Q&A: Mediterra sees success with savory bars

by Monica Watrous
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Mediterra debuted last June at the Summer Fancy Food Show with a range of six flavors, featuring two savory bars that include tomato with basil and capers, and olive with walnut and chives.

CHICAGO — Few brands can boast the head-spinning growth of Mediterra. In less than 10 months of launching, the New York-based nutrition bar brand has landed shelf space in Target, Whole Foods Market, Kroger, Sprouts and other retailers throughout the United States and Canada. Billed as the first ready-to-eat nutrition bar inspired by the Mediterranean diet, the products are gluten-free, non-bioengineered and made with fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Mediterra debuted last June at the Summer Fancy Food Show with a range of six flavors, featuring two savory bars that include tomato with basil and capers, and olive with walnut and chives. The line also includes two sesame honey energy bars in pistachio and orange varieties, and two yogurt and oat bars in cherry pistachio and apricot pistachio varieties.

“The response has been incredible,” said Amy Goldsmith, communications consultant for GK Communications speaking for Mediterra, at the Sweets & Snacks Expo, held May 19-21 in Chicago. “And we’re getting consumer feedback, too, which has been fun and interesting, where they’re taking the bars and chopping them up and pairing with wine and beer and putting it on a cheese platter. Or they’re chopping it up and putting it on top of salads like croutons.”

The brand was founded by Telemaque Lavidas, a native Greek with a health care background, who wanted to create convenient snacks inspired by the flavors and ingredients he ate in his homeland. To launch the products, he hired chief executive officer Paul Pruett, who previously was chief operating officer of ZonePerfect Nutrition Co., along with an experienced sales and marketing team who had contacts at major food distribution companies.

“So when we came out of the gates, we had them on board, which was unique,” Ms. Goldsmith said. “It was several years in the making to get to that launch date at Fancy Food.”

In an interview with Food Business News, Ms. Goldsmith and Mr. Pruett shared the secrets behind the brand’s stunning success.

Food Business News: Savory nutrition bars are still a relatively new concept. How did you know the product line was going to be accepted by consumers?

Amy Goldsmith: You never know what’s going to be a hit. All of our ingredients are indigenous to the Mediterranean region. Sundried tomato, basil, capers, olive oil, a little bit of salt. It’s not sweet. It’s real ingredients. It’s real food in there. It’s not flavoring. The pea crisps add protein.

Who is your target consumer?

Ms. Goldsmith: It’s really anyone. And we say we have three different platforms for that exact same reason. Sesame is a natural energy boost, so someone who works out is going to grab one of these pre- or post-workout. Bicyclists who do long-distance biking want something more savory. Our slightly more sweet bars are great to eat at breakfast.

Mediterra's line includes two sesame honey energy bars in pistachio and orange varieties.

Do you know yet what your more popular varieties are?

Ms. Goldsmith: No. All the retailers bring in all six S.K.U.s. The savory bars are definitely different, but it’s not like they’re moving off the shelves any faster. But they have the wow factor.

The bars are beautiful. You can see the ingredients. Why didn’t you go with the transparent packaging like so many other brands?

Paul Pruett: It’s been done. There are so many companies now that are trying to mimic Kind bars. We didn’t want to be another one. It was a great innovation when it was done.

Are these bars intended to be meal replacements or snacks?

Mr. Pruett: Technically, it’s a snack. It has about 200 calories. In order to be considered a meal replacement, it has to have at least 350 calories.

It’s not a high-protein bar. The protein source is plant-derived pea protein in the crisps. Which is hugely trendy.

Are you seeing opportunities for other product categories or flavor extensions? Where is the brand headed?

Mr. Pruett: We just developed two more savory bars. The formulations are done. We may launch them at Expo East. To be determined. Great flavors. There’s definitely a lot of interest in the savory just because they’re so uniquely different.

We have investigated some other categories under the snack umbrella. I’d definitely say we have concepts and ideas, but this brand is only 10 months old. We need to walk before we run. But this is growing very quickly.

Our next step will be to add to the success in the bar category. And then absolutely, definitely, we never just envisioned this as just a bar company to begin with, and so, what other categories can we extend into? I think the sky’s the limit for this brand.

But still true to Mediterranean flavors and ingredients.

Mr. Pruett: Absolutely. That’s the basis for this brand. It’s the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle. All the ingredients in these bars are native to the Mediterranean region, and that’s important to us. We have to stay true and authentic to that concept.

Mediterra's sweeter bars include two yogurt and oat bars in cherry pistachio and apricot pistachio varieties.

And the Mediterranean diet is one everyone consistently agrees is healthy.

Mr. Pruett: You know what? It’s the only diet I know of that’s thousands of years old. People have been eating a certain way in that region for years. This bar right here (the sesame honey bar) is probably the oldest nutrition bar in the world. They were eating that type of nutrition bar back in the Roman days with sesame and Greek honey. So, we’re just bringing it into the contemporary space.

Before the Mediterra brand, there weren’t any bars based on the Mediterranean diet. It seems almost hard to believe it had never been done.

Maybe because few brands have been bold enough to develop a savory product in a traditionally sweet space?

Mr. Pruett: That’s part of it. That’s a good point. Those took us longer to develop than we had anticipated, but it was worth it. It was very important we got those right.

Ten months ago, the day before we launched at Summer Fancy Food, of course, we were all sort of anxious, but the moment that show started, an hour into it, I knew that we had something. The feedback was instantaneous.

One of the consistent messages we’ve heard at trade shows is when people come and see the savory bars, we’ve heard it time and time again: “Finally, somebody came out with a good quality non-sweet bar. Thank you.”

And then, after they taste it: “When are you coming out with more?”
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