Clif Bar is the undisputed leader in health bars. I eat them when I run or simply when I spend too long at the keyboard, my blood sugar sinks, and HANGRY approaches. They are convenient, tasty, and decently healthy. They are the brainchild of husband and wife team Kit Crawford and Gary Erickson. Clif Bar controls a third of the health bar market and is estimated to hit $6.2 billion in revenue. The company has been profitable since its third year in business. It is a private company owned 50/50 by Kit Crawford and Gary Erickson. Together, they have a combined net worth of $1.7 billion, making them one of the richest couples in the U.S.
In 1990, Erickson was running a struggling bakery in Emeryville, California. He liked to bake, but had a hard time keeping his bakery afloat. He didn't have a plan beyond working just enough to fund his passions of cycling and climbing. One morning, he and a friend went out on what was planned to be a 125-mile bike ride through the mountains east of San Francisco. That ride ended up being 175 miles long. All Erickson had for fuel was six energy bars. He ate five of them and just could not stomach the thought of the sixth. He was starving, but the bar tasted so bad he couldn't bring himself to eat another. He thought he could solve this problem. He thought he could make a bar that tasted better.
In 1991, Erickson went to work in his mom's kitchen. His mom had taught him how to bake, so working with her made sense to him. He wanted to make an all-natural energy bar with no butter, sugar, or oil. For six months he had his friends taste test his creations. Each new iteration seemed to get farther and farther away from his goal. So, he started over. He took his mom's oatmeal/chocolate chip cookie recipe and used that as the base. His friends loved it. That recipe became the original Clif Bar. A few months later he made his first sale to a bike shop.
Erickson had the energy bar and a company full of potential, but he needed one more thing, a partner who shared his vision and was also business savvy. The person he wanted to team up with professionally and personally was dancer and performance artist Kit Crawford. Her parents had raised her on organic foods, and she had a deep understanding of the tie between the earth and the food we eat. Erickson enrolled in dance lessons to get her attention. He became friends with her, but he wanted to be more than that. Unfortunately, at that time Kit Crawford was married to someone else. She became an informal consultant to the company.
Clif Bar became profitable just three years in and investors and companies came running, looking to acquire them. Erickson was asked what his exit strategy was. He realized he didn't have one. He started Clif Bar thinking he'd run it. He never saw it as a small subsidiary of a giant company like Quaker Oats – which offered him $120 million for the company in 2000. At that time, Clif Bar was bringing in $40 million in sales. Erickson felt uneasy about that deal. He backed out of the deal before it closed. That made his then business partner want out. She sold her shares in the company for $60 million, which took Erickson a decade to pay off. That experience taught him that the most important lesson in business is: Don't compromise your vision.
Crawford joined Clif Bar as co-CEO. Then she became co-chief visionary officer.
Fourteen years after Erickson founded Clif Bar, Kit Crawford's first marriage was over. She and Erickson fell in love. Together, the couple has turned Clif Bar into the company it is today.
Erickson was in the right place with the right idea at the right time. Clif Bar has ridden the boom in the energy bar market to become one of the biggest independent players in the industry and along the way, he and Crawford found their perfect partner in business and in life.