October 3, 2009

Justin’s: Global Nut Butter Domination.

Innovation during a Tough Economy: Justin’s. ~ via Lance Gentry.

Justin’s Nut Butter succeeds in spite of—and because of—tough times. Is innovation essential to growth? Can conservative, careful businesses ultimately succeed?

My grandpa always said, “Don’t fix what ain’t broken,” and in the current state of the economy, many companies appear to be listening to him. Human intuition—with a side of fear—often sends a company’s innovative spirit into hibernation during economic downturns.

But some companies forge ahead, trusting their gut…especially right here in Boulder, Colorado, long known for its natural products industry—an industry that didn’t even exist 35 years ago.

Our friends at Clementine Art, Justin’s Nut Butter and Evol Burritos (AKA Phil’s Fresh) are seeking to prove that success in today’s marketplace lies in the counter-intuitive ability to innovate when things get dicey. There’s a necessity to innovate even more than in a normal economic climate. Some people call these companies crazy.

But take Justin’s, which I work with, for instance.

What is Justin’s doing adding lines…while Celestial Seasonings and Whole Foods are discontinuing hundreds of branded and private-label product lines? CEO and Founder Justin Gold says, “What aren’t we doing is the easier question. We aren’t slowing down, that’s for sure. We have three new flavors this year (doubling our previous offerings), 11 new products in four different packages.”

“Why? We’ve built some close relationships with our retailers and food service partners. They sit us down, tell us what they want—and we go make it happen.”

It’s an exciting time for the nut butta fanatics at Justin’s. After what proved to be a tough year for many peanut butter companies—due to a devastating salmonella outbreak and the stunted economy—Justin’s has continued to expand (it didn’t hurt that organic and/or natural peanut butter proved more immune to agribusiness-spawned contagion!).

Justin’s sales at Whole Foods Market have tripled since January. Despite relatively high prices in comparison with other lines, people seem to prioritize a line they can trust. The number of new retailers has grown from a few dozen to the thousands. And national retailers for Justin’s now include:

  1. the world’s largest unnamable coffee chain
  2. Safeway
  3. Kroger (includes King Soopers)
  4. Alaska
  5. Virgin
  6. Northwest and Delta Airlines
  7. REI and…
  8. Toys R Us

The list goes on, showing that although many of us are holding on for dear life, others are succeeding. Perhaps there’s a lesson in here somewhere.

In order to continue on a path to success, Justin’s has every intention to keep innovating. “Wait until you try our new Chocolate Hazelnut, Almond and Peanut flavors,” says Gold. “If you liked our products before, you’re in big trouble now.”

Justin’s, by the way, is no longer “Justin’s Nut Butter.” They’re now just “Justin’s, Boulder CO” to remove the limitations of “nut butters” and to draft off the cache that comes with being from the “Boulder Bubble.” “We’ll even change the name of our company if it means our customer’s have a better understanding of who we are,” says Gold.

Justin’s is not the only Boulder-based company witnessing success during the current economic turmoil. Companies such as Clementine Art, Evol. Burritos and New Planet Beer Company LLC are other companies who have innovated through the recession. These companies are turning innovation theory into practice, and proving it to be a key to success during a bad economy.

(ed’s note: elephant has, since September, left behind its financially successful but ultimately un-sustainable print publication of 6.5 years, and without any investment, gone online and, thus far, survived and thrived. When you gotta grow and/or change, you just have to take the plunge without waiting for “the right time,” sometimes. ~ed.).

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