Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after the brand – which was snapped up by Glanbia for $217m in December 2015 – launched a new line of plant-based protein bars and powders, thinkThin CEO Michele Kessler said thinkThin was enjoying strong growth year on year.
She could not disclose revenues (the last published figure was $84m in net sales in the 12 months to September 30, 2015), but said that thinkThin was growing shipments in the double digits and was “outpacing the category.”
She added: “Retailers seeing the potential of the protein bar category have largely given it more space and/or moved it from the OTC aisle to the cereal and snack bar aisle, which is a higher traffic aisle with greater household penetration. So this has exposed these products to new consumers and we have seen category penetration increase up to around 45%.
“Consumers are becoming more avid label readers and our research has indicated that some cereal and snack bars that were thought of as the healthy option a few years ago are now seen as not quite as healthy, and more people are switching to protein bars.”
Cutting through the noise: ‘Shopping the bar category can be incredibly confusing’
As more bars are added weekly, however, the market is getting very crowded, making it doubly important to have a clear brand positioning and strong packaging, she said.
“Shopping the bar category can be incredibly confusing, even overwhelming. There are so many brands so many benefits, so many flavors. So at thinkThin, although we have lots of attributes we could focus on such as gluten free, we’re guided by three pillars: We’re on the higher side of protein, on the lower side of sugar, and we’re great tasting.”
New additions to the portfolio – chocolate mint and sea salt almond chocolate bars with 13g protein from pea, brown rice and pumpkin - reflect growing demand for better tasting plant-based options from customers, said Kessler.
“I think in the past some consumers have put off by plant-based options because they are skeptical about the taste, but I truly put our plant-based bars up against any of our [regular] bars now in terms of taste.”
The new pea- and rice-based protein powders, meanwhile, include Ganeden's BC30 probiotic, she said.
thinkThin brand could extend into multiple aisles of the store
So where is the thinkThin brand going next, and could it extend beyond the snacks aisles?
Absolutely, said Kessler. “We’ve done quantitative consumer testing with new product concepts across a very wide range of categories and we’ve had very good results; we’ve already moved into oatmeal and protein powder categories and consumers and retailers have been very receptive, so there are opportunities for thinkThin to be in many aisles of the store.
"Later this year we’re planning to launch an innovative breakthrough protein snack, where the innovation is more around the form, so we’re very excited about that.”
It's about making smart choices
While the vast majority of purchases of thinkThin products are by women, thinkThin’s research suggests that consumption is more evenly split, skewing about 60:40 female to male, she said. And while having ‘thin’ in the brand name might hint at an earlier time when dieting (rather than healthy eating) was more prevalent in food marketing, the name isn’t holding the brand back, she said.
“The brand has been growing really well so I don’t think the name is holding us back; our current marketing campaign also has more emphasis on the word ‘think,’ it’s about making smart choices.”
From a distribution perspective, the focus is now on building depth given that the brand has strong distribution across all channels of trade, and is represented in chains from Trader Joe’s and Walmart to Vitamin Shoppe, CVS, Costco and Amazon, said Kessler, although there are big opportunities to expand distribution in the more fragmented c-store market.