Better distribution driving growth for Tahoe Trail Bar
Tahoe Trail Bar expects to see 60 percent growth in gross sales in 2014 — and much of that growth is the culmination of more than a year’s work by Chief Executive Officer Wes King to expand distribution channels for the bar.
During the past year, King revamped the distribution model for Tahoe Trail Bar, moving away from direct store distribution — he used to sell boxes of bars directly to managers and buyers at individual stores — to placing the bars with large grocery chains that could more effectively disseminate the product.
Tahoe Trail Bar now is carried in 149 Safeway locations, 119 Raleys, Bel Air and Nob Hill stores, Whole Foods markets in northern Nevada and California, and most recently, Nugget Markets, a chain of nine specialty grocery stores serving the Greater Sacramento Valley. Whole Foods Market currently is the best-selling retail outlet for Tahoe Trail Bar.
“I recognized the need for that a couple of years ago; it was the next logical extension of becoming a brand that is available all over northern Nevada and California,” King says.
Product from the company King founded at Zephyr Cove in 2010 now can be found in about 500 stores throughout northern Nevada, Northern California and select locations across the U.S.
Although 2014 promises to be the company’s biggest year of growth, Tahoe Trail Bar had few problems ramping up its production and distribution capacity. The bar is manufactured by a third party in Oakland and brought to a warehouse in Reno.
“We were completely confident we could meet demand; it was just a matter of planning,” King says. “Those things take a while to structure the inventory and cash flow and getting everything in line to meet that demand.
“I want to grow as quickly as possible. I want to say yes to everyone who loves the product and wants to take it on,” King adds. “But you have to step back occasionally and see what’s going to be good and the timing that gives us the best shot at converting availability into sales.”
By outsourcing production, Tahoe Trail Bar can easily accommodate additional sales — but it was a different story when King was making the bar in a small kitchen in Carson City. He says the quality of the bar — a mix of gluten-free oats, crisp rice, peanut butter, dark chocolate chunks, raisins and cranberries, among other ingredients — actually improved by using a production partner. Over time production went from using bags of Toll House chocolate chips and containers of Jif peanut butter in the back of a coffee shop to using a commercial kitchen and eventually a commercial bulk co-packer.
Eventually, Tahoe Trail Bar outgrew is manufacturing capabilities and started outsourcing production in 2012 — but the change allowed King, the company’s sole employee, to devote more time to increasing sales channels and managing his growing business rather than spending the bulk of his time in constant product production.
“Scaling production yourself can only get you so far,” he says. “Our hand was forced; we could not physically keep up (with demand). I can now focus on branding, on marketing, and on putting the product in front of more people and making sure we are still hitting out target on quality.”
Still, King says during his time in the trenches he learned a great deal about commodities sourcing, availability, pricing and other key production concerns that helped during negotiations with his co-packing partner. He also learned valuable lessons that will help as his company transitions from a small, Lake Tahoe-based operations to a regional brand.
“The focus I have is to maintain the integrity of the company and take it to a larger scale,” King says. “We won’t grow overwhelmingly in 2015, but we will continue the trajectory of increased availability.”
The agreements are designed to split the costs of improvements such as traffic signals between Carson City and developers whose projects generate the traffic increases that trigger the need for improvements.