While Steve Savage has been bringing environmentally friendly brands to the table for decades, it wasn’t until recently that they were the kind you could eat.
In 1990 Savage founded compostable food service product line Eco-Products, which was later sold in 2012 to the Waddington Group. Savage then turned to consumer products, backing better-for you food brands and cleaning products under the corporate name 1908 Brands.
But cleaning up in the food aisle has been more arduous than Savage expected, and as a result, 1908 has decided to take some time to digest.
Nevertheless, it’s been a busy year-plus for the company, which now has eight brands under its umbrella. In the past year alone, the company has acquired three companies, launched one brand from scratch, and licensed the name of another. The portfolio now contains two cleaning lines, two snack brands, two condiment brands and one brand that largely focuses on breakfast.
It’s a fix-and-grow operation: Savage’s primary strategy is to acquire brands that are struggling in their current incarnation.
“We buy distressed, struggling companies that have a great product, they just need a lot of help,” Savage told NOSH. “Our marketing team is best in class. We can take a brand, make it look new, cool and with our product development team add new SKUs so we can have horizontal growth to make the product relevant on the shelf."
If 1908 can’t find a company for sale, Savage said, 1908 will likely enter the category regardless. When 1908 wanted to enter the bar and breakfast space, it launched the Three Bears brand from scratch. However, he said, launching a brand from scratch has proven to take more time than refreshing an existing line.
“[The past year] was a stretch and I think Three Bears has somewhat suffered from all that activity,” Savage said. “We still haven’t launched our bars and squeeze packs and I think it’s mostly because we just haven’t had the time, energy and resources to do it.”
Despite Three Bears’ slower ramp up, 1908 has seen door counts rise exponentially and its products are now sold in 12,000 to 15,000 retailers, Savage said. In 2017 the company expects to go from $5.5 million in sales to $10 million and double sales again in 2018.
However, for Savage, there’s still more to be achieved.
“[Those sales are] a very successful year. That’s about as successful as you can get in this category,” Savage said. “But to me that’s slow growth and if I only had one brand, it would be even slower. Fortunately I have eight and four of them are driving it. This business takes a long time.”
Part of the issue, says Savage, is that the food industry sees very slow sales and reset cycles. When running Eco-Products, he was able to grow the company from $5 million to $45 million in a year because if a company wanted his product, it could be ordered and hit customers in a matter of months. With food, Savage has found that it’s not nearly as fast.
First, said Savage, a food brand takes longer to get ready for market. Product testing, getting nutritional facts, setting up manufacturing and solidifying the right cost of goods takes far longer than he thought it would when founding 1908. Then once a product is ready to go to market, the waiting is still not done.