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The couple behind the popular energy bar brand Clif Bar are set to earn themselves billionaire status when they sell their company to global food brand Mondelez International for a staggering $2.9 billion.
It was revealed on Monday that Canadian entrepreneur Gary Erickson and his wife Kit Crawford had inked a deal with the company, which also owns British chocolate brand Cadbury, having spent years turning down other offers to buy Clif Bar & Company.
The multi-billion-dollar deal comes decades after Erickson first began cooking up homemade energy bars in his kitchen with his mom – before bringing wife Crawford into the business to serve as his right-hand woman.
Clif Bar was first launched by Erickson – a baker, avid cyclist, and former mountain guide – in the early ’90s after he teamed up with his friend Lisa Thomas to create the protein bar company. From the start, they split the company 50-50 – a decision Erickson would later come to regret.
Mondelez International – the company which owns the well-known British chocolate brand Cadbury – has just announced that it is buying Clif Bar for $2.9 billion
But who started the energy bar company? Get ready to meet the couple who held on to the establishment for 30 years – despite previous attempts from other food giants to buy it out – but is now set to become billionaires from the colossal sale
They both owned the company equally up until 2000, when Thomas sold her share to Erickson for $72 million after the two got into a major disagreement.
Erickson then brought in his wife – dancer and performance artist Crawford – as co-CEO and together, they ran the corporation for more than 20 years, earning millions of dollars and turning it into one of the most successful protein bar companies in the world.
But how did Erickson come up with the idea for the venture, turn it into a billion-dollar business, and successfully keep it going for decades? And how did Mondelez convince him to finally step away after spending years dutifully refusing to let go of Clif Bar, despite being offered millions for it in the past?
From how they started it to details on their recent sale, here’s everything we know about the couple behind the beloved snack.
The early years: How Gary Erickson started the business after having an ‘epiphany’ during a bike ride
The company was created by Gary Erickson, who came up with the idea in 1990 on a bike ride. He named it Clif Bar after his father, Clifford, who is pictured with him
From early on in his childhood, Erickson, who worked in a ski shop as a teen, dreamed of starting his own business.
For two years he worked with his mom to find the perfect recipe – trying all different combinations until they found the right one. He is pictured with his mom
He told Huffington Post, ‘I knew I would own my own business someday. It wasn’t about not liking working for people. I just wanted to figure it out and do it my own way.’
As an adult, he opened his own bakery, called Kali’s Sweets & Savories (named after his grandmother) – where his met his future wife, Kit.
Kit worked as the salesperson for the bakery, going door to door to try to sell their products and bring in new customers.
‘She landed like 20 accounts right off the bat, which really helped the business get started,’ he recalled.
According to the company’s website, Erickson came up with the idea for Clif Bar in 1990, when he was going on a 175-mile bike ride and brought a bunch of energy bars with him.
At the time, he was unhappy with the small selection of bars; he said he had an ‘epiphany’ while he was riding and ‘realized he couldn’t eat another unappetizing, sticky, hard-to-digest bar,’ so he decided to make his own.
For two years he worked with his mom to find the perfect recipe – trying all different combinations until they found the right one.
He then brought in his friend Thomas, and named the company Kali’s SportNaturals.
They first started with three different flavors – double chocolate, apricot, and date oatmeal – which they debuted at a bike show in September 1991.
He then brought in his friend Lisa Thomas, whom he split with the company with 50-50. In its first year, the company made $700,000, and by 1997, revenue reached $20 million. Erickson is seen with his dad
In its first year, the company made $700,000, and by 1997, revenue reached $20 million – the same year they changed the name to Clif Bar, after Erickson’s father, Clifford, who ‘who introduced him to wilderness adventures and encouraged him to follow his passions in life.’
As for the well-known Clif Bar logo of a man rock-climbing, that was created by Erickson’s friend Doug Gilmour, who sketched it on a napkin during a dinner they had together in San Francisco.
‘I didn’t start Clif Bar to make money or to fill holes in my life. I did it because I wanted to make a better energy bar for my friends and myself,’ he told Huffington Post in 2018.
‘We hit upon a perfect storm of sorts where, while we had strong sales in bike shops, the healthy and natural foods movement was emerging and was seeing incredible growth.
‘We quickly landed some big accounts, which helped the business tip into what it has become today.
‘I do ask myself the question “What If?” quite a bit. What if I didn’t have the experience in running my own business, or what if there were more than just one energy bar on the market at the time? It’s funny how everything came together at the right moment.’
The switch to a husband-and-wife set-up: Erickson buys out his business partner and brings in his spouse instead
One year later, Quaker Oats offered Erickson and Thomas $120 million for the company, but against Thomas’ wishes, Erickson (pictured) ultimately turned down their offer, telling INC that ‘it was not the time and it wasn’t right’
According to Insider , Thomas was so angry that Erickson didn’t want to go through with the sale that she left the company, with Erickson paying $72 million for her stake. He then brought in his wife, Kit Crawford as co-CEO in 2007
In 1999, the company introduced a special protein bar designed specifically for women, called the Luna Bar.
One year later, Quaker Oats offered Erickson and Thomas $120 million for the company, but against Thomas’ wishes, Erickson ultimately turned down their offer, telling INC that ‘it was not the time and it wasn’t right.’
According to Insider, Thomas was so angry that Erickson didn’t want to go through with the sale that she left the company, with Erickson paying $72 million for her stake – which took him 10 years to pay off.
‘Erickson handles finance, sales, and operations while Crawford focuses on branding, marketing, and product development,’ Biz Journals reported in 2007. The couple is pictured together
‘You don’t do what I did and give half the company away because you’re a nice guy. And you don’t bring on capital from somebody who you know down the road you will lose control,’ Erickson told the outlet in 2017, when asked what advice he had for new entrepreneurs.
Then, in 2004, Erickson stepped back from his role as CEO and Sherly O’Loughlin took over.
However, three years later, he resumed his leadership duties after he said he started to feel ‘insulated.’
‘I just wanted to feel more of what was going on,’ he told Biz Journals at the time. ‘It’s hard to walk away from a family business when your name is stamped on everything.’
Over the years, Crawford – who was raised eating only organic food and had a ‘deep understanding of the tie between the earth and the food we eat,’ according to CelebrityNetWorth.com – had no official title at the company, but was said to be an ‘advisor’ to her husband.
However, in 2007 when Erickson returned as CEO, it was announced that she would split the duties with him, and was officially given the role of co-CEO.
‘In their small office, with wooden desks that face each other, Erickson handles finance, sales, and operations while Crawford focuses on branding, marketing, and product development,’ Biz Journals reported in 2007.
Together, the pair – who are now based in California – have welcomed three children together over the years. They also own a winery and farm in Napa Valley, and released their own wine called The Climber
‘Both bosses have casual styles, wearing jeans and button-down shirts to work. From their office, they can hear the clack-clack sounds of employees playing foosball in a nearby room.’
At the time, Erickson told them of hiring his wife as co-CEO, ‘This just feels better. We just feel like we can do this for a long time.’
He also said that he and his wife had no plans to ever leave the company, adding, ‘Our exit strategy is death, but we’re hoping that the company will stay on until the next generation.’
For years, they turned down various companies who tried to buy the brand from them and avoided taking it public on the stock market, with Erickson stating in a 2018 interview that his team ‘knew not even to tell them’ when there were offers, adding, ‘We aren’t interested.’
‘You couldn’t give me enough needles to poke my eyes out,’ he told INC when presented with the idea of undergoing an IPO. ‘It’s a lifestyle we couldn’t live with. I’ve never heard any founder happy with going public.’
From an off-the-cuff idea to a global phenomenon: How Clif Bars became one of the biggest protein bar companies in the world
The company prides itself on sustainability, and has claimed that 70 per cent of its purchased ingredients are certified organic
From 2006 to 2009, Forbes ranked Clif Bar as the number one company in their Breakaway Brands list.
Aside from Clif Bars and Luna Bars, the protein bar giant has also released other products like sports drinks, energy gels, jerky, spreads, and packets of nuts.
Aside from Clif Bars and Luna Bars, the protein bar giant has also released other products like sports drinks, energy gels, jerky, spreads, and packets of nuts
The company prides itself on sustainability, and has claimed that 70 per cent of its purchased ingredients are certified organic.
It also eliminated the use of shrink-wrap which reportedly saved 90,000-pounds of plastic.
‘Clif Bar’s vision always has been to do business in a better way. Recognizing that food is at the center of everything it does, the company places organic ingredients and organic farming at the forefront of its sustainability efforts,’ its website reads.
In 2007, the company made headlines when it offered its employees $6,500 to switch to bio-diesel cars in an initiative called Cool Commute. It also began offering $960 annually to those who walk, bike, or take public transit to work.
The company is well-known for its employee perks – with all of its facilities boasting on-site gyms, rock climbing walls, yoga studios, and massage rooms.
It’s been reported that employees are allowed to bring their dogs to work and get two and a half hours of paid exercise time each week.
The husband-and-wife duo is very passionate about giving back, and started the Clif Bar Family Foundation in 2006 – which is dedicated to organic seed research and crop genetic diversity.
Together, the pair – who are now based in California – have welcomed three children together over the years.
They also own a winery and farm in Napa Valley, and released their own wine called The Climber.
The sale: How Mondelez convinced the couple to sell the company for $2.9 billion
Unfortunately, it’s unclear why the couple – who owned 80 per cent of the company when the sale was made, and worked as its chief visionary officers – finally decided to sell it after years of insisting that they were never going to let it go
Current CEO Sally Grimes (pictured) said in a statement, ‘Mondelez International is the right partner at the right time to support Clif in our next chapter of growth’
In 2013, Erickson and Crawford stepped back as CEOs to become chief visionary officers instead.
Unfortunately, it’s unclear why the couple finally decided to sell the company after years of insisting that they were never going to let it go; however, current CEO Sally Grimes said in a statement, ‘Mondelez International is the right partner at the right time to support Clif in our next chapter of growth.
‘Our purposes and cultures are aligned and being part of a global snacking company with broad product offerings can help us accelerate our growth.’
According to CNN, on top of the initial $2.9 billion, Mondelez will also pay the couple – who still owned 80 per cent – additional amounts ‘depending upon its earnings from Clif Bar.’
Mondelez – which also makes Toblerone and Oreo – will continue to manufacture the bars from its facilities in Twin Falls, Idaho, and Indianapolis, Indiana.