CHICAGO — The story behind Simple Squares is fairly simple. Founder and chief executive officer Kimberly Crupi Dobbins launched the nutrition bar business in 2011, following a doctor-prescribed elimination diet that found her in the kitchen experimenting with gluten- and dairy-free treats.
|Kimberly Crupi Dobbins, founder and c.e.o. of Simple Squares|
“When we first started out, we started out as a confection for people who couldn’t eat gluten or dairy,” Ms. Crupi Dobbins told Food Business News. “But we realized after being in the marketplace for about a year most people didn’t know what a confection was, and if they did know what it was, they were going to go to the candy aisle. We kind of morphed into a nutrition bar, which is a very crowded category, but I think we had several points of differentiation when we started out.”
Each square-shaped bar has five ingredients, including organic nuts, organic honey, organic vanilla and sea salt. Varieties include cinnamon clove, chili pepper, coffee, coconut, rosemary, sage, ginger and chocolate coconut. The products are free of wheat, gluten, dairy, corn, soy and refined sugars.
“There are not a lot of brands out there that are truly whole foods,” she said. “A lot of brands put modified foods in there or lots of syrups, even though people think organic brown rice syrup or agave are really healthy.”
Before founding the company, Ms. Crupi Dobbins worked at investment research firm Morningstar, Inc., and during a corporate sabbatical she became inspired to pursue education in integrative nutrition. In her products, she uses ingredients that are associated with functional benefits. Sage, for example, is believed to reduce blood sugar levels, and ginger helps improve the absorption of nutrients in the body. Cloves aid digestion, and cinnamon has anti-inflammatory properties. To preserve the nutrients, the products are never cooked or baked.
“It’s very elementary,” she said of her approach to product development. “It’s pretty much whatever flavors I’m keen to, and then I try them in my kitchen at home and give them to family and friends and see how they react.
“We have done a couple of flavors that haven’t made it to market. One was lavender. We figured lavender and honey would be so divine, and it tasted a little soapy. So it’s interesting to see what works and what won’t.”
In the coming year, Simple Squares will unveil new packaging and new flavors.
“We’re going to have product extensions and line extensions,” Ms. Crupi Dobbins said. “Some will be under the Simple Square umbrella, and then others will be under the Simple umbrella. Different category.”
The products are currently sold in approximately 1,500 retail outlets. Earlier this year, Starbucks began selling Simple Squares in some of its coffee shops. While Ms. Crupi Dobbins declined to share sales performance, she said, “I can tell you it’s going really well.”
To entrepreneurs in the food industry, she recommends “scouring the shelves and finding those categories that need a bump and a lift instead of just moving into another very crowded category.”“You definitely need to have flexibility,” she added. “The ups and downs of running a business are interesting. There are things I’d never have thought of three or five years ago. You definitely have to be quick on your feet. Today might be a pit day; tomorrow might be a cherry.”