Setting a High Bar

Kind snacks' smart branding, artisanal ingredients, and social agenda make for a tasty—and successful—mix.

Daniel Lubetzky gets choked up recalling how his late father survived a Nazi concentration camp between the ages of 9 and 15. "A German soldier saw that my dad was getting really weak and threw a potato in his direction," he says. "It was a risk to do that. My dad told remarkable stories about how kindness helped him through, and he lived his life afterward always trying to make people’s lives better." Lubetzky, 45, founded Kind Healthy Snacks partly to honor his father’s lessons in giving back to the world. Yes, the company makes artisanal treats that are reshaping the snack-bar category, but it also devotes a great deal of resources to crowdsourced charitable campaigns and other pro-social efforts. To Lubetzky, that translates into a company that he designates "not-only-for-profit."

Since launching in 2004, Kind has grown into a $120-million-a-year business (based on 2012 revenues), up from just $15 million in 2008. What was once a niche product sold at high-end stores such as Whole Foods has become an increasingly broad-­appeal alternative to less-healthy snacks. The company now sells 20 million bars a month, and you can buy them at places such as Target and Walmart. Kind—which recently introduced a new line of granola bars and cereals—­currently has five of the top 10 products in the nutritional-bar category.

Though Kind bars come in enticing flavors such as Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Pecan, each has five grams of sugar or less and is made from "ingredients you can see and pronounce," as the company likes to say. "We try to think with and rather than or," says Lubetzky. "It doesn’t have to be healthy or tasty. It can be healthy and tasty. It can be wholesome and convenient."

Lubetzky grew up in Mexico City, moving to the U.S. with his parents as a teenager. In college, he wrote a thesis on how business might help end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some of those ideas eventually made their way to his first food-related enterprise, PeaceWorks, which uses economic means to help ease global conflicts (its Meditalia tapenades and pestos, for example, are made by Israelis and Arabs working together in Israel).

Kind came from a similar impulse—and from a genuine hole in the market. "I would travel all across the United States selling [PeaceWorks’] products," says Lubetzky, "but I was very frustrated with my own snacking options." At the time, the closest things available were nutrition supplements like Balance Bars. So Lubetzky came up with his own snacks, which he created out of recognizable, unprocessed ingredients like real fruit and whole nuts. He started hawking his concoctions door-to-door in Manhattan, selling $1 million worth of bars in the first year. Things quickly took off from there.

Kind has always put a great deal of thought into shaping its brand. Part of the bars’ appeal is their sleek, modern, and—most important—clear packaging, which lets potential customers see exactly what they’re getting. "Transparency is one of our core principles," Lubetzky says. "We treat the food with integrity. We don’t commodify it beyond recognition." And Lubetzky long ago nixed cutesy product names, instead opting for simple descriptions of what each bar contains: Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt, say, or Blueberry Pecan + Fiber. "We don't come up with product names like 'Cookie Sugar à la Mode,'" he says. "We made a commitment that our brand is straightforward."

Also, the stuff just tastes good. According to Lubetzky, internal surveys suggest that 90% of the company's customers choose the bars because of their flavor, while 70% care about the health attributes. Just 30% cite the company's social mission. "It's real food, and customers can tell," he says. "You can have a product made by Mother Teresa, but people won't buy it again if it isn't the best."

Even so, Kind's social mission is important to many of its most dedicated customers. Its primary charity campaign, launched in 2009, is Do the Kind Thing, which lets Kind fans vote on which projects the company should sponsor. Each month, it donates $10,000 to a different crowdsourced charity. "Our dream is that people think about Kind as part of their community, part of their lifestyle, that they connect their sense of duty to our shared mission," says Lubetzky. "Then we want them to have a Kind Fruit & Nut bar."

[Photo by Stephanie Gonot]

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