Barbara’s Bakery Inc.

views updated

Barbaras Bakery Inc.

3900 Cypress Drive
Petaluma, California 94954
Telephone: (707) 765-2273
Fax: (707) 765-2927
Web site:

Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Weetabix Ltd.
Founded: 1971
Employees: 175
Sales: $80 million (2006 est.)
NAIC: 311230 Breakfast Cereal Manufacturing; 311919 Other Snack Food Manufacturing

A subsidiary of the United Kingdoms Weetabix Ltd., Barbaras Bakery Inc. is a natural baked goods company based in Petaluma, California, that eschews the use of artificial ingredients, preservatives, hydrogenated oil, or refined white sugar. Instead, Barbaras relies on spices, vanilla extract, almond extract, lemon oil, chocolate extract, herbs, and other fruits, vegetables, and plant materials to produce natural flavors. The company also relies on canola oil, expeller pressed oils (which do not rely on petroleum-based chemicals or solvents), and other oils high in oleic acids, which are believed to help manage cholesterol levels.

Barbaras breakfast cereals include four flavors of Puffins; Organic Weetabix, produced by the parent company; Organic Wild Puffs; Alpen, a Swiss style muesli; Barbaras Os, a healthful version of the popular Cheerios; and the Barbaras Family Favorites line of other alternatives to common cereals, including Organic Brown Rice Crisps, Organic Corn Flakes, and Organic Honey Crunch n Oats. Barbaras offers such cookies as Snackimals, animal shapes made without the artificial flavors, artificial colors, preservatives, or trans fats used in most animal cookies; six varieties of fig bars; and 100-calorie snack packs of organic mini cookies, available in chocolate, oatmeal, and ginger flavors. Barbaras snack bar offerings include granola bars, multigrain cereal bars, and fruit and yogurt bars.

Barbaras also offers crackers, Wheatines saltine-style crackers and Rite Lite Rounds, as well as salty snacks, including four varieties of cheese puffs. Barbaras products are found across the United States and Canada in natural foods stores as well as on the specialty aisles of supermarkets. They are also sold online through the company web site. Manufacturing, warehousing, and administrative functions are carried out at the companys facilities in Petaluma and Sacramento.


Barbaras Bakery was established in Palo Alto by 17-year-old Barbara Jaffe in 1971. As reported by Northbay Biz, a monthly business magazine serving Sonoma, Marin, and Napa, California, she was a 1960s flower child who wanted to drop out of the establishment. In an effort to keep her from running off to a commune or becoming a roving Grateful Dead groupie, her father encouraged her to open a small natural foods bakery. Therefore, according to this account, Jaffe used the money intended to pay for her college education on bakery equipment and rent on a small storefront.

Santa Claras Press Democrat offers a slightly more prosaic rendition of the origins of Barbaras Bakery, maintaining that the 17-year-old Jaffe launched the business in Palo Alto mostly because she declined going to college but loved to bake. Her family set her up in business, but in the early days the one-person operation devised recipes for products that were manufactured and packaged by other companies. Barbaras Bakery started out with a storefront and a dozen products, and built its reputation on natural breads. The business moved from Palo Alto to Santa Clara, South San Francisco, Novato, Marin, and finally in 1988 established its headquarters and main plant in Petaluma. In addition, the company operated a facility in Sacramento.


By the time Barbaras Bakery made its way to Petaluma it no longer produced the original 12 products, having branched out into a number of different product lines under the Natures Choice label, including cereals, crackers, and snack bars. Furthermore, Barbaras Bakery was no longer owned by the Jaffe family. In 1986, when sales were in the $5 million range, Barbaras Bakery was bought by the United Kingdom baking giant Weetabix. Barbara Jaffe stayed on as an adviser and consultant until 1992, when she left to start up another food company, NewMarket Foods, to develop low-fat, lowcholesterol, all-natural ice cream toppings, instant chocolate milk powder, and puddings.

The origin of the Weetabix product can be traced to Australia at the end of the 1800s when baker Edward Halsey established the Sanitarium Health Food Company and introduced one of the countrys first breakfast cereals, Granose, an unsweetened pressed flaked wheat biscuit. In the 1920s Sanitarium acquired Grain Products Company, creator of a rival product called Weet-Bix, which proved more popular than Granose, especially in England, where it was introduced in 1932 as Weetabix by another company that took the name Weetabix Limited, founded by South African immigrants. The George family bought this business in 1947 but avoided the U.S. market, which was dominated by the likes of Kelloggs, Quaker Oats, and General Mills, instead importing Weetabix into Canada. In 1971 the company became involved in the muesli cereal category, launching Alpen. Ten years later the company moved into the U.S. market, acquiring Van Brode Milling Company to introduce its branded products and becoming involved in the private label cereal business. It then sought to add more products by creating new versions of Weetabix and through acquisition. Buying Barbaras Bakery was part of that strategy.

Weetabix installed a new president, Gil Pritchard, to run Barbaras Bakery and the companys slate of products settled around 100 items, divided between four categories: cereal, snack bars, cookies and crackers, and salty snacks, which relied on sea salt instead of processed salt. For sweeteners the company relied on fruit juice concentrate, and as many organic ingredients as possible were also used, including organic flour milled from wheat grown without pesticides, replacing standard whole wheat flour. The new corporate parent also used its marketing clout to grow sales by taking Barbaras Bakery beyond the independent health stores where the brand had made its name and into the national health food grocery chains such as Whole Foods and Wild Oats as well as into major supermarket chains, Ralphs and Safeway.

Moreover, Weetabixs deep pockets were tapped to increase greatly spending in a host of areas, including nutritional and market research, recipe and ingredient formulation, manufacturing technology, and improved packaging. Aside from providing support, Weetabix did not interfere with the way Pritchard ran Barbaras Bakery, but rather took a long-term approach, reinvesting profits into growing the business rather than declaring a dividend.

Weetabix also encouraged the subsidiary to be bold in taking chances. In the early 1990s Barbaras Bakery introduced a snack chip called Basically Baked. Consumers rejected it because of the poor taste and the product was pulled. The misadventure cost the company about $200,000 but Weetabix management did not lose faith in Pritchard, who was given an opportunity to learn from the mistake. An improved approach to research and product screening grew out of the failure and led to future success stories.


We are focused on delivering delicious organic and natural cereals and snacks that appeal to consumers who demand great tasting food in their healthy lifestyle.

Breakfast cereal was the growth engine for Barbaras Bakery in the late 1980s, when sales improved by nearly 70 percent from 1987 to the start of the 1990s, driven in large measure by the popularity of oat bran cereals. However, when the oat bran fad began to wane in 1990, cereal sales suffered. Barbaras Bakery focused more attention on other categories to make sure it did not become too dependent on one particular product line.

Furthermore, the company phased out less popular items and introduced new products while taking care not to increase dramatically the total number of products. For example, Barbaras Bakery became one of the first companies to offer blue corn tortilla chips in the early 1990s. It also developed a blue potato chip produced from actual blue potatoes called True Blues and a multigrain snack called Potillas, a hybrid of a potato chip and a tortilla. In 1995 the company introduced five tortilla chip varieties made with organic corn and natural seasonings, and a year later unveiled a new minioat biscuits breakfast cereal, Barbaras Shredded Oats, and its Snackimals childrens cookie line. In addition, during this period Barbaras Bakery brought out a number of other low-fat snacks, including a pair of cheese puff products and three snack cracker products: Rite Lite Rounds, Cheese Bites, and Pizza Bites.

By 1992 annual sales reached the $25 million range. That number grew to $35 million in 1996 from 120 product lines. As a result, Barbaras Bakery was listed as the fifth largest agriculture and food products company and the 80th largest company overall in Sonoma County. The companys 11 breakfast cereals provided the lions share of revenues, totaling about 40 percent.

Barbaras Bakery, once solely catering to a narrow sliver of the market, found itself becoming more mainstream as it entered the next century. An increasing number of consumers, especially baby boomers, were either following new low-fat, low-carbohydrate diets, or at least making a gesture toward healthy eating by substituting highly processed snacks for the kind of healthful alternatives Barbaras Bakery had to offer.

The company also benefited from a high number of products that received kosher certification. Increasingly, non-Jews were also seeking out kosher foods because of the perceived health benefits. The surge in demand was reflected in the 71 percent jump in sales from 2000 to 2001, to $65 million. The company also did some contract baking and packaging for other natural food companies, such as Clif Bar Inc. To keep pace with the expected sales increase, Barbaras Bakery invested $3.5 million in a new distribution center in Petaluma, providing welcome relief after years of coping with cramped conditions. Another $500,000 was also spent to upgrade the parking lots.


After 15 years at the helm, Pritchard left in 2001 to become president and chief executive officer at nSpired Natural Foods. He had played a key role in growing Barbaras Bakery a dozen fold and positioning it for even further growth. After his departure, the company continued to roll out new products while weeding out ones fading in popularity, as the total product count swelled three fold beyond the 100 mark that the roster had been limited to for so many years. In 2001, for example, Barbaras Bakery introduced Salsa Flavor Pinta Chips, made from organic corn and ground pinto beans.

Among the top organic breakfast cereal manufacturers in the country, Barbaras Bakery built on its position further in 2003 by launching Original Organic Wild Puffs, lightly sweetened air-puffed kernels of organic wheat; and Honey Rice Puffins, a low-fat cereal made from whole-grain rice and sweetened with pure honey, cane juice, and molasses. Also in 2003 Barbaras Bakery unveiled the Organic Go Go Grahams snack, and four varieties of Puffins Cereal & Milk Bars. A year later the company supplemented Organic Wild Puffs with Organic Wild Puffs, Caramel, which relied on allnatural caramel flavor. In 2005 Barbaras Bakery added Cocoa Organic Wild Puffs, and later in the year introduced a new snack and meal-replacement product, fruit and yogurt bars, available in four flavors.


Seventeen-year-old Barbara Jaffe founds company in Palo Alto, California.
Weetabix Limited buys Barbaras Bakery Inc.
Headquarters relocate to Petaluma, California.
CEO Gil Pritchard leaves after 15 years.
Barbaras Bakery becomes part of Weetabix North America.

While Barbaras Bakery grew its business in the early 2000s, changes were taking place with its corporate parent. In November 2003 the European buyout division of private equity firm Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst acquired Weetabix. After Hicks, Muse suffered some significant losses in the technology and telecom sectors, it was forced to spin off the European unit, which became Lion Capital in April 2005. Lion Capital began looking to shed some assets and in June 2005 announced that it was interested in selling Barbaras Bakery in order to focus its attention on the Weetabix, Alpen, and Ready Brek brands. Although there was speculation that the likes of Kelloggs, General Mills, and Kraft Foods might be interested in acquiring Barbaras Bakery, in the end the company remained in the Weetabix fold, albeit within a new consolidated corporate entity. In 2006 Barbaras Bakery was combined with The Weetabix Company Inc. and Weetabix of Canada Ltd. to form Weetabix North America.

Ed Dinger


The Hain Celestial Group; Natures Path Foods, Inc.; RAB Holdings, Inc.


Appel, Ted, Home Grown, Press Democrat (Santa Clara, Calif.), June 16, 2002, p. E1.

Bawden, Tom, Weetabix Near to Crunch Time on Sale of US Arms, Times (London), June 24, 2005, p. 52.

Chenvold, Christian, Gil PritchardUnited Kingdom, Northbay Biz, April 1999.

Dyslin, John, Food from the Land, Prepared Foods, September 1993.

Phillips, Dick, Barbaras Bakery a Staple in Niche Market Low-Fat, Healthy Products That Taste Good, Press Democrat (Santa Clara, Calif.), June 9, 1996, p. 22.

Steinberg, Jack, Whats New in the Natural Foods Business, New York Times, July 16, 1989, p. A13.

Wolfe, Rayne, Barbaras Moves to Fresh Location, Press Democrat (Santa Clara, Calif.), June 7, 2002, p. E1.