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Exclusive Interview: How Chicago Startup RXBAR Built A Global, No-BS Brand

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Social Media Week welcomes RXBAR CEO Peter Rahal in his first public talk since selling to Kellogg.

RXBAR, the clean protein bar first invented in the Chicago suburbs, became the poster child for CPG transparency in recent years. The “no BS” approach—made famous by unmistakably straightforward product packaging—helped RXBAR grow a following and capture the attention of Kellogg, which bought the company for $600 million in Oct. 2017.

At Social Media Week Chicago, Executive Director Toby Daniels welcomed RXBAR co-founder and CEO Peter Rahal in his first public speaking appearance since the acquisition. The conversation covered the story of the brand from its humble beginnings to its present standing as a member of the Kellogg family.

Scaling the big idea

Rahal said the main challenge RXBAR wanted to solve from Day 1 was to demystify what goes into protein bars. Looking at the plethora of products in existence and their overly complex ingredients, Rahal and his co-founder, childhood friend Jared Smith, set out to create a simpler product. They threw in $5,000 each to start the business and set out to upend an industry from their own kitchens.

With a working product in place, Rahal recalls asking his father for design references to advise on packaging, to which his father replied, “Go sell 1,000 bars first and prove yourselves.” This moment is noteworthy, as Rahal points out that RXBAR’s modern and elegant packaging was not preceded by the early team’s commitment to the product.

RXBAR’s first two iterations, blueberry and coconut chocolate, sold out immediately. Rahal and Smith knew they were onto something, and so they quit their jobs to focus on the venture in a full-time capacity. Rahal shared that one of the first distribution partners was CrossFit, a passionate, performance-minded exercise community with chapters around the world.

 

A customer-obsessed model

Rahal notes that being a transparent brand goes deeper than the ingredients and product packaging. To that end, RXBAR has focused on customer service as a core differentiator in its category. In their early days, the team sent handwritten thank you notes to customers and businesses who posted about their products online. They used social media to connect with customers in a personal way, turning to Instagram and Facebook to spread awareness and build loyalty.

Rahal and the team also turned to influencers to help spread awareness, and in the first year, these efforts collectively helped them notch $2 million in sales.

Building the brand

After more than two years of building up the product and the business, Rahal and his founding team revisited the branding conversation that he had first broached with his father. Understanding that their leading asset was transparency, they carried this theme onto the bars’ packaging by placing the ingredients front in center. That decision would become an iconic differentiator for RXBAR that boldly communicated that the company could stand proudly behind its products.

With a rebrand increase, Rahal and his team continued to scale the company through 2017, when RXBAR decided to sell to Kellogg for $600 million. Rahal explained that the team came to the decision after realizing that they could use the help of a bigger player with deep CPG expertise to take RXBAR to the next level.

Now two months into the acquisition, Rahal maintains that the decision was the right one to make. Rahal remains as CEO, working closely with the Kellogg team to take advantage of their insights and support while continuing to operate independently. Over the next few months, the team will move to a larger headquarters to make room for an expanded team and a growing business.

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