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September 5, 2017 Comments (0) Views: 251 Long Stories, September 2017, Small Business, Startups

“It’s Perfect”: How a Local Snack Company Made it Big

San Diego-based Perfect Bar went from door-to-door sales to one of the best-selling nutrition bars in the country

1960s–1970s

Health Nut

Dr. Bud Keith, a nutritionist and vice president of fitness pioneer Jack LaLanne’s company, opens a juice bar and gym, Health House, in Mission Beach. Membership cost 50 cents a month.

1980s

Cooking It Up

Bud marries Barbara, and the eldest children, Bill and Leigh, are born. Bud tries to get the kids to eat his whole-food supplements and protein powder, but they hate it. When he hides them in a homemade protein bar with ground nut butter, honey, and dried fruits and veggies, they ask for seconds. One day he’s particularly proud of a batch and says, “It’s perfect.” The word sticks. Free of preservatives, they must be refrigerated for the longest shelf life.

1980s-1990s

Hitting the Road

Bud lectures on health and fitness at universities around the country. His wife and children join him on the road in a bus-turned-motorhome. “We would come up onstage and sing; we were his sideshow,” says cofounder Bill Keith. The growing family snacks on the protein bars while on the go.

1995

Family Business

Bill, 12, and Leigh, 10, sell the bars door-to-door for extra money. “Everyone we gave the bars to said, ‘This tastes delicious; you should sell it in grocery stores,’” Bill says. They raise $1,700 on their own and pay for a family trip to Disneyland.

2000

Growing up

Bud buys a small bed and breakfast in Willow Creek, California, and the family settles there. There are now 13 children in the Keith family. Bill says, “It was such a tiny little town that when we left, they had to change the population sign.”

Early 2000s

Tough Times

Bud is diagnosed with skin cancer that rapidly progresses. He can no longer lecture or go on tour. “There were mounting bills. We were going to lose our property and have to move to a rental,” Bill says.

2004

New ideas

Bill presents a plan in his college business class to produce and market his father’s protein bars. His professor says a refrigerated bar doesn’t make sense.

“There were mounting bills. We were going to lose our property and have to move to a rental.”

Fall 2004

Focusing In

The Keith family sells the bed and breakfast, which had $100,000 in equity. Bill and Leigh move to Sacramento and plan to use the money to start a family business called Perfect Foods Bar.

Winter 2005

Home for Good

Bud’s health is worsening. Bill and Leigh relocate their parents and siblings back to San Diego so he can be near the coast.

Spring 2005

Back to Basics

$60,000 from the sale of the bed and breakfast is used to buy a packaging machine. Bill and Leigh, now 22 and 19 years old, make the bars in their small kitchen, using rolling pins and cutting them with a knife. They do demonstrations in stores and pass out samples.

May 2005

Picking up the Pace

Perfect Foods Bar picks up distribution in select Jimbo’s stores and officially launches with one flavor: peanut butter. Four siblings become involved in the business and hire three employees.

Early 2006

On the Road Again

Bill travels around California, doing demonstrations at grocery stores. Unable to afford hotels, he sleeps in his car and showers at gyms.

Summer 2006

A Big Break

“They said we could have five Whole Foods, for 90 days,” Leigh says. The peanut butter bar sells so well during the trial period that Whole Foods agrees to place it in 10 additional stores in California.

2006–2007

Growing Pains

Despite getting into Whole Foods, the Keiths are $200,000 in debt and debate closing the business.

2007

Getting Close

Bill and Leigh move to their mother’s home in San Diego. Bill shares the garage with three brothers; Leigh shares a bedroom with four sisters. The family sets up production in a plant in Santee.

2008

Road Trip

Bill rents a van and travels for six weeks to get national distribution. He sleeps on top of a chest freezer in the back of the van. He successfully expands Perfect Bar to the East Coast.

“We didn’t want to get soft because we got some money into our company.”

2009

New Digs

The company upgrades to a 30,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Sorrento Valley.

2009

A Founder’s Legacy

Bud Keith passes away. Bill and Leigh say they feel fortunate their father got to see his legacy start to take off before his death.

2010

Rapid Expansion

Another sibling joins the company; 25 employees are hired. The product line expands to five flavors and secures distribution in all 50 states.

2014

Perfecting the Product

Perfect Foods Bar is renamed and relaunched as Perfect Bar at Natural Products Expo West. The product is still hand-rolled.

2015

Investing in the Future

The family receives private equity from VMG Partners. The cash helps them hire executives from General Mills, Udi’s, and Kashi. “We didn’t want to get soft because we got some money into our company,” Leigh says. “We still want our employees to feel that hustle.” There are now seven bars in the line.

2016

Big Hits

Perfect Bar is featured in O, The Oprah Magazine and Us Weekly, and gets a shout-out from Julianne Hough in New York magazine’s The Cut.

Fall 2016

The Big Time

The company relocates to a new 9,000-square-foot headquarters in Sorrento Valley, near the manufacturing plant. They add 7,000 more retail locations.

2017

Still Striving

Perfect Bar is now sold in 12,000 retail locations nationwide. Eight siblings and 100 employees now work for the company. Leigh is looking to add more employee benefits at the new headquarters, hoping to one day offer on-site childcare.

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