The Colorado-based company is enjoying sales growth in retailers such as Whole Foods, Kroger and Target, but founder Justin Gold says his company could benefit from the distribution network of a larger firm.
Retain values & grow scale
"Small businesses like ours are deeply-rooted in being authentic with our products and we really do care, but we're not skilled operators, so we get to a certain critical mass where we need help to scale the business,” he told ConfectioneryNews at last month’s Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago.
“That's where a larger company could come in and purchase the business. The business still stands for what it started with - because that's the value - and then just use their operators to grow it even bigger….It's a win-win if it's with the right partner."
From spreads to confectionery
Justin's began as a peanut butter and almond butter spreads company in 2005 selling at the farmer's market in Colorado. In 2008, the company created Rainforest Alliance cocoa, USDA organic-certified peanut butter cups using its peanut butter spread and started distribution with Whole Foods in Colorado. "In the course of about a year we grew to nationwide distribution for Whole Foods,” said Gold.
"It's moved into mainstream now so it's sold at places like Target, Kroger and Starbucks, but it will be in the specialty of natural section of those retailers,” he continued.
He said sales had grown as retailers sought better-for-you confections in food stores. "We have retailers creating whole new categories of products that compete with their everyday business, but for different consumers looking to spend more money for a healthier product,” said Gold.
The company does not have the operational capacity to export so has focused on the domestic market. "There's so much opportunity in the U.S. that we just can't look outside of it, we're just so small today....we want to be really strong here before we go overseas and we still have some work to do here,” said Gold.
‘If it happens we’ll entertain it’
A larger company could help Justin’s move to international markets, but Gold says he won’t actively seek a buyer.
U.S. retail listings
Justin’s products are stocked at national and regional retailers across the U.S., including Whole Foods, Target, Jewel-Osco, Publix, Safeway, Shop Rite, Stop & Shop, Wegmans, Kroger, Giant, Giant Eagle, Bashas’, Harris Teeter, HEB and The Fresh Market.
"If someone's going to say ‘join us or die’ - I'd at least talk to them! This has been my life and I'm really proud of it and I want to keep growing it. If there's a way I can find someone that can help us grow it faster that would be a win-win because we'd grow the scale and bring more organic chocolate, more Rainforest Alliance [cocoa] products to more people."
He added: "If it happens we'll entertain it, but if it doesn't happen we'll just hire skilled operators."
Peanut butter cup category
The peanut butter cups category in the U.S. is dominated by Hershey through Reese’s, but Nestlé USA is also enjoying strong sales for its Butterfinger Cups, which were introduced nationwide in January 2014.
Some smaller ‘better-for-you’ brands have also entered the category such as Unreal Candy, which produces ‘unjunked’ versions of American’s favorite candies including takes on Reese’s and M&M’s.