What do you do when a major federal agency says your product marketing sucks?
That's the dilemma for KIND Bars right now. The startup, known officially as KIND Healthy Snacks, produces bars that are made from natural ingredients. This week, the FDA has called out the company and their products, saying a few of the snacks are not as healthy as they should be to meet government branding guidelines.
Technically speaking, it's because the bars contain an assortment of nuts that have a bit too much saturated fat. In some ways, it's like saying oranges are bad for you because they have too much sugar, but the issue is really one of branding and marketing. A FoxNews.com report noted that the company uses a " " sign that normally means a snack is fortified with extra nutrients. The FDA claims there has to be less than 1 gram of saturated fat, but four different KIND bars actually have anywhere from 2.5 to 3.5 grams of saturated fat per 40 grams.
The warning letter is particularly heated for an agency that regulates food, essentially slapping them on the wrist and saying they have to change their tune. The company has 15 days to respond with explanations about how they will correct the product packaging and marketing. There's a bit of a dark cloud. It's implied that KIND has to make the changes...or else.
When a company starts growing so fast and even becomes a fixture at the local health food store, then gets in trouble with a government agency, the temptation might be to go into a cocooning mode. You might decide to discreetly deal with the problem.
Kudos to KIND for how they have handled the situation. The company immediately took to the blogosphere and said they will make the necessary changes. They defended their products and explained the situation. They didn't attack the FDA or go into a defensive posture, but also made it clear they stand behind their products. They also note that the FDA has not criticized the actual product or claimed any safety issues, but have mainly criticized the packaging.
I'm expecting KIND to rebound from this, to redo their packaging for the products that do not meet the FDA guidelines for what is healthy, and to soldier on.
There's a dramatically different approach they could have taken.
In some cases, there might be a tendency to come out swinging and defend your branding efforts. You can act aggressively and even call people names. This usually doesn't end well. You may remember the magnetic toys known as Buckyballs. In 2012, the company defended their product and Craig Zucker, the CEO, wondered in public why the government was coming after him. The feds threatened penalties up to $53M. Last year, he settled the case. He agreed to pay $375,000 for the product recall.
KIND is taking a different posture. Here's a statement released to Inc.com: "We're making it clear that this relates to a regulatory definition, and that our bars are wholesome and nutritious," says Joe Cohen, the SVP of Communications at KIND.
"Our snacks are made with high quality ingredients like premium nuts, whole grains and seeds which provide nutritional benefits, and we don't have plans to change our recipes," he explained. "We've also received a great deal of public support from the medical and nutritionist communities, and many experts have spoken up to endorse and recommend our snacks and discuss the benefits of eating nuts and nutritious fats."
What does it really mean? For consumers, an attitude of compliance means the company is responsible, will take action, and will fix problems. It shows they won't hide from the issue. The packaging and marketing will change, but the product won't. It means consumers will likely still line up to buy their snacks. Good for them.