It’s a hundred-million-dollar-a-year business, a business that provides outstanding benefits for its 147 employees, that engages in many practices to protect the environment, supports community building around laudable causes, avidly promotes participation in sports—and produces something indescribably delicious and outrageously healthy.
Clif Bar Inc., headquartered in Berkeley, was founded in 1992 by Gary Erickson who was motivated, the company literature says, by “his love of the outdoors, cycling, business, good food and social responsibility.” It’s all there, in spades.
Starting with the Clif Bar, named after Gary’s father Clifford Erickson, the company now makes six different products; the original Clif Bar in 14 flavors, Clif ZBaR for kids in three flavors, Luna for women in 12 flavors, Clif Builder’s heavy on the protein in three flavors, MOJO Bar with a salty-sweet taste in four flavors, Clif Shot, an energy gel for really athletic types in five flavors. And they’re coming up with new ones all the time.
They all use organic, natural ingredients, no partially hydrogenated oil, no trans fats or genetically modified products. Just reading the nutrition information and the names of the bars will make you feel virtuous and your mouth water—Luna “Nutz Over Chocolate” or “Orange Bliss, Clif “Cranberry Apple Cherry” or “Chocolate Almond Fudge,” while three of the Clif Shots contain caffeine for an extra burst of energy. All are loaded with vitamins and minerals galore.
These are the basics but there’s a great deal more to be said about Clif Bar, Inc. It’s a fantastic place to work. Thao Pham, Human Resources Director, has been working for the company for four years she says but, “It doesn’t feel like four years. It’s like that first day of work, the excitement of going through the door, still enjoying people, still enjoying your work.”
There are all sorts of perks she explains, for the employees “to help relieve stress in their lives.” There’s a fully equipped exercise room to match the poshest gyms, offering classes and a personal trainer available for the asking. There’s a hair dresser/barbershop on the premises, someone who takes employees’ cars to be serviced, clothes to be dry cleaned, who picks up take out dinners for people to bring home; taking care of things, Thao explains, “that employees have to do that would take them away from their families.” Employees are eligible for a six month sabbatical every seven years.
The workplace itself is energizing. Large bright, airy rooms with lots of plants, decorations on the walls and one entire wall made to simulate a climbing wall. The individual work spaces are arranged randomly with no confining screens around them—there are no cubicles here. And just as the employees don’t sit in little boxes, they are encouraged to think outside the box.
Dean Mayer, communications manager, ticks off the principles that motivate the operation of the company: “Sustaining our business, our brands, our people, our community and the planet.” All are equally important.
“Giving back” to the community encompasses some a truly impressive programs. Through its “2080 program” the company donates 2,080 hours a year, that’s the equivalent of one full time employee, to community service. The way it works is that the employees are encouraged to perform volunteer work for a non profit community organization of their choice—on company time. Almost all the employees participate, Thao says, averaging about 20 hours each.
The company also supports many fund raising events, in partnership with community organizations, or as Clif Bar, Inc—there is a small theater space right in their building. Bryan Cole, Northern California Field Manager describes some of them.
“We get a ton of sponsorship proposals” he says. “We look for something that’s going to give back to the local community.”
They like environmental projects with groups like Save-The-Bay or local creek clean-ups and, not surprisingly, they love to have a tie-in with sports, like a 10-K or bike run for a cause. The sports they support, are individual, human powered sports, “unlike other kinds of nutrition bar companies,” Bryan points out. “You won’t see us partnering with NASCAR.” And of course those are all great places to give away their bars and gain Clif Bar devotees—what better way to promote their product.”
Luna Bar, which is formulated specifically for women, provides a beautiful example of creative marketing and powerful community building. Heidi Slavsky is the guiding spirit of that one.
She says, “A lot of the work we wanted to do with Luna is to take the product beyond the wrapper, make the product come to life for people to show how we can be involved in communities, how we support and empower women, bringing different parts of their lifestyle to life through the different programs that we oversee and develop.”
Five years ago they started Lunafest, a film festival by, for and about women. The purpose was to give more of a voice to women in the film industry and to raise money for The Breast Cancer Fund. The first year they produced eight Lunafests around the Bay Area. This year they expect to do 70 all over the country. The festivals have raised thousands of dollars for the fund and won a loyal following for Luna Bars.
Other Luna Bar promotions include support of V-Day, a global movement started by Eve Ensler of “Vagina Monologues” to end violence against women and girls. Luna co-sponsors fund raisers for V-Day with college and community organizations and has even put on a couple of events in their own theater space.
Promoting women’s sports is another big item on their agenda. The Luna Chix go out into communities and get women involved in sports, organizing teams for competition or just for fun and socializing. Luna Bar will support a team by providing equipment, uniforms and even a tent they can put up at events. New sports and new cities are being added all the time.
These are just a sample of Clif Bar, Inc. projects that support their principle of sustaining the community. To carry out their broader vision of sustaining the planet they do everything possible both in operating the business and the events they sponsor to limit their impact on the earth—composting, recycling, using biodegradable products wherever they can, using bikes and generally reducing CO2 emissions in every way possible. Educating and increasing public awareness gets worked in too.
Marketing Manager Bryan Cole describes a recent ‘biodiesel mobile marketing tour’ on the east coast “driving this biodiesel rig which is all branded with Clif Bar logos and stickers and also educational materials about biodiesel.”
They even have an ecologist on the staff.
Clif Bar, Inc. is a fine example of a company that combines successful business with ethical principles. The workers there credit founder and owner Gary Erickson for the inspiration and the vision that sustains their programs—and the fact that not being a publicly traded company they don’t have to answer to a mass of shareholders interested in the bottom line. Let’s hope it stays that way. It is a Berkeley treasure.