"Organic food is the doorway to health" a determined CEO Kevin Cleary of Clif Bar says.
And for his company, it was the undercurrent flowing through the organization's philosophies and objectives.
Undoubtedly, if it isn't about dispelling misconceptions about organic fare, it is certainly about the high costs of implementing these foods into the everyday consumer diet. Clif Bar has been part of an ongoing movement to educate the public on the value of doing so. And they're trying to make organic food more accessible. In fact, when they transitioned to an organic focused company in 2003, rather than pass the costs onto the consumer, Clif Bar absorbed them. It was one of the ways to reinforce appreciation of their supportive fans. Currently, 75 per cent of all their ingredients are organic. By 2020, they endeavour to be 80 per cent organic and -- ultimately -- 100 per cent a few years following that goal (134 ingredients are organic with 364 items in total, respectively).
Realistically speaking, every business's bottom line is turning a profit. But early on, Clif Bar understood that this couldn't be a sustainable business model. So the Five Aspirations were born out of necessity.
Moreover, the seamless integration of work and life has also been imperative to the growth and successes of the company -- that staff aren't 'turning off' and reverting to another mode of themselves once the workday was complete. And however cliched it sounds, modelling personal beliefs in the workforce is a surefire way to retain loyal staff (turnover rates at Clif are less than one per cent); they believe their work is contributing to something greater in the community than simply bringing home a paycheque.
*Unique ingredients we got to play with when creating our own Clif Bars*
By fostering a community connectedness via group exercises (biking/running), community service, and shared weekly organic meals together in Kali's Kitchen (their in-house cafe), they've openly discussed the types of food they want in their diets and for their families. It is why Clif Bar is proactive in championing the status of a sound agricultural policy and sustainable food system through its practices in sourcing quality ingredients for all its products. As well, Clif has attempted to close the divide between farms and consumers -- through their video series 'Farmers Speak', they've given a voice to real families who advocate for the growing of crops without GMOs and toxic chemicals. For instance, Brian Krumm made the switch from growing conventional oats to organic ones. He provided anecdotal evidence and health concerns when he used to employ fertilizers and spray; but now, his organic crops are not only thriving, his work is helping to renew local ecosystems and the well-being of his family.
For a hard-nosed, city skeptic like myself, it was quite refreshing to see the commitment exhibited in all facets of the company and beyond. But I'll admit that while Clif seems like the utopia everyone (should) strive for in their own business, there are many elements that are not realistically feasible for every other company to employ (i.e. walking into meetings in your workout clothes, offering a daycare centre right beside the office, earning bike points for riding to work, etc.). However, there are a number of organizational initiatives that other companies can considering adopting. And that is the curation of great ideas and providing a support system to make them a reality.
One of the organic dinners hosted by Clif Bar
Local Halibut featuring Summer squash and Heirloom Tomatoes from the Clif Farm
Piping out meringue for the Blackberry Tart
In revisiting the power of work-life integration at Clif, they've allowed staff to cultivate 'Meaningful Motivations' and spearhead projects they're passionate about; and as a result, the company has taken the knowledge of these findings and shared it with the consumer. The Luna bars were crafted for women who wanted something with a balance of nutrients but contained less calories. If you're like me and seated at a desk for the majority of the day, this is an ideal item to have for an energy boost ('Original' Clif Bars are nutrients dense and higher in calories for athletic performance). As well, ZBars were born out of collective concerns from parents that their children were consuming oat bars from other companies riddled with trans fat and refined sugars. These are examples of the company encouraging its staff to 'Live the Clif Bar mission'.
Cleary asserts that "Organic food is where it all starts for us", so it comes as no surprise that the Clif Bar Family -- an offshoot of The Clif Bar & Company --has their own organic farm AND winery (the latter was a passion project from founders Gary Erickson and his wife Kit Crawford with 10 acres of estate vineyards) . The three acres of farmland grow a colourful spectrum of crops used by Executive Chef John McConnell to create a line of preserves, nuts and spreads; it also supplies all the organic ingredients for their roving Napa Valley food truck: the Clif Family Bruschetteria.
Executive Chef John McConnell and his team
Aside from the enchanting tastes, harvesting from the earth and soaking in the splendour of the outdoors, the most valuable aspect of the farm is the seed revitalization and organic plant breeding programs where Matthew Dillon, Director of Agriculture Policy and Programs, opines its importance as a measure of success. To him, "It's the ability to leave the planet in a better state than how you found it- we're not doing this for the sake of 'selling' corporate transparency. We need to see the broader implications of our actions." They're familiar words; and in fact, Dillon reminds me of Clif Bar's own spunky version of Michael Pollen. So, in the farm shed, there's plenty of magic afoot with the saving of planting seeds that will provide crops for future generations to come.
Clif Bar may have been 'born on a bike' but it's apparent they've breathed life into numerous projects with the aim of fostering social responsibility amidst their peers and society-at-large. Humbly, they readily admit they're not perfect-- critics rally against their use of plastic wrap (they're researching ways to eliminate use of this material in the future and find an alternative packaging source that will preserve the integrity and freshness of the bar) --that's why revisiting the Five Aspirations is so important to the company. Organic appeal is certainly on the horizon but what I respect about this company is that rather than preach conversion, they role model and let the results speak for themselves.
All photos courtesy of Tiffany Leigh
Correction: A previous version of this blog incorrectly indicated that Clif Bar & Company offers employees free daycare. However because Clif covers facility costs, employees enjoy premium child care at an affordable price. While the daycare is not free, it is an extra incentive offered to promote a healthy work/life balance for employees.
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