With innovation in short supply, ‘our voice will become louder as we move into 2023’: Clio Snacks CEO
Clio Snacks CEO John McGuckin – taking over the reins in October 2021 from founder Sergey Konchakovskiy who moved into the executive chairman role – believes Clio offers something that had never before existed in the supermarket … “the handheld nature, the Greek yoghurt goodness, the chocolate, the permissible indulgence, the high protein and the low sugar on a relative basis puts us in a very unique position. And consumers are certainly responding to that, as is the trade,” he said, noting distribution has grown 54% and household penetration has doubled in the past year alone.
“So, we're on our way, but I think our voice will become louder as we move into 2023.”
One of the challenges has been to establish that footprint with retailers to create that destination for consumers.
“Until now, many retailers [‘hid’] the bars in this giant yoghurt mass … so we’re really trying to carve out a section where the perfect bar and Clio can reside and provide that destination for the consumer,” said McGuckin.
Clio’s chief marketing officer Rachel Moore echoed McGuckin’s ‘overarching strategy’ to see Clio placed “where every refrigerated snack is sold … and when we expose consumers to this product, 76% want to purchase. And so, we have a very large base that we have an opportunity to go after and we're excited to continue to drive more consumers into the brand,” she said.
The rise of ‘smeals’
McGuckin believes the snackification trend – or ‘smeals’ (the intersection between snacking and meals) as he calls it – has been developing for the past 5-6 years, but was given impetus thanks to COVID.
“Snacking continues to grow, with 62% of consumers replacing at least one meal a day with a snack. We’ve seen that because of the pandemic in particular. There’s been a big growth in online purchases and fewer trips to the grocery store, [meaning] consumers tended to load up. So, [there’s been an increase in] value buys and deals.
“But still remaining through it all is a growth and desire for permissible indulgence.”
Added Moore, “Consumers are looking for brands, but in different places than they did pre-pandemic. We’ve seen consumers shift to dot.com, so we have to intercept then there when they're searching for bars or yogurt versus on shelf.
“We still see a large percentage of our consumers walking into the store now, especially two years later and we have to find them there as well.
“Through the pandemic, though, people still wanted to indulge … we all felt a little scared and the future was unknown, so [the need for] indulgence rose and Clio was there [with] ‘permissible indulgence’. What Clio does unbelievably well is take something that's innately permissible – Greek yoghurt – and make it indulgent.”
Innovation on the back burner?
According to McGuckin, the current inflationary environment is compounding the pressures felt by the sector, and it is innovation that has taken a knock.
“I think that, to a large degree due to inflationary and margin pressures, a lot of companies have resisted innovation. It's become risky to a certain extent as they're struggling with labour [shortages] and struggling with inflation. Companies have [focused] on optimising themselves and protecting their core … at the expense of innovation.
“I do think we’ve seen much less innovation since the pandemic began. Hopefully, as things turn in 2023, we will begin to see more innovation,” said McGuckin. In our podcast interview, he also delves into the challenges currently facing the dairy sector.
“We’re challenged with the same things as everyone else, but I think we’ve been very fortunate that we [focused] on innovation.
“We’ve been able to expand our flavour offerings and … now we’re introducing multi-packs, which is a critical consumer trend that’s developing. People are buying more multipacks and we're going to be participating in that at the beginning in September.”
While McGuckin said going plant-based is currently not in the works, it is a concept the New Jersey company is keeping on its radar. Particularly as his five year strategy is hoping to emulate Clif Bar’s $2.9bn acquisition by Mondelez International, migrating the bar category into the refrigerated environment.
“We’ll continue to attract attention and the category will develop significantly,” he said, adding Clio is aiming to grow its retail footprint even further and debut in foodservice, in colleges, universities, airports and hospitality.
“So, for us, it’s really about welcoming new users and continuing to foster the relationship with those who are huge fans and loyalists of this brand … and continue to build from there,” said Moore.
Fighting for Ukraine
Sergey Konchakovskiy grew up in Kiev and graduated as a doctor, but did not practice medicine. Instead, he immigrated to the US in his 20s, landing a job for Entenmann’s and then Wonderful Company in the financial division. The refrigerated yoghurt bars essentially got their foundation ‘by accident’, but also harking back on a childhood treat.
As a Ukrainian national, the current conflict is obviously high on Clio Snacks’ agenda.
“This is something Sergey is extremely passionate about and we, as an organisation, are continuing to try and find ways to continue the support,” said Moore.
“Back in March … we executed a pretty large fundraise with our consumers. We matched donations or matched purchases on our website and donated this to Razom for Ukraine,” a non-profit human rights organisation established to support the people of Ukraine in their pursuit of a democratic society with dignity, justice and human and civil rights.
“We’ve also donated medical supplies and helped supplement the support that delivery of those goods to Ukraine. Then actually, just a couple weeks ago, we had our company picnic and were able to build these medical kits in person. We built over 100 medical kits and will continue to be executing these kinds of support initiatives.”
We chat to McGuckin and Moore about consumer behaviour and trends, the current state of the snacks and dairy industries, the pandemic and other challenges, and so much more.