Meet the Vendor: KIND Bars

Wednesday February 03, 2016

Kind bars

When Daniel Lubetzky started KIND Healthy Snacks in 2004, he aimed to defy the conventional wisdom that snack bars could never be both tasty and healthy, convenient and wholesome. A decade later, the transformative power of the company’s “AND” philosophy has resulted in an astonishing record of achievement. KIND has become the fastest-growing purveyor of healthy snacks in the country. Meanwhile, the KIND Movement—the company’s social mission to make the world a little kinder—has sparked more than a million good deeds worldwide.

Inspired by his father, who survived the Holocaust thanks to the courageous kindness of strangers, Lubetzky began his career hand selling a sun-dried tomato spread made collaboratively by Arabs and Jews in the war-torn Middle East. Despite early setbacks, he never lost his faith in his vision of a “not-only-for-profit” business—one that sold great products and helped to make the world a better place.

While other companies let circumstances force them into choosing between two seemingly incompatible options, people at KIND say “AND.” At its core, this idea is about challenging assumptions and false compromises. It is about not settling for less and being willing to take greater risks, often financial. It is about learning to think boundlessly and critically, and choosing what at first may be the tougher path for later, greater rewards.

Below outlines the core tenets that KIND works towards on a daily basis:

  1. The AND Philosophy: Companies often let circumstances force them into choosing between two seemingly incompatible options – like making a snack bar that is either tasty OR healthy. Instead of "OR," KIND says "AND." Team members strive to create new models that avoid false compromises, and in doing so live up to the KIND BrAND Philosophy. At its core, this philosophy is about challenging assumptions and thinking creatively. It is not about settling for less. At KIND, the philosophy manifests itself in our snacks – which are healthy AND tasty, convenient AND wholesome, as well as our business model, which is economically sustainable AND socially impactful.
  2. Purpose: Purpose is why you get up in the morning, go to work, and give it your all. A company’s mission can serve as a rallying point for team members. They come to feel that the efforts they put into advancing a shared enterprise serve a higher social goal. In this chapter, Daniel covers KIND’s social mission and dispels myths about perceived advantages a business can gain from purpose. He will also share ways for companies and individuals to discover their purpose.
  3. Grit: It’s no secret that starting a new venture is hard work. The difference between those who keep going and those who give up is grit: the ability to persevere until the work is done. Grit can best be fueled by purpose, but three additional anchors underlie it: conviction, self-evaluation, and sheer determination. These can be forged through analysis and introspection, and often manifest as the refusal to take no for an answer.Grit, when combined with the AND way of thinking, can move mountains.
  4. Truth & Discipline: Staying true to your brand is harder than many realize. Every brand represents certain values and attributes. If you steer your brand in the wrong direction or dilute its message your customers may feel betrayed. The temptation to follow fads, please different constituencies or expand too quickly can kill your venture.  But before you can uphold your brand promise, you need to truly understand what that promise is.  What does your brand stand for? What is your unique value proposition?  Chapter 4 will contrast Daniel’s early experience with PeaceWorks – in which he was so excited about the concept that he made crucial errors – with KIND’s disciplined strategy, an approach that has allowed the brand to grow sustainably. 
  5. Keeping it Simple: Daniel explores the too-often-underappreciated virtue of keeping things simple and staying grounded in business and in life. The tenet of simplicity imbues every aspect of the KIND brand, products, culture and operations.  Our straightforward brand name, descriptive product names, promise of foods that are as close to nature as possible, and forthright marketing style are also reactions against the spin all of us are exposed to in modern society. KIND’s candid work environment and down to earth culture are important contributors to the brand’s success.  Crucially related to simplicity is humility. A strong leader keeps himself or herself from becoming overconfident to the point of impaired judgment. Skepticism or even paranoia about a company’s market power and about one’s own judgment is healthy.
  6. Originality: We get our best ideas at KIND through brainstorming, using a rigorous process developed over the years. This approach to creativity first welcomes the widest possible range of ideas, including wacky ones that seem impossible, and only later filters them down. The goal is to find fresh ideas that fit within the AND philosophy of achieving several objectives at once. But it doesn’t just apply to new ventures; it is just as critical to reinventing and refreshing existing businesses.  Critical thinking and analysis underpins our marketing campaigns, sales strategies, and new product development.  While innovation is vital for a brand to thrive, balancing the natural tension between authentic innovation and authentic branding is essential to ensure you do not confuse your fans or cause harm to your brand.  In Chapter 6, Daniel shows what can happen when you don’t get that balance right, along with illustrating how innovation at KIND helped cement what our brand stands for.  
  7. Transparency: Transparency and authenticity may be the values most associated with KIND by our consumers, largely because of the clear wrappers we introduced into the nutrition and healthy snack bar category. But transparency is about a lot more. It relates to the authenticity that KIND conveys across every aspect of our operations. Transparency also means being open to acknowledging mistakes when necessary, and not feeling you need to “spin” every issue to appear invincible. In this chapter, Daniel will share how transparency applies to:
    - How you share information that transforms traditionally arm’s length relationships with retailers, suppliers and customers into strategic trading partnerships.
    - Why honesty is the best policy with our community and consumers when it comes to sharing your successes as well as occasional limitations
    - Why KIND prizes open communications among our team members internally, including sharing financial details of the business with them.
  8. Empathy: Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another – is a vital if underrated leadership skill, as it helps build a loyal culture. As the son of a Holocaust survivor, Daniel is particularly attuned to empathy because – out of enlightened self-interest – he has worked to prevent what happened to his dad in the Holocaust from happening to others.  In chapter 8, he delves into his dad’s story, and its impact on him, going so far as to say “I wouldn't exist here today if it hadn't been for acts of kindness that my dad experienced.” He details the evolution of the KIND Movement and shares examples of other work he’s done to foster peace in the Middle East. 
  9. Trust: Because Daniel started KIND as a one man operation, he had to do it all in the beginning. As KIND grew through its early stages, he relied on a core team of dedicated generalists to do several jobs at once.  Once KIND became a larger organization, it needed specialists. Daniel’s role shifted; now, he now provides a vision and aims to nurture the culture. Part of that means knowing when to step back and let others lead.  It’s been crucial for him to trust the team and create space for them, but also to know when to intervene to preserve the brand and its values. Chapter 9 shares how and when Daniel learned these hard lessons, as well as advice he has received over the years.
  10. Ownership: Ownership is above all an attitude. An ownership culture is entrepreneurial, resourceful and resilient.  It recognizes that we are part of something bigger – one family – and have entered an implicit pact to be loyal to one another and put our shared enterprise ahead of ourselves. It helps to align incentives – and we do: all team members – from the executives to the cleaning staff – receive stock options entitling them to own a piece of KIND and have a direct economic stake in the business. Ownership is also about tapping the human spirit – about a sense of personal power and the responsibility that comes with it.  That is also why at KIND, and in this book, Daniel avoids the word “employee” (which has acquired a connotation of subservience) and instead uses team members, who are encouraged to think like co-owners.