If you visit the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club on any given snowy day after school, the entire place is full of kids munching on Honey Stinger snacks. “It feels great, but our backyard is pretty small compared to some of our competitors,” President Bill Gamber said.
His goal is to get more people eating Honey Stinger. And just last week, a Pennsylvania-based operating company made an equity investment to bring the privately-held brand to broader audiences.
“One of our biggest advantages is we’re known in sport and outdoor so when we do try something new, we get real, honest feedback,” Gamber said. “People know our brand and I think we have really loyal customers. We love that. There’s so many sports nutrition products that are more laboratory based and there’s a huge opportunity for us to do more with healthy, nutrition products for sports, but also other markets.”
Factory LLC has partnered with the mountain-town brand to not only invest money, but also the services within its "innovation and scale-up center," housed in a converted 1940s steel building. A whole team will help Honey Stinger with packaging design, consumer insights, social media, podcasting, and marketing and sales, plus testing new recipes in innovation kitchens.
Fans will be pleased to know that the new partnership will allow the brand to cook up even more products, such as new flavors of the Cracker N' Nut Butter Bars, Gamber said.
Over Honey Stinger’s 16 years, investors have approached Gamber about getting involved with his company. Nobody has been a perfect match. But Gamber said Richard Thompson was different. Firstly, he’s no stranger to foods fueling athletes. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, he developed American Italian Pasta Company, now the largest pasta producer in North America. He's also no stranger to growing companies people told him were impossible to grow, such as Meow Mix and Fresh Pet.
What was most endearing to Gamber about Thompson was his personal affection for the Honey Stinger story and the Gamber family's history with honey. (Bill Gamber's grandfather designed the plastic honey bear and started a honey-based alternative to sugary candy bars in 1954.)
"I think anything made with honey—which is all natural and provides energy—is pretty interesting simply because sugar has such a bad rap now," Thompson said. "There's a great opportunity to work with the outdoor consumers, athletic consumers, and the normal retail consumers to help and understand how good honey can be."
Being based in Steamboat Springs is part of Honey Stinger’s charm. Earlier this year, the community learned they’d be losing Smartwool in VF Corporation’s move to Denver. But Gamber said his beloved community doesn't have to worry because Honey Stinger and Big Agnes are staying put.