Some people innately embody a strong entrepreneurial spirit. Such is the case with Joel Clark, CEO of Kodiak Cakes, Park City, UT, a pioneer in better-for-you baking, offering whole-grain, protein-enhanced products that currently span multiple categories across breakfast, snacking, and beyond.
“Kodiak Cakes was founded in 1995, but the original flapjack mix goes all the way back to when I was eight years old,” says Clark. “It was my mom’s recipe, and she was a bit of a natural foods pioneer, believing meals should be made with real, wholesome ingredients. She created the original recipe for the mix, and I would sell it door to door in my little red wagon to neighbors and friends.”
The early days of the business were truly a family effort. “Years later, my brother began to develop that recipe into a business—with my mom’s approval, of course,” says Clark. “We originally started selling the mix to ski shops and resorts around Park City and eventually branched out into Wyoming. After a few years of slow growth, I took over the business. During that time, there were countless moments when I wanted to give up on Kodiak Cakes. But, occasionally, I would receive letters from fans of our mixes, and they inspired me to keep going.”
Today, Kodiak Cakes is a multimillion dollar brand, with distribution from coast to coast and placement in top chains like Target, Walmart, Kroger, and Costco. Its product range brings better-for-you options to a wide range of key bakery product categories—options that clearly resonate with today’s shoppers. The company has seen significant year-over-year growth in top product segments, far outpacing the industry average.
In recognition for this pioneering work and groundbreaking performance, Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery is honoring Kodiak Cakes as its 2020 “Bakery of the Year.”
Into the shark tank
In 2014, Kodiak Cakes had its first big moment with a feature on the reality show “Shark Tank” that coincided with the launch of its protein-enhanced line of products, the Buttermilk Power Cakes Flapjack and Waffle Mix, as well as expanded distribution into Costco and Target. “The timing could not have been better,” says Clark, “and we saw exponential growth—despite turning down a deal with The Sharks.”
Clark envisioned a rapid rise for Kodiak Cakes, and felt that The Sharks didn’t make them a strong-enough offer during his appearance on the show. But the experience carried monumental value via exposure.
“‘Shark Tank’ was a massive awareness and momentum builder for us,” says Cameron Smith, president and co-founder. “But I think what’s unique about how it impacted us vs. other businesses that go on ‘Shark Tank’ was that we were able to leverage that momentum. Some businesses we speak to that went on ‘Shark Tank’ see a spike in online sales, and then it dips back down. We were at an advantage, because we already had solid distribution in retail grocery stores across the country, and we had national distribution at Target for our two original flapjack and waffle mixes. Target was mentioned on the show as a place to find Kodiak Cakes, and consumers went there and emptied the shelves right after the show aired.”
Kodiak Cakes kicked into overdrive to keep up with the demand over the ensuing months. “In the first six or so weeks after the show aired, we figure we did an extra $1 million in sales as a result of the exposure,” says Smith. “This gave us the means to continue to innovate and add new products, which allowed us to continually expand our consumer base.”
Since 2014, Kodiak Cakes has seen significant growth. “We currently have 82 employees at Kodiak Cakes,” says Smith. That number has grown from six in 2014. “We just built a brand-new office in Park City, UT to facilitate our employee growth. We’ve been steadily growing over the last few years.”
Clark notes that the last five years have brought the most concentrated change in the company’s history, spurred by rapid growth. “For the most part, our story was one of very slow, consistent growth over many years,” he says. “For example, it took us 16 years to break the $1 million mark, which finally happened in 2011. Then, in 2014, two major events happened that spurred exponential growth. The first was the launch of Power Cakes, and the second was the appearance on ‘Shark Tank.’ Both of those events were huge momentum drivers for the brand.”
From that point, Kodiak Cakes capitalized on the momentum with innovation, as well as better marketing and content, adding people to help manage and continue brand growth. In 2014, notes Clark, the company saw revenue of $6.7 million. In 2019, Kodiak Cakes hit just under $160 million.
“Not only has the business changed, but we as leaders and employees have had to change, as well,” says Clark. “We’ve had to scale right along with the business. It’s been challenging, but incredibly fun to see what Kodiak Cakes has become, and it’s because of the amazing team of people we have built.”
Kodiak Cakes currently offers a products ranging from bakery mixes and frozen breakfast to graham crackers—and even microwave flapjack, brownie, and muffin cups:
- Flapjack & Waffle Mix
- Flapjack Unleashed Cup
- Brownie Unleashed Cup
- Muffin Unleashed Cup
- Oatmeal Unleashed Cup
- Baking Mixes—Muffin, Cornbread, Brownie, and Cookie
- Toaster Waffles & Flapjacks
- Bear Bites Frontier Graham Crackers
- Oatmeal Packets
- Power Fruit Syrups
Clark notes that the best-selling product at Kodiak Cakes is currently the Buttermilk Power Cakes Flapjack & Waffle Mix.
At a Glance
Company: Kodiak Cakes
Headquarters: Park City, UT
Website address: https://kodiakcakes.com
Number of employees: 82
Annual sales: $160 million
Products: Flapjack & Waffle Mix, Flapjack Cups, Brownie Cups, Muffin Cups, Oatmeal Cups, Baking Mixes, Toaster Waffles & Flapjacks, Graham Crackers, Oatmeal Packets, Fruit Syrups
Brands: Kodiak Cakes
Better-for-you, on-the-go snacking is a strategic area of expansion for Kodiak Cakes. “We launched our Bear Bites Frontier Graham Crackers in 2019 and expanded the line to include snack bags instead of only the bag-in-box offering,” says Clark. “We are confident this will be a popular option for those looking for an on-the-go healthy snack. Bear Bites come in three flavors: honey, cinnamon, and chocolate.”
Kodiak Cakes has found strong resonance with shoppers looking to align their food choices with their lifestyles. “Our protein-rich products are selling well, because we offer healthier options for food items once seen as indulgences,” says Smith. “Our products are also packed with 100 percent whole grains, which adds to the health benefits. Protein and whole grains combined keep people fuller for longer, so our products are a great option. They also taste delicious.”
While Kodiak Cake products are great for anyone and all ages, Smith has found that the brand’s core consumer has a focus on health and wellness. “We found our biggest fans are looking to enjoy filling, flavorful snack and meal options that match their healthy lifestyles,” he says. “Additionally, as we continue to expand, we are proud to create snack foods that are a healthy choice that kids enjoy eating.”
And the iconic Kodiak bear used across its branding is more than just an engaging graphic. Kodiak Cakes participates in conservation efforts, with a portion of company profits each year donated to wildlife foundations that support the protection of Kodiak bears and their habitats in the wild, notes Clark.
Kodiak Cakes caught onto the emerging protein-fortified at just the right time. Now carbohydrate consciousness is factoring into its R&D efforts.
“A big macro trend that is emerging and impacting our business is keto and the demonization of carbohydrates,” says Smith. “We are balancing the effects of this macro trend in two ways. Firstly, we are doing our part to educate people on the types of carbohydrates and the role they play in nutrition. We strive to highlight that our products feature nutrient-dense, balanced carbohydrates and whole grains that should be included in a balanced diet. This is often overlooked as people work to reduce or eliminate carbs.”
So the Kodiak Cakes team turned to innovation for a solution. “We identified the white space between keto and our standard dense-carb products,” says Smith. “We created a new Kodiak Cakes Carb-Conscious Buttermilk Flapjack & Waffle Mix—launching March 2020—that has fewer carbs than other mixes in our lineup, but still tastes amazing. We hope this balance will help more people see the benefits of whole grains and the role that carbohydrates can play.”
Innovation has long been a hallmark of company culture at Kodiak Cakes. “We like to think that we have a strategic advantage in terms of innovation and speed to market when it comes to that innovation,” says Clark. “We can get awesome products out the door quickly, and as the food industry continues to change at an even more-rapid pace, speed to market is increasingly important. Another advantage is culture. In a positive culture, where people feel empowered and collaborate well, innovation can really thrive. In top-down, authoritarian cultures, innovation suffers because people don’t feel psychologically safe and are afraid to speak up. We work hard to have a culture that fosters empowerment, collaboration, and innovation.”
Kodiak Cakes has found great success in its recruiting efforts. The type of people the company has been able to attract has become a competitive advantage, says Clark. “If we didn’t have this great of a team around us, Kodiak Cakes wouldn’t be where it is. We have people who are scrappy, innovative, and who challenge the norms. We enjoy going to work every day, because it doesn’t always feel like work.”
This company culture continues to yield strong results. “We’ve been very fortunate to experience the amount of growth that we have in the past five years,” says Smith. “We want to make sure we don’t take that for granted and continue to build on the momentum that this brand has. We currently have products in six categories in the grocery store, and we see our footprint expanding in the future. We started in breakfast and are now in snacking. In a lot of ways, we feel like this is just the beginning for Kodiak Cakes.”