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Krave's Candy

Krave's Candy

sweet success
by Geoff Kirbyson
December 15, 2003

It took more than five years for Chris Emery and Larry Finnson to discover no story is more powerful than the truth.

The co-founders of Krave's Candy, a company started in the basements of their Winnipeg homes in the middle of the Canadian prairie in 1995, were at a crossroads two years ago. They had taken Emery's grandmother's recipe for Clodhoppers, which are graham wafer fudge clusters, from a popular snack they'd share with their friends to the shelves of some of the biggest retailers in North America.


Not wanting to rest on their laurels, they paid a marketing agency CN$ 20,000 (US$ 15K, €13K) to examine their candy, packaging and brand, and were told to keep things pretty much as is. Keep the dark, boxed packaging — which made some people think they were selling coffee — and don't touch the story on the back of the box about a fictional family, making Clodhoppers in the Alps for the past 150 years.

Their dilemma was should they listen to the experts or chalk the expense up to experience and go with their gut feelings?

Based largely on the positive feedback they'd received after a short story ran on them on a national business television show, they chose the latter. The piece on the Canadian Broadcasting Company's “Venture,” documented their unique story: best friends in high school, using grandma's recipe and competing with the likes of multi-national giants such as Cadbury and Nestlé.

"We got thousands of e-mails and phone calls from people who liked our story — a modern day David among the Goliaths. The support was there to help us build the brand; the consumers led us to water. So we thought we'd be more successful as Chris and Larry, and telling the real story," Finnson says.

Emery says the decision was finalized after visiting Bentonville, Arkansas, the birthplace of Wal-Mart, to sample Clodhoppers with candy-buyers from across the country.

"People kept saying to us we reminded them of Ben and Jerry. Well, I'm Chris and he's Larry," Emery says. "So we decided to change it and become cartoon characters to tell the real story on the box."

The switch paid immediate dividends in new media coverage of the pair and amounted to an incalculable amount of free advertising, the likes of which they could never have afforded.

"People seem to relate to it, taking on the giants in the industry. That really helped to differentiate our product on the shelf. It creates an emotional bond with our customers, which is what every company is trying to do," Emery says.

Along the way, Chris and Larry say they have also found what they consider to be the most efficient way to get candy into the mouths of potential consumers. Rather than sending people out to big box stores on sampling missions, they've concentrated on the airlines and movie rental industries to distribute their concoctions.

They started handing out 20-gram bags of Clodhoppers to airline passengers more than two years ago. Since then, Horizon Airlines and Northwest Airlines in the US, and Air Canada, WestJet Airlines and Sky Chef in Canada have partnered with Chris and Larry.

And the pair recently signed a deal with Movie Gallery, the third largest video rental outfit in the US with about 2,000 stores, to have the snack-sized bags given away to movie-renting customers. They signed a similar deal with nearly 700 Rogers Video and Blockbuster video stores in Canada earlier this year.

"[The video stores] hand the candy out for us so it becomes very cost-effective for us to hit a million people. Plus, it's a value add for them; it's a gift from the store. Now you're in a venue; what do you see? You see Clodhoppers. It's not like shopping at Zellers and trying to find the candy; it's in your face," Finnson says.

"You have to hit that critical mass with brand awareness and then bring it back to major retailers,” Finnson continues. “After our success with movie chains and airlines, six million people know what Clodhoppers are. Now we stand a chance against Nestlé and Cadbury in the US."

The growth of Krave's is unlike anything the founders could ever have expected. Their first year of business saw production of 5,000 pounds of Clodhoppers in a 500-square-foot space. In the last twelve months, they made more than two million pounds in a 30,000-square-foot plant. Over that time, their staff has grown from the two of them and a couple of friends to 45 people.

Emery says while the pair were able to pick up some easy sales in their home town, buyers from other jurisdictions — the US, Mexico and Japan — weren't converted until they tasted one of the four Clodhoppers recipes: vanilla, chocolate, peanut butter and Cookies & Clods.

Chris and Larry say a deal to take Clodhoppers to Mexico and package them with Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo Inc., should be announced shortly. "They'll be called 'K-booms'," Emery says.

Before Christmas, another deal with NS Group, a Japanese-based distribution and manufacturing group, should see Clodhoppers in the land of the rising sun by early next year, they say.

"We look at Clodhoppers as being very much like Coca-Cola in that we think it transcends borders, demographics and ethnic backgrounds," Emery says. Certainly the product combined with the original story appears to have strong universal appeal.


Geoff Kirbyson is a business reporter with the Winnipeg Free Press in Canada.

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