KIND, you’re kinda focused on the wrong things

Kind sues Clif Bar over clear packagingI just don’t get this. Perhaps my sensitivity to brand incongruence is heightened because I recently read Denise Lee Yohn’s What Great Brands Do. Perhaps I’m biased, because I’m a huge fan of Clif Bar. Or perhaps Kind is really wasting time, money & brand capital on a nuisance lawsuit.

Kind is the fastest-growing energy/nutrition bar, according to the Forbes article that alerted me to this nonsense. They make a good product, an espouse an admirable “Be Kind” philosophy. What’s not to like? As a consumer, I don’t like them picking fights with one of my favorite brands. As a marketer, I cringe whenever I see a company doing something “corporate” that doesn’t fit the brand they’ve worked so hard to create.

I originally became a fan of Clif Bars because I loved the product. I’m an avid hiker & appreciate trail snacks with a high flavor to space & weight ratio. I became a raving fan of Clif Bar & Company after reading founder Gary Erickson’s book, Raising the Bar: Integrity and Passion in Life and Business: The Story of Clif Bar Inc., & hearing him speak at a sustainability conference. As a human being & a leader, I greatly admire Gary’s courage to grow his business his way, remaining true to his core values that were foundational to the brand. As a marketer watching Clif Bar for more than 10 years now, I remain impressed by the way this private company walks the talk & continues to demonstrate integrity & respect for its people, its food, the planet & the communities Clif calls home. Despite, or I’d like to think, because of, this operating philosophy, Clif Bar grew to lead its category, now with at least 8 different product lines (and that’s just in bars, never mind wines, gourmet snacks, olive oil, et al). No doubt Kind, since its introduction in 2004, has stolen some market share from Clif Bar, & they pioneered the packaging style that highlights the quality & simplicity of ingredients through the use of a mostly transparent wrapper. It was a great move, showing us that there were “No secret ingredients and absolutely nothing artificial here,” as their website says. It was, of course, quickly copied by others in the category. Clif Bar only recently added a transparent wrap with their redesigned packaging for the Mojo line, which isn’t even their product most similar to Kind bars.

Will Kind sue all these competitors??With numerous energy/snack bars using clear wraps to show off their ingredients, the decision to focus the lawsuit on Clif Bar is puzzling. According to Daniel Lubetzky, founder of Kind, “We were the first ones to [have a transparent wrapper] in our industry, and now we have a lot of people trying to copy our approach.” Are they going to sue all of them? How about the grandma who wraps homemade cookie bars in clear plastic wrap to sell at the church bake sale, are they going to sue her too?

More importantly, this lawsuit is just not congruent with Kind’s brand position. I think it’s safe to say that Kindness is part of Kind’s brand essence.

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” — Henry James

Their website says, in huge, bold letters, “we’re all about doing the KIND thing,” & refers to starting the “Kind Movement,” all of which I applaud (though I’m not sure they should be claiming credit for being the first to run a business focused on more than profit alone). You can’t be a movement all by yourself, so presumably they wanted others to follow their lead. As a consumer, I can only be excited by more brands showing off simple, wholesome ingredients. Granted, as Lubetzky says, “Being Kind doesn’t mean being stupid. It does not mean being taken advantage of.” Is that really what’s happening here?

“When you can’t see any daylight between what you believe, what you practice, what you offer, and what you say about yourself, you are doing what great brands do.” – Denise Lee Yohn, What Great Brands Do: The Seven Brand-Building Principles that Separate the Best from the Rest

All due respect, Mr. Lubetzky, you just opened up some huge daylight.


Monica Hahn is a branding & marketing consultant & career coach based in San Rafael, California

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2 comments on “KIND, you’re kinda focused on the wrong things
  1. Thanks for the very interesting comments/report. It strikes me that KIND could have had a much more positive outcome had they used a concept that is gaining huge momentum in high tech: Having groups of companies collaborate on the development of a single piece of software. It’s called “open source”. Companies realize they can get more capable software more quickly if they develop together.

    What if KIND, rather than holding on and protecting the concept of clear packaging, had not only given it to the industry, but encouraged their competitors to use it? They would have been on-message with their strategy (being KIND) and also conveyed an even greater level of confidence in their product. (“We’re so confident we’re not concerned if others show you what is in their product.”)

  2. Monica Hahn says:

    Jim, thanks for your comments. What a great contrast from another industry. I totally agree. Happily, such collaboration does happen in the natural foods industry as well. I’m very impressed by OSC2 (“OSC Squared”), which stands for One Step Closer to a Sustainable, Organic Community.
    It’s a community of successful sustainable business leaders committed to driving positive impact on our industry and our environment. They recently collaborated on an initiative to secure a functional and sustainable option for heat sealable/flexible overwrap and pouches (those foil-like wrappers you see on products like energy bars that are otherwise very “green”). These actions tell me that all the sustainability language in participating companies’ brand messaging is sincere.

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Monica Hahn is a consultant who provides marketing and brand strategy, based in the San Francisco Bay area. Monica is also a career and executive coach who works in person or virtually.

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