Meteoric sales growth at Primal Kitchen: 'Things just exploded as soon as we launched'

Meteoric sales growth at Paleo-fueled brand Primal Kitchen

We did everything you’re not supposed to do,” observes the COO of Primal Kitchen, which exploded out of the blocks with a sugar-free avocado oil-based mayo in February 2015, notched up revenues of $13.2m in 2016, and is expecting to almost double that in 2017. 

We launched with only one SKU – a mayo that cost $9.99, which a lot of people thought was just crazy” says Morgan Buehler, “and later we moved into a completely unrelated category [snack bars], also with just one SKU, which is usually bar suicide, but it worked out.

“I think there’s a lot to be said for building a community, which is what [founder and owner] Mark [Sisson] has done. A lot of brands spend a lot of money trying to create authenticity, but we were authentic before we had a product.”

The fact that Oxnard, CA-based Primal Kitchen is spearheaded by Sisson, a former endurance athlete, lifestyle guru and author with close to a million social media followers - has clearly given the brand a head start, acknowledges Buehler. But a big name only takes you so far, she points out (put another way, Sisson’s name encourages trial, but people won’t buy a lousy product twice).

It was chaos, in a fabulous way

And the numbers speak for themselves, she adds: “Primal Kitchen did $1.6m in 2015. We launched our avocado mayo [made from avocado oil and cage-free organic eggs] on February 2, 2015, so that $1.6m is only 11 months of data with one SKU for the majority of the year.

“We thought if we sell the first production run in six months we’ll be happy, but things just exploded as soon as we launched. We ran out a week later and it was chaos, in a fabulous way.

“We launched our first salad dressings with avocado oil, a Chipotle Lime mayo, and a Dark Chocolate Almond Bar in December 2015.

“In 2016 we did $13.2m. It’s pretty incredible. At the beginning of the year, our goal was $6m or $8m, but come June, we were like Holy Smokes, we’ve already done $6m, I think we need to set bigger goals. And we see no reason we can’t almost double revenues in 2017.”

Ingredients list (Primal Kitchen Dark Chocolate Almond Bar): Almonds, Pumpkin Seeds, Grass Fed Hydrolyzed Collagen, Prebiotic Fiber (From Cassava Root), Coconut Flakes, Honey, Natural Flavors, Water, Coconut Oil, Unsweetened Chocolate, Organic Fair Trade Cocoa Powder, Cocoa Nibs, Himalayan Pink Salt, Monk Fruit Extract, Tocopherols, Hazelnuts, Macadamia Nuts, Cashews.

Nutrition: One 48g bar has 230 calories, 15g protein, 6g fiber and 3g sugar.

We sold 50,000 bars in 24 hours

The nutrition bars, which contains grass-fed hydrolyzed collagen [a protein found in bones, tendons, ligaments, connective tissues and skin that’s a favorite with the Paleo and Keto communities, but is also “associated with beauty and anti-aging,” says Buehler], have been a big success, even though it was not an entirely logical category to move into for a brand that started life in the condiments aisle.

However, in other respects, it was entirely logical territory for Sisson, a former elite endurance athlete who has written a series of best-selling health and fitness books including The Primal BluePrint and Primal Endurance and still blogs daily at MarksDailyApple, which has been running since 2006.

 “I didn’t really want to enter the bar category because it’s already way too crowded,” says Buehler. “But when we launched it a year ago online, we sold 50,000 bars in 24 hours. We had no idea [how successful it would be].

“What I came to realize is that there are so many sh**ty bars on the market. We don’t need another date and fruit and nuts and brown rice syrup bar with 26 grams of sugar, where you can eat 250 calories in three bites. You might as well have a Snickers bar. You just eat one and immediately want another one, you just don’t feel satiated.

“Our bar only has 3g of sugar [from honey and monk fruit extract] and 15g of protein [from grass-fed cows], but it’s also harder to chew. Everyone I know tends to eat half at a time and then save the rest for later.”

It’s all about finding out what works for a healthier, happier you

So what’s the Primal Kitchen brand all about? Strictly Paleo?

While Sisson is “one of maybe three thought leaders who popularized Paleo,” according to Buehler, and most of the products in the Primal Kitchen portfolio are grain-, legume-, and dairy-free, he’s not as prescriptive as some other Paleo enthusiasts.

His approach is less restrictive than some. In his mind, if you have digestive issues, try eliminating dairy, and if you reintroduce it and have no problems, by all means do so, as it’s got a lot of positive nutrition; it’s all about finding out what works for a healthier, happier you.”

Clicks and bricks

As for the retail strategy, given Sisson’s large online following, direct to consumer seemed a logical place to start (Sisson has more than 350,000 newsletter subscribers], and Primal Kitchen still does a significant amount of business online via Thrive Market, Amazon, its own website and multiple other sites, says Buehler.

However, it’s also gaining listings in bricks and mortar retailers, from Whole Foods to Sprouts, Ahold, Kroger, Wegmans and Publix, she says.

So what’s next for the brand?

New additions to the portfolio include a dairy-free green goddess and Caesar dressing with avocado oil, collagen-packed protein powders, and three more nutrition bars to take the SKU count to four, she says.

“We’re a lifestyle brand and we’ve proved we can show success in multiple categories, but does that mean we want to enter every aisle of the grocery store right now, definitely not. We’ve only got five full time people working for us, so it’s amazing we’ve done what we’ve done.”

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