Geoff Palmer is the CEO and Founder of Clean Machine, a plant-based sports nutrition company dedicated to both supplement innovation and consumer health education. Geoff has almost 30 years of experience in the natural foods and supplements industry and his company has gotten many awards; the most recent one being the 2018 NEXTY Award for his new vegan protein called “Clean Green Protein with Lentein”.
I contacted Geoff for two reasons: He has been vegan and a professional bodybuilder for many years and Clean Machine is using a super food/plant-based protein ingredient that is in vogue, LENTEIN. Below is the summary of our discussion:
How did Clean Machine get started?
Geoff: After being in the business for 30 years I really saw a separation between fitness and nutrition in the supplement industry, and I noticed that sports nutrition started moving further towards steroid use, using dangerous chemicals, and did not care about being natural or healthy. Meanwhile the health side of the supplements industry went on the opposite direction. I found this really disappointing because I care as much for my fitness as I care about my health.
I asked myself why Nutrition and Fitness companies are not trying to achieve the same goal, overall health. This really formed Clean Machine as both an answer to that question and also as a way to try to inspire others by bringing on board natural plant-based athletes to show that you can reach amazing levels of health and fitness without the use of drugs and without any animal products.
I have been a vegan myself for 33 years, I am 55 years old and I am in the best shape of my life, so I wanted to build a company to pass along the health message. We provide healthy products but our real goal is also to educate the consumer while looking after the environment and being cruelty free. This makes us unique.
What is your best-selling product?
Geoff: We are the first company in the world using the ingredient LENTEIN, which is a radical departure from other products in the market.
LENTEIN comes from water lentils (no relation to common lentils) and we use the whole plant to create the product. We do not isolate the protein from the plant. This ingredient is not only higher in essential amino acids and BCAAs than any other plant on the planet, but also is higher in nutrient density than any other plant known, making it the number one plant protein and the number one superfood in the world.
Carolina: And talking about proteins, where do you think is the protein trend heading?
Geoff: It will continue heading to plant-based proteins. Let’s look at companies like Vega for instance. 10 years ago people were laughing about this company and then they more recently sold for over half a billion dollars. Or look at Atrium (Garden of Life) which sold for $2.3 billion. Investors are really looking at this segment and seeing a massive amount of growth.
Furthermore, people declaring themselves vegan has increased 600% in the US in the last three years and 700% in the UK in the last two years, this is really exploding in the UK as well. And on top of this, I learned that one of the largest investment coalition’s ($1.25 Trillion) goal for 2018 was to recommend that their companies to shift focus to plant-based proteins.
This is not going to slow down. “What the Health” was a huge hit on Netflix, and “Forks over Knives” has over a million people following them on social media.
So, with this trend growing in tandem with your company, could you talk a little bit about your channel growth strategy?
Geoff: In terms of channel growth, back when we first started in 2013 about 90 to 95% of our sales were via brick and mortar stores with Vitamin Shoppe and GNC. Today that’s not the case. Right now about 60% of our sales are via Amazon, 20% via our own website and less than 20% is brick and mortar. Retail has shrunk dramatically over the last five years for us, yet we still have doubled sales YOY for the last 3 years straight. That’s a pretty dramatic shift in the point of purchase.
There are several reasons behind that. The large retail brick and mortar stores are very slow to respond to trends and change. They want something that is hot selling already before they bring it onto the shelf because they are about dollars/turns per square foot on their shelves since real state is expensive, so they need something that sells right away.
But now with social media we can bring in new products and have them selling on Amazon really fast. So, the problem is not really about pricing as a lot of people think. The issue is that all the innovative products can be available online fast but not immediately in larger chain stores.
It is online where consumers can find more new products and more hot millennial driven products from small players. These small players are the ones that immediately become the hot trends because of their quality, transparency, innovation, and health goal.
That is why we doubled our growth every year for the last three years and we are looking to triple our growth this 2018. This is because we are putting out very innovating products online, with premium ingredients that none of the bigger brands or bigger retailers will ever touch, due to turns and profit margins. This gives us such a strength in the marketplace and consumers are responding to the high quality products that were never given shelf space before.
On top of this, we have direct access to the consumer on Amazon where we can get our products up in one day instead of waiting like two years for a retailer to pick it up, or a distributor, or a major brick and mortar chain. So why would we spend $10,000 on a single print ad to try to drive people to a store when we can spend $1,000 online and get immediate sales results through digital marketing.
This is also relevant because now everybody is looking at the first to market products from millennial brands that are popping up online.
And in this online space, who is your main consumer?
Geoff: Many of those who are already vegan or vegetarian love our product line and are hard core fans of Clean Machine, but our reach is further than that because an increasing number of consumers see “Vegan” as a sign of clean ingredients, more natural, healthy, and they believe it’s better for them.
Even though the plant-based movement is growing rapidly, many of our consumers are just looking for healthy products and are not necessarily vegans. Our consumers are looking for a healthy lifestyle and they identify with our message and values as a company. We have natural, gluten free, non GMO products and our consumers are just looking for better quality, better efficacy.
Our consumers truly want a brand they can identify with. This consumer is the one looking for a natural lifestyle and the split is about 70% women and 30% men. Women are buying the products but they are also buying them for their partners and families. So in terms of consumption it’s more like 60% women and 40% the rest (men and other family members).
What would you advise to companies looking to invest in plant-based players?
Geoff: Actually, a venture capitalist approached me at Expo West and after asking the typical questions he said he was interested in buying my company because of two reasons 1) he loves the name of the company and 2) most importantly, he said: “I would like to buy your services”. He talked to me about highlighting the fact that I am an innovator, I have my pulse on the trends, I am in with the consumers every day, and I live the healthy lifestyle that an increasing number of consumers are looking for.
He mentioned how many people selling these type of products do not understand the trends the way that people who really live the lifestyle do.
Then you look at what some of the M&As in this space are trying to do. CPG companies are trying to keep the brand trust already built in the smaller players that they are acquiring. Meaning they must keep the values of the brand such as caring about the environment, being healthy, having real ingredients, etc. This is great for companies like us, because we can now expect a big CPG company investing more in innovation and smaller players. Actually, big players are investing 4 to 5 times company’s revenue.
All of the above is good for supporting innovation and premium quality products, which in turn is good for the health of the consumer and for the overall economy.
Team Clean Machine
Source: Image shared by CEO Geoff Palmer.
Clean Green Protein
Source: Image shared by CEO Geoff Palmer.