By Chris Meehan | Jan 03, 2016
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Over the past few years Honey Stinger has seen an average annual growth rate close to 30 percent as the company's bars, gels and chews have found a hungry market. Now the company is expanding into protein chews, gluten-free waffles and an as yet unnamed new product for 2016, according to Gamber.
The company launched in 2002, but its heritage goes back to Dutch Gold Honey founded in 1946 by Gamber's grandparents. They created the honey-based En-R-G Bar in 1954 and also offered two-ounces packets of honey as energy boosters.
Gamber, also a co-founder of outdoor gear manufacturer Big Agnes, revived his honeyed roots when he co-founded Honey Stinger, which isn't part of Dutch Gold or Big Agnes. "It was a homegrown launch for sure. We slowly chipped away at it and the momentum just keeps building," Gamber explains. "It was when Big Agnes was only two or three years old, so we had limited resources going in a lot of different directions. But the last few years have been on fire."
"We're pretty much nationwide now," he says. "We're in bike shops, running shops, outdoor shops and ski areas." The company's treats and are also found in large chains like REI, Whole Foods, Sports Authority, and Dick's Sporting Goods.
Gamber attributes the growth in Honey Stinger to hard work, stubbornness and timing. "Our products really sit well with consumer trends. They're healthy, organic, natural -- we walk the walk. We're a small company in Steamboat. We use and develop our products for the lifestyle we enjoy. I think the consumer appreciates a company that's not just out there trying to produce something that's just going to sell well." He adds, "We make things that taste great and work really well for the category we produce them for."
The energy bar category has seen plenty of entrants. "Seven or eight years ago the bar category was a mess, everyone jumped in," Gamber says. "There are always bars coming in with a different twist, we try not to be trendy like that."
Instead Honey Stinger's products rely on one well-known, and loved ingredient: honey. "Honey's been around since the Egyptian times -- tombs had honey in them. It's got a great history with healing power," Gamber explains.
The company largely introduces its concoctions based on what the staff likes. "We have quite a few products we've wanted to introduce for a while. But as a small company we've wanted to keep it tight and introduce things we really love it's usually less consumer-driven," Gamber says.
On the other hand, its new gluten-free waffles were very consumer-driven, according to Gamber. "We get the question a lot so anything that's gluten-free we promote that way to help the consumer." That include its energy chews, for instance, which have always been gluten-free. "The gluten-free waffles are a new category that's not replacing our current waffles, but just expanding the line."
He attributes the growth strategy to a supportive board and the company's ability to attract traditional financing through banks as it has grown. "We don't have to answer to an outside investment group," Gamber explains. "Our board is supportive of slow growth and the goal is to be profitable instead of pursuing just fast growth."
Though headquartered in Steamboat Springs, Honey Stinger produces throughout the U.S. and Canada and, though it uses Rocky Mountain honey, the organic honey it uses is imported from an island in Brazil, where pesticides were never used, according to Gamber. "Each product we produce is really specific and there are only a few places to produce them."
Challenges: Airport access. "We have a lot of people traveling, but there's no great airline access here," Gamber says. "We have to drive to Denver to fly, it's part of an ongoing challenge of living in mountains."
Opportunities: "Building brand awareness and distribution throughout the U.S.," says Gamber. "In the past couple of years we almost doubled. We have a real strong healthy growth plan for the next few years."
Needs: "Finding space we won't grow out of," Gamber answers. "Steamboat's a small town and we don't have many big buildings."