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Famine to feast for Nature’s Bakery

ANNE KNOWLES
aknowles@nnbw.biz
Nature's Bakery will soon be adding lemon, mango and strawberry to its line of fig bars.

Nature’s Bakery knows it can be feast or famine in the food industry.

“The last recession hit us hard,” says David B. Marson, president of the Carson City maker of baked goods. “A couple of our biggest clients went out of business.”

So, in 2010, when its business making products sold under other vendors’ labels faltered, the company moved into producing and selling its own brand of fig bars for retail sale.

Three years later, Nature’ Bakery biggest challenge is keeping up with demand for its product.

“It’s been crazy growth,” says Marson.

Nature’s Bakery line of vegan, kosher, dairy-free and health-conscious fig bars is now in 6,000 retail locations, including Whole Foods, Save Mart, Raley’s, Walmart, KMart and Winco as well as Walgreens and sporting goods stores such as REI and Scheels.

The bars are also sold by select Costco stores including locations in Canada and soon in South America. Nature’s Bakery is also planning to expand into Singapore through a distributor there. It does all that with a national sales manager and a roster of between 100-150 food brokers.

In the last two months, the company has hired 30 new employees, bringing its staff up to 65, and plans to hire an additional 30 workers this summer. The new positions are throughout the company, including in its 30,000-square-foot processing plant in Carson City and its 57,000-square-foot warehouse and administrative office in south Reno. Over the next couple years, Marson expects the company will consolidate its operations in Reno.

“Hiring hasn’t been a problem yet,” says Marson. “So far we have been able to pick and choose.”

Also not an issue has been ingredients, says Marson. The company double-sources everything it buys in case any one vendor can’t meet their demand and keeps its suppliers informed of its needs months ahead of schedule, he says.

This summer, Nature’s Bakery will make a $1 million investment in equipment to ramp up its daily production capacity from 300,000 fig bars to 1 million.

“And those are already all sold,” says Marson.

At the same time, the company hopes to beef up its traditional private-label business, which has dropped to just a few percentage points of overall revenue, to provide some balance to its business model.

Marson attributes the success of its brand to the quality of the product and the fact it appeals to a broad audience, from mothers wanting to feed children a healthier snack to athletes and the elderly with a nostalgic tie to fig bars.

The company is also ahead of the curve on a trend to more healthful snacks yet to be successfully exploited by big name brands like Nabisco. And the product is priced between 59 cents and 79 cents, depending on the retailer, well below the $1.50-plus charged for energy bars, another competitor to its fig bars.

“We don’t want to be above a dollar anywhere,” says Marson.

Nature’s Bakery is soon expanding its fig bar product line with three new flavors – mango, lemon and strawberry – and will be sending out samples to buyers in the next month or so. It’s also redesigning its packaging as part of the launch.

The company has other products on the drawing board, including granola bars, toaster-tarts, brownies and cookies, but will roll them out slowly depending on production capacity.

“We making sure the fig bars are quality first,” says Marson. “The success of this product has grown faster than we imagined.”