A sweet 16 celebration is underway at Perfect Snacks. No flashy cards or entrance songs, but instead lots of peanut butter and reflection on what made a refrigerated protein bar company make it sixteen years later. We caught up with our founders Bill Keith, CEO and his sister Leigh Keith, President, to share some of the biggest lessons they’ve learned and reminisce on the early days. Here’s to a very sweet Perfect Snacks birthday.
16 Years and 16 Questions: A Perfect Snacks Birthday Q & A
1. What were you doing/where were you 16 years ago?
Bill: On Ebay looking for a candy wrapping machine! I’ll be honest, 16 years ago was a tough time for our family. Our dad had gotten sick with cancer and we were faced with the daunting task of figuring out how to support our parents and nine kids still at home. Our best idea was to try and launch a business selling our family recipe and we went for it!
Leigh: I was 19 when we started Perfect Snacks. You’d probably find me standing behind a demo table sampling our homemade bars at gyms and small nutrition stores, pinching our pennies to buy peanuts and honey. Reflecting back on 16 years ago, I’m now pinching myself because I could have never imagined we’d be able to see our family recipe grow to where it is today!
2. When starting out, how did you decide which family member would do each job?
Bill: In the early years, everyone wore a lot of hats and you really just did whatever was needed at the time. Personally, I’m naturally more of an introvert but we needed someone out there selling. So, there I was, pitching accounts, nervous as can be! But we all did whatever it took to get the job done. We were self-taught in a lot of ways in the early years, so we naturally went where the business needed us.
Leigh: We leaned on each other so much in those early years, everyone would do everything. Gradually over the years, as we built out our team, our siblings naturally gravitated towards areas they either had become skilled in or had a passion for. My brother Zane is now in Sales, my sister Charisse now in Operations, bringing new innovations to life. We like to tell Bill he’s the CEO because he’s the oldest and tallest 😉
3. Was there a moment when you thought Perfect Snacks would fail? If so, how did you persevere?
Bill: Plenty of times. But it’s amazing what you can do when your backs are against the wall. We were pretty early to market a refrigerated protein bar back in the early 2000s, so getting the brand off the ground was no easy thing. But when you have customers telling you it’s the best bar they’ve ever had, it definitely inspires you through the challenging times.
Leigh: Looking back, there were many times things didn’t go as planned, but you’d realize later, it was exactly how it was supposed to be. I try to take those learnings forward with me. If you look for the good in any situation, you can usually find a positive outcome. In the early years, we had an offer for $50,000 for 51% of the business, and I tell ya, at the time that seemed like the best path forward. I’m sure glad the investor backed out.
4. You mentioned the early years were slow to get off the ground, is there a specific moment when you remember thinking that a refrigerated protein was a good idea after all?
Bill: Seeing it on the shelf at Whole Foods Market, our first national retailer. That was a moment of pride I’ll never forget.
Leigh: We had spent years growing Perfect Bar in the natural grocery channel, but not every brand can jump over to mainstream grocery. When we finally made the risky leap and launched into a large mainstream grocery chain, I’ll never forget getting in the car and driving there with Bill to buy a bar. In fact, I still have that receipt today.
5. You’re now available in over 35,000 stores nationwide and in Canada, would your younger self 16 years ago believe that was possible?
Bill: We knew we had something really special with our recipe, but never in my wildest dreams would I believe we’d reach the scale we are at today, still with so much runway ahead of us.
Leigh: I wouldn’t have believed it! I mean, you guys, we started making these with rolling pins, 12 bars at a time! I gotta say, seeing our label is dual language, for our French Canadian business, was pretty cool. There are those milestones that keep you so charged up and working hard to what’s next!
6.Which celebrity would you love to discover enjoys Perfect Snacks?
Bill: It’s rumored that Phillip Rivers has enjoyed our bars, I’d like to believe that that rumor is true! 😉
Leigh: My dreams already came true when singer/songwriter Jason Mraz came to our kitchen to make his very own bars!
7. What does your family like to do for fun?
Bill: I’ve got two kids, ages 7 and 5, so anything outdoors to get their energy out. We love to go to the beach, get in the RV and road trip, find new hikes etc. We know these are special years when they still think mom and dad are cool, so we’re enjoying every minute.
Leigh: I have two little daughters, ages 3 and 1, so the park or the beach is where you’ll find us and always lots of arts and crafts. Most exciting news around here is that we’re building out a little farm, which will include chickens, goats and bunnies to start. I’m really looking forward to the fresh eggs!
8. The Keiths are known for great family celebrations, what are the traditions around your family birthday parties?
Bill: It’s easy to buy a cake from the store, but we look forward to our mom’s homemade birthday cakes. They may not always look that glamorous, (sorry mom!) but they taste delicious and are sure to be sweetened with only organic honey, of course!
Leigh: It’s mandatory you must bring a heartfelt card or note to any family birthday party, which is always read aloud in front of everyone. If you forget to bring one, expect to be called upon to give a “verbal card” in front of everyone! We can get pretty sappy with each other, usually causing a good tear-jerker or two, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
9. What sweet treat would you grab to celebrate your sweet 16?
Bill: All-time favorite dessert, Haagen Daaz vanilla Ice cream with crumbled Dark Chocolate Chip Perfect Bar on top!
Leigh: I’ll definitely be grabbing one of these amazing new creations our innovation team has been working on, can hardly wait to share them!
10. Other than Perfect Bars, what are some of your favorite snacks?
Bill: My wife is an amazing cook so there’s always a pile of leftovers in the fridge that I’m snacking on. But our go-to’s are hummus (as my daughter calls it, yummy hummy) and veggies, a sucker for any kind of trail mix, oh and Siete Chips, the Fuego flavor specifically, they are amazing!
Leigh: We are in the cheddar bunny and Pirate’s Booty phase in our household keeping these toddlers on the go! But we try and keep our snacks as fresh as possible by always having fresh fruit, prepped veggies or a snack from Once Upon a Farm, handy. We love sneaking in the greens, like kale and spinach, in smoothies too!
11. As entrepreneurs and founders, What is something you wish you could tell your younger self?
Bill: To not reinvent the wheel and ask more questions.
Leigh: To stop and smell the roses and enjoy the journey. In retrospect, the most challenging years growing our business are some of my fondest memories. It’s about the journey, not the destination.
12.Looking back, what are you the most proud of?
Bill: I’m so proud that our customers trust us to bring our products into their homes to nourish their families. It’s so personal to us and I’m humbled every day by what this brand has been able to do.
Leigh: We had set out with one goal, to keep our family together. We told each other we wouldn’t quit until we raised the kids and saw our youngest sister, who was 3 when we started the business, graduate from High School. We not only celebrated her graduation last year, but she joined her older siblings who are in college continuing their education. It all started with the need to take care of our family, and the only thing that has changed is our family has gotten bigger, to now include our team and amazing community of people furthering our mission as a brand.
13. If you weren’t leading the charge at Perfect Snacks, what do you think you’d be doing?
Bill: History teacher, for sure.
Leigh: The 12-year-old me would have said I’d be in a singing group with my sisters, mind you, I don’t think I was actually a very good singer! But I think something in natural food. I love this space so much and enjoy the challenge and opportunity to make healthier food choices that are delicious, convenient and affordable.
14. What is your favorite part of the job? Has that changed over the course of 16 years?
Bill: Getting to work with my family and friends to make delicious products that will hopefully be enjoyed for generations to come! The camaraderie and connection with the people here at Perfect Snacks has and always will be my favorite part of the job.
Leigh: I could easily answer it’s all the taste testing I get to do every day! But it has to be the amazing team of people I get to work with. For close to 10 years, it was just my siblings and I running the business, making bars in our small kitchen, taking our best guesses, and really doing it on our own. Now, I feel so supported and grateful for the brilliant people who show up each day to help build what we hope to be an iconic brand for generations to come.
15. Have to ask, what’s your favorite flavor?
Bill: Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter with Sea Salt, no question.
Leigh: You know, we’ve come a long way since launching our first three flavors, Peanut Butter, Fruit and Nut and Carob Chip. Now, it’s usually a toss-up between the original, Peanut Butter or our Dark Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter. But I’ve got to say, the Salted Caramel and our new plant-based recipe, Dark Chocolate Chip Coconut has me venturing out!
16: Ok, last question, what are you most excited about for the future at Perfect Snacks, what gets you up in the morning?
Bill: The energy and enthusiasm of everyone I get to work with every day. Really, it’s this whole team that brings ideas to the table and approaches their work, and this company like it’s their own. There’s n way we could have made it to 16 without them, and that’s why I get up every day — to work with them and plan out the next 16 years!
Leigh: After 16 years I can honestly say it feels like we’re just getting started. I get to work with incredibly fun, kind and brilliant people, creating delicious snacks, while together, finding ways to make a positive impact on our community and planet. It doesn’t get any better than that!