Founder and CEO Eli Kerr is bringing sports nutrition to the outdoor industry.

Gnarly Nutrition launched with three products in 2013, a pre-workout hydration product that was discontinued as the company introduced other products, and whey and plant-based protein powders, all non-GMO and natural. Essentially Kerr wanted to offer nutrition for outdoor athletes throughout the workout or adventure. From pre-activity to during and to post-activity.

Since then, the company has grown its product line considerably, maintained strong growth, and grabbed significant endorsements, like becoming the USA Climbing team’s nutritional sponsor in 2019, thanks in part to its NSF Certified for Sport supplements.

Most sports nutrition products are focused on carbohydrates or electrolyte products, according to Kerr. “It’s kind of those two components that nobody’s really brought from traditional sports nutrition products to the outdoor industry,” he says. “That was part of what encouraged us to start adding additional products to the product line. For example, branch-chain amino acids were one of the very next products that we brought out.”

He adds: “Ninety percent of all the marketing that we’ve been doing over these past few years had been around sports nutrition and how to use nutrition. And it’s really helped us define and start to fulfill what we really believe is our mission, which is to help outdoor athletes understand the role that nutrition plays in performance and recovery in their sports.”

The approach has defined the company’s product rollouts. “We are interested in providing more research-based products to athletes and educating them about nutrition,” Kerr says. That’s led to a product line of 12 different products and various flavors thus far.

Kerr credits Gnarly Nutrition CPO and COO Shannon O’Grady, PhD for diversifying the product line and developing a model for production. “Shannon will do the research and build the products essentially, and then work with a third-party manufacturer to bring them to life,” he says. “We don’t own our own manufacturing facility, but we do make everything locally here in Utah.”

Gnarly Nutrition’s contract partners are near the company’s office. “We work very closely with them. They’re like an extension of our company,” says Kerr. “We direct the product formulations and then the third party manufacturer really builds them.”

The company recently introduced Fuel2O, which aims to provide fueling, replenishment, and recovery attributes in one product with electrolytes, carbohydrates, and HMB (Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate). “HMB is a leucine metabolite, and leucine is one of the branch chain amino acids,” Kerr explains. “It’s the primary work horse in branch-chain amino acids that help with recovery.”

He continues, “The key in creating these products is to create a mix of carbohydrates that the body can digest well and doesn’t create irritation. We’ve done that, and then adding some flavoring that’s not too heavy, but light enough so that it creates something that’s desirable, but you also have to manage taste fatigue with people who are using these kinds of products because they’re typically consuming quite a bit.”

Kerr says the company had planned to launch the Fuel2O product in 2020, but that plan was hampered by COVID-19. “Not knowing what would happen last year, we decided to be a lot more conservative and pull back and wait. But we have been so excited about this product because it’s the first time where we’ve provided a product that is more of the fuel-based product that the mountain athlete and the endurance athlete are more familiar with.”

The pandemic had other impacts on the company as well. “We have a small wholesale channel, and that completely dried up,” says Kerr. “What was really nice though, was that we do the majority of our business directly to consumers. . . . We saw an increase in growth actually on the online channel and we were well-prepared and could handle that.”

COVID-19 also impacted the supply chain: Gnarly Nutrition has had issues with getting specific ingredients as well as packaging.

It follows that the company is introducing new containers for some of its offerings in the later months of 2021. Gnarly Nutrition uses the same type of recyclable plastic used in grocery bags, but the company is also looking for better solutions.

As such, the company will start shipping larger sizes in steel tins towards the end of September 2021. “It actually was supposed to hit us like two months ago but all of the COVID stuff has impacted the launch date,” says Kerr. “It’s going to impact our pricing by about a dollar, and that dollar will end up getting passed on to the customer. We feel that it’s a very, very fair tradeoff.”

Though the company saw a dip in wholesale sales during 2020, Kerr says it’s recovering well. He anticipates Gnarly Nutrition will see sales expand by about 40 percent in 2021 and more in 2022. The company added three team members primarily in the sales and marketing side, in the past six months and expects to add at least one more soon.

The company is working on expanding its direct to consumer subscription services and getting into more doors. “We ultimately want to give the customer full control over that subscription service,” Kerr says. “We don’t want them to ever feel like we’re just trying to get them to buy more product. What we’re trying to do is create a sustainable way to deliver them discounted product.”

Likewise the company is seeing more growth in retail. “We’re starting to see specialty outdoor specialty shops carry more products like ours. And that’s one of our dreams, to make nutrition such an important part of outdoor performance and recovery that you can get products like ours from your specialty retailer,” Kerr asserts. “You’re going to start seeing [our products] in more specialty running and endurance shops as well, but also in the climbing world.”

Challenges: “The education side of things,” Kerr says. “How do you help individuals understand what they specifically need and have a desire to make changes in their nutrition so that they can better their performance and recovery?”

Opportunities: “The mountain community as a whole . . . they’ve become more and more focused on training than ever before,” Kerr says. “And they’re more responsive to it than they ever have been because they’re looking for ways to maintain the incredible amount of effort that they’re putting into their sports.”

Needs: “Our greatest need is brand exposure, ” says Kerr. “We want people to know and understand that Gnarly’s here and what kind of products we’re providing, and the quality of our products and the efficaciousness of our product.”

Another Gnarly need: “Great people who want to make a difference specifically in this industry.”

Photos courtesy Gnarly Nutrition