Bakery pushes own brand after years of white-label production

August 5, 2011

One way to counter the effects of the recession is to start a retail brand. That’s what entrepreneur Karen Trilevsky did.

The founder and CEO of FullBloom Baking Co, a 22-year-old natural foods bakery outside San Francisco, started rolling out her own line of branded snacks in 2008, after years serving as the behind-the-scenes regional baker for big customers like Whole Foods.

Trilevsky, 54, admited it’s been tough to create a market for new products in the crowded natural and organic foods space, which commands premium pricing –- sometimes as much as 50 percent –- over conventional grocery items. With all the belt tightening, she said customers are often reluctant to try new things.

“The grocery stores seem to be much more reticent to make changes,” she said. “There’s no risk taking going on.”

Even so, FullBloom has been able to carve out shelf space for its products, offering up snacks customers can’t find elsewhere in this premium niche of food retailing.

“By having these products more unique, it does enable us to price them where they belong,” said Trilevsky, whose lineup includes items like Kuko Bites, a chewy wheat and dairy free snack resembling macaroons, and Toasted Oatmeal Bars, which include whole grains, cherries and raisins.

Will chocolate chip cookies make the branded cut? No way, she said.

“It becomes a commodity, and then it’s a war on price,” said Trilevsky, who has been hit hard by skyrocketing costs of ingredients such as butter while facing pushback from wholesale customers asking her to hold the line on pricing.

The recession has forced FullBloom, which has annual sales of roughly $40 million, to reduce hours for its 290 workers and find ways to source ingredients less expensively.

“It’s gotten fierce, the competition and the slashing of pricing,” she said. “They proclaim to want innovation and values and all these other things. Once you get in front of the actual purchasing agent, they basically say, ‘We don’t care about that stuff. We want to get the prices as low as we can possibly get them.’”

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