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Mary Mazzoni headshot

3p Weekend: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Clif Bar

By Mary Mazzoni

We're big fans of Clif Bar here at TriplePundit. A tasty, sustainable snack that gives you enough energy to stay active: What's not to love?

Well, after touring the company's creative workspace and learning more about how it does business, our love affair with Clif Bar & Co. just got a little more serious. Read on for 10 things you probably didn't know about your favorite energy bar brand, so we can all be obsessed together.

1. It was born on a bike

The idea for Clif Bar was born on a bicycle: On a one-day, 175-mile ride, Clif founder Gary Erickson felt he needed some extra fuel, but he didn't enjoy the taste of the energy bars on the market at the time. By the time he parked his bike, he was filled with resolve to create his own.

After experimenting in his own kitchen, Erickson started the company as a small bakery, Kali’s Sweets & Savories. His wife and co-owner, Kit Crawford, was the first sales manager for the bakery. In 1992, Kali's introduced the first Clif Bar energy bars to the public. To this day, Clif Bar employees take part in an annual bike ride to commemorate the company's two-wheeled roots. It also offers some sick bike-to-work incentives and celebrated its 20th anniversary by giving every employee a free bike.

2. Forget the triple bottom line. Clif has five.

Here at TriplePundit, we're all about the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit. But as a private company built sustainably from the ground-up, Clif takes things a step further with five bottom lines or, as it calls them, five aspirations:

  1. Sustaining the Business: Building a resilient company, investing for the long-term.

  2. Sustaining the Brands: Creating brands with integrity, quality and authenticity.

  3. Sustaining Employees: Working side-by-side, encouraging each other; "our company is our people."

  4. Sustaining Communities: Promoting healthy, sustainable communities, locally and globally.

  5. Sustaining the Planet: Conserving and restoring natural resources; growing a business that operates in harmony with the laws of nature.

3. It's marching toward 100 percent organic

"We start every recipe with the goal of 100 percent organic, but we don't always get there depending on supply," Sue Hearn, senior director of communications for Clif Bar, told a group of journalists at Clif HQ last month. "That's why you'll always hear that we're investing in organic research."

All totaled, about 75 percent of any given Clif Bar is made from organic ingredients. The goal is to bring this number up to 80 percent by 2020, Hearn said.

4. Its upcycled headquarters is LEED certified

Clif Bar moved into its Emeryville, California, headquarters in 2010. The space was built as a valve factory in Word War II and still retains its industrial feel with a modern twist that's classic Clif Bar.

Looking to create a green office in its repurposed space, Clif turned to recycled materials. All of the wood in Clif's stunning headquarters is reclaimed, mostly from old railway ties. Its co-working space is shockingly silent thanks to sound-absorption panels made from recycled blue jeans. And the HQ also features one of the largest smart-solar arrays in the U.S.

The company's design strategy paid off: In addition to creating a pleasant place to work, Clif achieved LEED Platinum certification for its headquarters in 2012.

5. It moves beyond work-life balance

Forget work-life balance. For Clif Bar CEO Kevin Cleary, it's all about work-life integration. A father of three young boys, Cleary understands what employees face when trying to do their best at work while raising a family and, you know, having a life.

Clif encourages the 320 employees at its headquarters to 'integrate' their home lives into their time at work. They're free to hit the gym, walk their dogs or do some dry-cleaning while on the clock, and they can even enjoy subsidized daycare services for their children. The company also boasts its own CSA, and employees routinely gather for weekly runs and bike rides. "It puts time back in people's pockets," Cleary said.

As a result, the company has a voluntary turnover rate of around 5 percent.

6. It's family- and employee-owned

Clif Bar is a predominantly family-owned company. In 2010, co-founders Gary and Kit offered up a 20 percent stake in the company to its employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).

"We are all owners of the company," Cleary said. "And I feel like I'm part of their family."

In 2013, after 23 years at the helm, Gary gave up the CEO role, and the husband-and-wife co-owners became “co-Chief Visionary Officers” -- which is a pretty awesome title if you ask us.

7. Clif is serious about volunteering ...

Clif Bar encourages employees to log 20 hours of volunteer time, on the clock, every year. This amounted to more than 10,000 hours of community service on company time last year.

8. ... And employee benefits

Clif offers an enviable array of benefits that are tailored to the needs and wants of its team. Each employee is paid for 30 minutes of daily workout time in the company gym, which features a climbing wall, a yoga room and fitness classes run by four full-time gym employees. Members of the Clif team also enjoy free nutrition counseling, discounted massages and subsidized meals in the in-house cafe, Kali's Kitchen.

Additionally, the company offers subsidized childcare for its employees and their friends and family members. The daycare is accredited for early childhood education and includes everything from an organic garden to a pint-sized gym.

If that's not impressive enough, each employee is entitled to a six-week paid sabbatical after seven years of employment. "Benefits don't have to cost anything," Cleary said, "but they have to be thoughtful."

9. It's about way more than profit

"It's really about purpose, not profit," Cleary said. "For Gary and Kit, shareholder value is about making progress against all of the [five aspirations]. I don't know why more companies don't get it."

Around 80 percent of people hate their jobs, Cleary continued, compared to the measly 5 percent turnover rate seen at Clif Bar. That's because -- who'd have thought -- creating values centered around more than profit and encouraging employees to jump on-board leads to a more satisfied and productive workforce.

"It takes courage and it may be a bumpy road, but do I think big companies can run this way? Absolutely, because the engagement you get is so incredible."

10. Its founders run a farm

After turning over the CEO reins to Kevin Cleary, Clif Bar co-owners Gary and Kit were ready for a new challenge: food and wine.

While the Clif Family Winery and Farm was founded in 2004, it has flourished in recent years, in line with Gary and Kit’s departure from the day-to-day at Clif Bar. The three-acre farm grows a variety of heirloom veggies including tomatoes, corn and peppers that are used to stock their popular Bruschetteria food truck, which is often found stationed outside their tasting room, Velo Vino.

Click here for an up-close look inside the farm, and learn why Gary and Kit decided to pursue organic agriculture.

Images courtesy of Clif Bar & Co. 

Mary Mazzoni headshot

Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL. 

Read more stories by Mary Mazzoni