Blog: Dean BestBar brawl - US snack firms Clif and Kind joust over ingredients

Dean Best | 11 March 2019

Clif Bar & Co. and US snack peer Kind have become involved in a public spat over the ingredients the companies use in their snack bars.

The firms' namesake brands are often held up as examples of products that have entered the US food market and shaken up categories dominated by incumbents owned by major companies.

Both Clif and Kind have in part built their success on the nutritional benefits they argue their products can offer consumers.

The growth of Kind attracted investment from one of the largest players in the confectionery sector, with Mars acquiring a minority stake in the business in 2017.

Last week, the privately-owned Clif took out an advert in The New York Times in which it challenged Kind to switch to organic ingredients - and offered to supply a batch of ingredients to its competitor to help it do so.

In response, Kind pointed to the sugar content in some Clif products.

The Clif advert, which ran on Wednesday, read like an open letter from the company's founders and co-CEOs Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford to their counterpart at Kind, Daniel Lubetzky.

In the 'letter', Erickson and Crawford acknowledged "going organic isn't easy, we know" but said: "We would like to issue a challenge: do a truly kind thing and make an investment in the future of the planet and our children’s children by going organic. To make it easier, we at Clif Bar & Company will help you. We know how strange this offer sounds coming from a competitor, but more than ever we believe that making the world better means making it organic."

They suggested Clif and Kind could work together on getting other brands and companies in the US snack-bar market to also switch to organic. "If Clif Bar and Kind - the two largest nutrition bar companies in the country - joined hands, the impact would be that much more powerful. And if we then got RXBAR (Kellogg’s), Larabar (General Mills), and all the other non-organic brands to go organic, the benefits to people and planet would be exponential. Maybe a move to organic would even inspire your part-owner Mars to take its entire line of candy organic. Stranger things have happened."

Lubetzky, who set up Kind in 2004, hit back with a statement that highlighted how Clif uses organic brown rice syrup, which he described as "basically sugar".

"Clif's approach in selling snacks made predominantly from organic brown rice syrup, which is basically sugar, isn't the solution," Lubetzky said. "We'd be happy to meet and share why Kind focuses on making snacks that always lead with nutrient-dense ingredients like whole nuts, whole grains and whole fruit – instead of sugar. That is why Kind's leading snack bars have a fraction of the sugar in Clif's line-up."

And, when Clif tweeted a link to its letter to Lubetzky and tagged @KINDSnacks in the post, the folk behind the Kind Twitter account responded thus:

Clif's commitment to organic food is long-standing and, by running the ad in of the most prominent publications in the US, Erickson and Crawford no doubt wanted to give more oxygen to the debate around organic production.

There is, of course, an element of marketing to Clif's ad, especially with the references to Kind's minority investor, not least in the way the letter addressed Lubetzky as "CEO Kind Snacks (Mars Candy)".

The publicity around the letter and the tiff between the two companies have given Clif's support of organic farming the exposure the company wanted - although perhaps it would have preferred not to have had its rival mention sugar in its less-than-sweet response.

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