President and CEO Steve Richards has grown his company’s catalog from pure agave nectar to a roster of 150 healthy SKUs.
Eating a healthy diet has been part of Richards’ lifestyle since the 1960s when his mother developed adult-onset diabetes. “My grandparents on both sides of the family also had it,” he explains, “but I learned growing up that there’s a way to avoid it through diet and weight management.”
When he discovered agave nectar years later as an adult, he left a career in law to travel to Mexico and learn everything he could about the low-glycemic sweetener. “I thought that agave nectar would help me save the world,” Richards says, “so I got connected with some suppliers and began selling it out of the back of my truck, going from independent cooking stores to little health food shops. I did that throughout Utah and Arizona.”
Richards also put on cooking demonstrations utilizing agave nectar and eventually caught the eye of a distributor. This led to a housewares show in Chicago and a connection with a buyer for Costco.
“I started doing demonstrations in Costco with agave nectar,” he continues. “That led to getting into Sam’s, which led to getting into Walmart, and then one retailer after another with our agave product. Then, of course, we started adding more.”
Today, Richards says that BetterBody Foods manufactures a roster of about 150 SKUs ranging from plant-based sweeteners and organic condiments to oils, flours, ancient grains, superfoods, and peanut butter. “Within the umbrella of BetterBody Foods, we’ve created a number of additional brands,” he explains. “These include PBFit, our peanut butter powder product and our largest brand, and Oatsome, our oat milk products. Plant Junkie is our lineup of avocado oil and plant-based mayo and dressings.”
The majority of BetterBody Foods’ products are manufactured in the company’s 60,000-square-foot production facility in Utah. However, the company also has a 40,000-square-foot plant in the Dominican Republic to press avocado oil, and the dressings and mayonnaise are made in a 7,500-square-foot facility near Houston, Texas.
Given the diverse range of products in BetterBody Foods’ lineup, it’s not surprising that they source ingredients from more than 20 countries. “Quinoa comes out of South America, so Peru and Argentina,” Richards says. “Chia comes out of several different countries in South America as well as Africa. Coconut oil comes out of the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. Coconut sugar comes out of Indonesia. Avocado oil comes out of Africa as well as the Dominican Republic. Agave comes out of Mexico. Peanuts come out of predominantly the U.S. but also a little bit out of Argentina. We bring in container loads of raw materials from all over the world and then mix, blend, and repackage them right here in Utah.”
Richards notes that they typically have five production lines running at a time. “We try to be very efficient in setting up and refining our lines,” he adds. BetterBody Foods’ facilities and products meet the requirements for NSF gluten free, kosher, non-GMO, USDA organic, and SQF certifications.
Because PBFit is made of peanuts and is a potential allergen, its manufacturing is kept separate from the rest of the Utah-made products. “To make PBFit, we take peanuts and roast them like we’re making peanut butter to bring out the flavor,” Richards continues. “Then we press the oil out of them and blend in organic coconut sugar and salt. It’s basically peanut flour that is 50 percent protein and has 85 percent less fat than peanut butter but tastes just like peanut butter.”
Richards adds that PBFit is by far the company’s most recognizable brand. “It’s in Costco, Sam’s, Walmart, and all of the Albertsons and Kroger banners nationally. It’s also in all the major regional players like Publix down in Florida, HEB out of Texas, and Meijer in the Midwest. It’s not in every store, but it is in multiple retailers in every state.”
PBFit and BetterBody Foods’ other products are also available online, which was a boon for the company in terms of sales during the COVID-19 pandemic. “When people went from shopping in stores to internet-based shopping, we saw a significant increase in demand for our product online,” Richards says. “We grew about 30 percent in 2020. It was significant growth in a very challenging environment. At one point we were literally down to one line running [due to staffing]. But our sales and marketing folks and folks from other areas in the company actually pitched in on the lines to keep us producing product.”
Richards expects growth of five to 10 percent this year. “It’s going to be slower growth this year and that’s fine,” he continues. “Last year, our growth was difficult to manage. This year, we’re focused on sort of catching up with it. Our inventory levels increased significantly along with the number of employees we had to hire.”
Challenges: Richards says that COVID-related supply chain issues continue to present a significant challenge to manufacturing. “Where it used to take 30 days to get products it now might take 60 or 90 days or even five months. And across the board — from raw materials to bottles, caps, labels, pallets, and shipping — all of the costs have gone up exponentially. But as a business, we saw this coming and realized we needed to invest in inventory.”
Richards says the company is carrying about 25 percent more inventory than they normally would in order to mitigate the supply chain challenges. “I’m happy to report that, for the most part, we still have a 98 percent fill rate with our customers,” he adds. “We haven’t had too many issues keeping our customers in stock, and that’s a real positive.”
He notes that hiring employees has also been a challenge for the past 18 months, but people are starting to want to get back to work now that government subsidies are expiring. “We’re actually starting to be able to hire people a little easier now,” Richards says.
Opportunities: Richards says BetterBody Foods fits within three growing categories in the food and beverage industry including organic, plant-based, and “better-for-you” foods.
“We’re seeing real growth in what they call flexitarians,” he continues, “or people who eat meat sparingly and plant-based foods the rest of the time. People are understanding that it’s generally healthier for them, more sustainable, and better for the environment. Then the ‘better-for-you’ category is really just about clean ingredients. People don’t want to consume foods with ingredients they can’t understand.”
He believes that opportunity lies in continuing to focus on these types of products. “I think the future is bright for these three categories as people’s eating habits and expectations continue to change,” Richards says. “I think we’re in a sweet spot and will continue to grow over the next four or five years quite nicely.”
Needs: Though BetterBody Foods already has 60,000 square feet of warehouse space in Utah, they’ve purchased additional property and plan to double the size of their warehouse over the next six to eight months. “Our immediate need, because we’ve grown our inventory, is expanding our warehousing capability,” Richards says. “But we have a plan and the assets in place, so now it’s just a matter of executing.”