first on building a broader “fit for movement”​ portfolio that offers consumers more choices, Grimes said.

“I know a lot of CPG companies have been talking about [reducing SKUs] the last couple of months. But for us it is really about building our portfolio. We have our legacy products … that are not going away, we’ve got an incredibly loyal customer base for those. But that being said, we need to innovate around it and reach a broader consumer base and introduce them to a broader product portfolio. So, we don’t really need to pare back. We need to build,”​ Grimes said.

Early innovations include Clif Thins made from organic rolled oats that come two to a pack and weigh in at only 100 calories with five grams of sugar – making it an ideal mid-afternoon snack to eat in between video-conference meetings, Grimes said.

“This is the first time we’ve done anything like this, but it goes back to the consumer behaviors and how they are changing,”​ she explained, noting that thins have become a number one seller on the company’s direct-to-consumer ecommerce platform.

The thins, which were created and launched in under six months, also demonstrate Clif’s ability to innovate with speed – a priority that Grimes says the new structure will foster further.

Another new launch that further expands Clif’s snacking presence is a line of Pop’n Crunch clusters that combine nutrient dense ingredients such as seeds and nuts, with indulgent but healthy flavors, Grimes said.

Brand building requires a new marketing mix

The company also will prioritize building brand awareness with a new marketing mix, Grimes said.

“We have a marketing arm at Clif that has been historically field-based, which I am sure you can appreciate was essentially grounded when the pandemic hit. And that really highlighted that we’ve been too heavily focused on that part of our marketing mix and it exposed that we needed to really diversify and rebalance the way we reach our consumer,”​ Grimes said.

The company will launch a new marketing campaign soon that will bring Clif to more places and reach beyond its existing consumer base of the core athlete, she added.

‘Clif Bar is the OG company with ESG’

As the company builds out its portfolio and reach, it will do so in an environmentally responsible and sustainable way with a goal of becoming not just climate neutral, but climate net positive, Grimes said.

“So many companies are talking about ESG, but Clif Bar is the OG company with ESG. They’ve been doing this since the beginning, and we have new, big goals that we’re putting out there,”​ she said. “One of the first things we did with our new model was reframe our purpose and redesign the business of food for health, equity and Earth.”

For example, she touted the company’s zero-waste bakery that uses 100% renewable energy to produce its bars. In addition, she noted how the company is leveraging climate net positive actions in its supply chain to generate a living wage and income.

Reflecting on these changes, Grimes acknowledged that “there’s a lot of things happening right now,”​ but she said she also is excited for where Clif is headed, the new talent it is bringing on and the product launches it is offering to better reach consumers.

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