The past few years have been challenging for Clif Bar. For one, its competition is growing in strength. Kind Bar, which is aiming for Clif Bar’s core consumer, was recently acquired by Mars, giving it access to the multinational’s considerable resources. Kind has taken Clif Bar to task for the nutritional profile of its products, even as Clif Bar has questioned Kind’s lack of organic ingredients. Clif Bar has been committed to staying privately owned, even walking away from a deal with Quaker in 2000, according to Inc.
To gain momentum, innovation has become even more important for Clif Bar. Grimes, who joined Clif Bar this past May from Tyson Foods, has growth and innovation as her marching orders. Last November, the company hired its first chief innovation officer, Rizal Hamdallah. His role includes developing new products and creating “positive change through food.” Clif Bar also recently hired Jennifer Bentz to head its new applied insights and technology group, which will help it better target consumer needs, Grimes told FoodNavigator.
The company’s recent innovations include Clif Thins, which offer consumers a 100-calorie energy boost with 5 grams of sugar to fuel them in between afternoon Zoom meetings, Grimes said — a new reality brought by the pandemic. Clif’s new Pop’n Crunch Clusters offer 5 grams of protein per 150-calorie serving, and contain “nutrient-dense” ingredients such as almonds, chia seeds and quinoa. Better-for-you snack products have seen renewed interest during the pandemic, as consumers focus on their health and “COVID-15” weight gain. The annual Food & Health Survey from the International Food Information Council found that one-quarter are specifically seeking out functional and healthy ingredients.
Sustainability is another opportunity to differentiate for the Clif Bar brand. Grimes has described the company as the “OG with ESG,” referring to Clif Bar’s commitment to hitting environmental, societal and governance goals. The company has pledged to make all its packaging recyclable, compostable, or reusable by 2025. The packaging will also include instructions on how consumers can use these options. It also has made organic a focal point, becoming USDA organic certified in 2003, and sourcing one billion pounds of organic ingredients through 2018.
One part of Clif Bar’s transformation plans involves becoming a climate-net-positive company, which is one step above being climate-neutral. In essence, the brand pledges to remove or offset additional carbon emissions from the environment, based on its activities, joining brands such as Danone’s Horizon Organic, which has committed to becoming carbon-positive across its entire supply chain by 2025.
In the face of greater competition and changing consumer needs, Clif Bar needs to adopt a more sustainable strategy to thrive in the years ahead. Its newest efforts — the investment in innovation and analytics, product development and sustainability — are promising steps toward that transformation.