Midway through the recession isn’t an ideal time to start a company, but that didn’t stop Dave Marson and his son Sam Marson, cofounders of Nature’s Bakery. In 2010, in Reno, Nevada, the pair launched Nature’s Bakery, a snack food brand that supports health-conscious living and active lifestyles through better-for-you ingredients and quality nutrition.
Today, Nature’s Bakery’s stone-ground whole wheat fig energy bars and new gluten-free fig bars are found coast to coast in the United States: in most major supermarkets, specialty grocers, wholesale clubs, convenience stores and more. “We’re the second-fastest-growing natural food company in the U.S.,” says Dave Marson, president of Nature’s Bakery. “We have plants in St. Louis and Reno and we’re in most of the big-box stores — Sam’s Costco, Wal-Mart, CVS, Rite-Aid, 7-11 — you name it. Our products can be found in more than 22 countries.”
Improving on a familiar product
Marson says the sharp growth trajectory Nature’s Bakery has experienced started on the ground level with the concept for a high-quality product offered at the right price, a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work. “We had been in the co-packing business, making products for other companies for years, but through the recession we lost two major customers and this business was drying up,” he recounts.
“My son Sam and I wanted to move into branding to control our own destiny and that’s how the Nature’s Bakery fig bar line was born in 2010,” continues Marson. “We officially went to market Jan. 1, 2011, and we started with next to nothing.”
Being born in the recession, Marson says the company had no choice but to come up with a new take on a classic consumer product. “We just couldn’t get to market with a traditional energy bar,” he explains. “Due to price, this market wasn’t doing really well — only about the top three companies nationwide were staying afloat.”
The then small Nature’s Bakery team went to work to develop a product that was price sensitive and a healthier alternative. “In today’s market, consumers know what they want to put in their bodies, so if you don’t have a product people really like and desire, then it’s not going to take off, especially mid recession,” explains Marson. “We could also offer a lower price point as the direct manufacturer.”
With little sales and marketing background, Marson and his team knew they needed a product people already understood in mainline grocery. “Everyone knew what a fig bar was so we took this item and cleaned it up,” he says. “We made it with stone-ground, whole-wheat flour, unrefined sugars and made it GMO free.”
Once Nature’s Bakery had perfected the recipe, Marson sought to bring the product direct to consumers through true grassroots marketing. “We really started at the ground level,” he explains. “We went into local communities and started to build our brand from the bottom — taking it to 5K races, local sporting events. Our first customers were local moms, athletes, sports enthusiasts and healthy-lifestyle bloggers. We were looking for any person looking to be healthier.”
Marson says the product and the Nature’s Bakery brand quickly connected with consumers. “We are the average Americans that took this bakery from nothing and made it into something; that really resonates with people,” he says.
The portable snacks — available in a range of flavors, including apple cinnamon, peach apricot, pumpkin spice, lemon, mango, raspberry, blueberry and of course, original fig — became big hits in the first two years. Before long, Nature’s Bakery was running at full capacity. The company opened a second plant and the employee head count reached 400 people.
“Today, our main location is in Reno and we have a plant in St. Louis, but we currently have a location in the works for January 2017,” reveals Marson. “We have plans for a 700,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art LEED-certified facility. The goal is to have our own organic gardens and training rooms for employees to work out, which all really ties into our brand. It’s a lifestyle we not only preach, but we also live.”
With this kind of working environment, Marson says Nature’s Bakery is having no problem attracting top talent. “We have no issue finding employees,” he says. “People want to be a part of this kind of culture. Our four pinnacles of business are about achieving a healthy balance between nature, activity, nutrition and community.”
Rolling out more options
With so much success in the fig bar line, Marson says Nature’s Bakery is always looking to reinvent products with the same level of familiarity. “We’re adding a brownie line and more lines in the future, staying with the same marketing strategy that worked with our fig bars,” he explains. “We’re taking these items and developing them with cleaner ingredients. We take the extra step to create products that are Non-GMO Project verified, vegan and kosher certified, because we care about the quality of the product.”
Nature’s Bakery’s most recent major launch is its new line: Gluten-Free Fig Bars made with ancient grains and Smart Flour. This product is readily available in original fig, blueberry, raspberry and pomegranate-flavored bars.
Supporting a healthy, active lifestyle is important to Nature’s Bakery and Marson says the company looks for brand ambassadors who represent this through and through. “We’re very excited about recently signing Danica Patrick, a famous racecar driver and health enthusiast on as a Nature’s Bakery brand ambassador,” he adds.
Bringing nutritional value to those in need
Another core component of business for Nature’s Bakery is giving back to local communities. “Although we’re a rapidly growing brand, we want to show people we’re still down to earth, real people and we care about giving back,” says Marson. “We do a lot of child nutrition education and children’s mental health program advocacy. My wife has a doctorate in occupational therapy so we do a lot of Autism awareness participation.”
Nature’s Bakery also works with inner-city communities and food banks. “We want to get nutritional products into the hands of those who need it most and offer something more than a filler food — something with daily grains, fruit and lower sugar,” says Marson.
With his son by his side and numerous other family members on board, Marson says the company looks to enjoy continued growth while remaining grounded in these integral values.” We grew from nothing to substantial revenues in just four years,” he explains. “And we did it with no outside money, no bank loans or equipment loans — just self-financing and a simple philosophy: ‘Don’t spend more than you have.’”
Marson says the company found ways to grow through vertical integration. “We started our own machine shop, where we still build all of our own equipment,” he says. “We’ve been very creative in looking at business challenges. We sit down together and figure out how to get around it together and we find ways to think outside the box.”
Marson says he feels truly blessed every day to be involved in a business that makes a genuinely good, healthy product. “I wish I could say that I had this brilliant idea and vision from day one, but I’m just a regular guy who wanted to make a difference,” he says.
“I see us having much more success in the coming years because we work well with others and we have a really fun brand,” he adds. “We’re attracting more talented people on the executive level and they all share the same passion.”
If there’s one thing Marson has learned in the last few years, he says it’s that employee success equals company success. “This is why we really take care of our employees,” he notes. “We offer them a high rate of pay, full benefits and retirement. We’re going to be generous with them as we embark on more growth because it all comes back around.”
With the prospect of new products, a growing team and a state-of-the-art production facility in the works, Nature’s Bakery is preparing for the next stage of expansion with a passion for improved, healthier versions of favorite snack items.