NORTHRIDGE, CALIF. — When most people think of protein they don’t think of fun. But Lenny & Larry’s wants to change that. The company, founded in 1993, produces protein-packed cookies, brownies, bars and muffins that boast 13 to 20 grams of protein each.
“One of the things that summarizes us is we make protein fun,” said Don Croutch, president of Lenny & Larry’s. “Getting kids to eat protein sometimes is not the easiest thing in the world. With protein bars, you usually need a glass of water or a bottle of water to try to get it down. We wanted to make protein fun with muffins, with cookies, with brownies, with breakfast bars, something that tastes good so you’re not dreading trying to get a little protein in you.”
That desire to deliver protein in great-tasting formats has led to a bout of success for Lenny & Larry’s, including the company’s expansion into Sprouts and Rite-Aid earlier this year. While Lenny & Larry’s baked goods are available in gyms, sporting goods stores, convenience stores and other food retailers, health food stores like The Vitamin Shoppe, Whole Foods and GNC have contributed most to the brand’s prosperity.
“The demand is amazing,” Mr. Croutch said. “In the Vitamin Shoppe, our cookies are either No. 1 or 2 in the store, in the entire category. GNC tried four of our flavors of cookies, and now they want all eight flavors. You can buy them in 1,200 stores and now they’re going to go to 3,000. So it just keeps on coming.”
Food Business News: How is Lenny & Larry’s different from other protein bars or cookies on the market?
Mr. Croutch: We’re baked. In the nutrition bar category, they are basically a cold extruded process. Something baked obviously tastes much better than something that has never gone into an oven and is just a cold slab. And protein bars have to get enrobed or enveloped in chocolate or butterscotch or peanut butter or something, because you never want to just eat that bar. It’s got to be completely wrapped in something that tastes good. We taste good because we’re baked.
Also the protein. We’re non-G.M.O., and our cookies are vegan, which is popular out there. When you have no animal, no dairy, a lot of healthy people tend to like that. We kind of hit a lot of targets. You’re getting a great-tasting cookie with protein if you’re in the cookie aisle, and if you’re in the nutrition bar aisle, you normally don’t get something that tastes quite so good.
What customers are you targeting?
Mr. Croutch: What’s great about our product is, because it’s all-natural and non-G.M.O., we can be in the natural marketplaces of the world, but we’re also high protein, so we appeal to the gyms, the GNCs, the Vitamin Shoppes, the Vitamin Worlds … We’ve done very well with c-stores, which didn’t surprise us, but it’s amazing how many people say, ‘Yeah, I get your stuff at a 7-Eleven or a RaceTrac or a Circle K.’
We’ve also done really well in the sporting goods business. We just signed a sponsorship with the Los Angeles Dodgers and they sell it in the stadiums. Coaches love it, and so does the everyday person who wants a cookie but figures why not grab one with protein? We cross a variety of channels.
How do you develop new products?
Mr. Croutch: We do our research and see what’s hot out there and what people seem to be gravitating toward. We usually do surveys with our customers. We’ll roll out four or five different flavors to see what they want. Red velvet was pretty popular. A year or two ago, we actually made some samples of a red velvet cookie that got pretty good feedback. We have sampling groups, and we’re pretty finicky. Everyone has to be unanimous that this tastes amazing. If one person writes that it could be a little softer, then we have our baker redo it. We go through quite a few revisions.
What’s next for Lenny & Larry’s?
Mr. Croutch: We hope to come out with a couple more flavors of the Complete Cookie before the end of the year. Red velvet may be one. We’ll probably throw salted caramel into the mix and see if our customers like that. Maybe a s’mores cookies … we were thinking of one called Birthday Cake. That might be the one that we’ve gotten the best feedback from. We hope to launch something hopefully this summer … another flavor. They all sound good to me. Our cookies are just so popular right now. People are always asking for more flavors.
We are also going to nationally launch our muffins, which have been very popular. We’ve done it more on a local basis, but I think we’re going to launch it nationally.
We’re also looking at different protein sources. Right now our cookie is made with soy protein. We’re always looking at new things. The Muscle Brownie uses whey and it has 20 grams of protein and it’s been very popular, more in the gyms. It is all-natural. I think we’re going to reskin that and go with a plant-based protein and go with a hemp or pea protein. We’re still experimenting.
One of the things we pride ourselves in is being on the cutting edge. We were no trans fats before anyone. We used to put “no hydrogenated oil” before the term “trans fats” was even coined. Then non-G.M.O., we did that very quickly. We’re always trying to stay one step ahead as far as being healthy and good for people.