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Driving sales

Steve Sinovic | nfo@nnbw.biz
Sam Marson at the reception area of the company's warehouse. Fig bar samples are always on offer for visitors.
Annie Conway |

In 2010, father-son snack food innovators Dave and Sam Marson set a very high bar — by creating a bar all their own.

When the Carson City maker of baked goods sold under other vendors’ labels faltered, the company rebranded as Nature’s Bakery and moved into producing and selling its own brand of healthy fig bars for retail sale.

Self-funded from the get go, the Marsons developed their own product line and shipped out sampling packs to buyers at mainstream and natural foods grocers to get their products on the shelves.

“Like a snowball, product demand picked up traction,” said Sam. They started staffing up. “We went from 12 employees to nearly 500.” Along the way, several private backers provided needed capital to grow.

The business wasn’t bankable in the early going, said Sam, so the Marsons had to create their own equipment — buying a machine shop in Carson City to build equipment customized to its manufacturing processes.

“We started getting calls back for orders and then it just took off,” said Sam, 27, co-founder of the business, which recently announced it would become one of the smallest primary sponsors in NASCAR, with fewer than 500 employees in the U.S. Sam said the company’s products are in all 50 states and 22 countries.

The family had a gut feeling that the product had a place in the nutrition bar category, vying with giants like Power Bar and Clif Bar.

According to Nutrition Industry Executive magazine, the food category is approaching $6 billion in sales in the U.S. (a staggering 800 percent increase over the last decade) and is showing no signs of abating with brands like Nature’s Bakery getting into the act.

“Everyone uses it in a different way,” said Sam, referring to the fig bar’s versatility. It can be a nutritious quick pick me up for athletes or a meal replacement for dieters.

For time-starved customers, especially health and fitness enthusiasts, the product fits the bill. Nature’s Bakery line of fig bars include lemon, peach, mango, and several berry flavors.

Five years later, Nature’s Bakery biggest challenge is keeping up with demand for its product. “California is a powerhouse market for us,” said Sam of the nutrition-conscious Golden State, where the company buys some of its figs. Suppliers in Turkey also provide product.

Their Nature’s Bakery fig bars have hit a sweet spot — seeing sales double nearly every year. Business has been so good for the northern Nevada company that it bought an old Pillsbury Bakery factory in St. Louis last year to keep up with consumer demand at retail outlets, including select Costco stores Whole Foods, Save Mart, Raley’s, Winco and sporting goods stores such as REI and Scheels.

In addition to two factories, the company operates a good-sized warehouse/distribution center in South Reno and also rents administrative space about a mile away in an office park.

Earlier this year, the company introduced gluten-free fig bars to its lineup. The flour blend was the most important detail to master, said Sam.

Nature’s Bakery will be selling holiday-themed fig bars, such as pumpkin-flavored ones in Halloween bags for little ghosts and goblins.

The business, which up to now focused on grassroots marketing, is upping its game with the NASCAR deal and it’s gotten a lot of play in the national media.

“Now they are breaking down our doors,” said Sam of the banks that previously didn’t show any interest in the company. With the NASCAR sponsorship, a higher profile will connect the company with a new audience.

That will mean no more neon green paint for Danica Patrick, the driver the business is backing.

She’s a brand ambassador with whom millenials can identify with, said Sam, about joining Stewart-Haas Racing to become the primary sponsor of driver Patrick and the No. 10 team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series beginning with the 2016 season.

Nature’s Bakery did not disclose the dollar amount, but sponsorship of a NASCAR team starts at the $5 million level. All Sam Marson would say is that Nature Bakery’s outlay is a significant marketing expenditure.

While all parties are mum on the financial details, a source in a recent Sports Business Journal article had said that SHR originally was seeking $18 million to fill its former sponsor GoDaddy’s void. When asked whether SHR had to take less money because it was dealing with a non-Fortune 500 company, Mike Verlander, SHR’s vice president of sales and marketing, said in the newspaper story that “was not the case.”

This much is known: The multiyear sponsorship agreement will see Nature’s Bakery and its signature tagline, “Energy for Life’s Great Journeys,” adorn Patrick’s No. 10 Chevrolet SS for 28 races a year.

“It’s an honor to represent Nature’s Bakery and also a great deal of responsibility,” Patrick said in a statement. “They have ambitious goals and they’re going to rely on me and everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing to deliver. I have ambitious goals too. It’s why I came to NASCAR and, specifically, to Stewart-Haas Racing. There’s still a lot I want to achieve in this sport and I’m looking to continue my professional journey with a brand as determined as I am.”

Sam Marson said the company also envisions teaming with other high-profile athletes down the line. Brand ambassadors in sports such as biking, snowboarding, and volleyball are being considered.

Other products are on the drawing board. Sam said brownies will join the snack lineup for customers needing to conquer those chocolate cravings. In addition to adding to its grocery store business, the Marsons are looking at making inroads with convenience-store chains.