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Friday, Jan 27, 2023
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Northridge Business Putting a Dollar Sign on the Muscle

Don’t call Lenny & Larry’s looking for either a Lenny or a Larry in the corporate offices. Instead there is a Barry and a Don who are more than happy to take the calls from buyers of their all natural snack products distributed out of Northridge. Barry is Barry Turner, a former “American Gladiator” who co-founded the snack manufacturer, sold it, and then returned as chief executive. Don is Don Croutch, a San Fernando Valley native who bought Lenny & Larry’s in 2001 and the one responsible for bringing Turner back in 2007 at a time when the company added its first branded product to the private label snacks it long provided to retailers like Trader Joe’s and Robeks. In the $2 billion nutrition bar industry, Lenny & Larry’s is hardly a household name, the little guy getting sand kicked in his face by the Big Three of PowerBar, Balance Bar and Clif Bar & Co. That all is changing with increased national distribution and new products on the way that expand the branded offerings that started with the Muscle Brownie. Coming this summer is a Muscle candy with a Muscle cookie to hit shelves in the fall. “The term muscle was a play on the word,” Croutch said. “It happens to be a brownie with something added to it.” Jump in sales Croutch and Turner would not release specific figures but said that sales have improved by 500 percent since the introduction of the Muscle Brownie two years ago. This, they said, was a reflection that people want healthy snacks. With the high protein brownies made from all natural ingredients – no preservatives, sugar alcohol or artificial sweeteners – Lenny & Larry’s delivers, the pair contends. Steve Caplan, a retiree from Portland, Ore., finds the Muscle Brownie to be a full meal for when he is traveling or spending the day on a the ski slopes. If he is in a country with questionable hygiene, Caplan rips open a brownie. “It works for me when I ski. That is the barometer for me,” Caplan said. “I really have energy.” Developing and distributing healthy snacks is an extension of their personal lives. Turner was a body builder; Croutch attended college in Berkeley in the early 1970s, a time of food co-ops and farmer’s markets, and took up tennis, skiing, and swimming. Analysts have identified an increase in protein in nutritional snacks as a direction where the industry is headed, as is snacks made with less chemicals and artificial ingredients. That must bring a smile to Turner, who has made high protein a staple of Lenny & Larry’s since starting the company in 1993. Putting an extra dose into brownies and cookies was Turner’s way to provide protein through food other than meat, fish and cheese. Fiber bar Staying ahead of the curve was also what drove the development of a breakfast bar high in fiber. “We like to be on the cutting edge of the healthy snacks out there,” Turner said. Starting Lenny & Larry’s was done on a whim by Turner and his then business partner, the company name being a play on their first names. Caricatures of Benny and Barry, captured mid-scream with wild, thatchy hair, became the logo still used to this day. When his partner decided to move from California, the business was sold to Croutch who was looking to end an early retirement after spending a career with his family’s vending machine business in North Hollywood. After taking over Lenny & Larry’s, Croutch stayed in touch with Turner who admits to being jealous over the success the company had once he left. Turner showed no hesitation when Croutch asked him to come back. A big reason for saying yes to Croutch’s offer was that Lenny & Larry’s started on the road to offering branded product. Until then, the company made its money through private label goodies. Both labels By offering both, Croutch and Turner said their company is unique. Doing both private label and branded snacks was not planned out but just something that happened over time and has worked out well. “We are a self-funded company,” Turner said. While getting national accounts is evidence of a growing company, Turner and Croutch don’t want to get too big that they lose touch with the people eating their snacks. They answer their own phones and will respond to criticism. For instance, when the writer of the Sneakers Stories blog wrote about how she “broke up” with Lenny & Larry’s after finding out a single Muscle Brownie had 340 calories, Turner wrote in at the blog with an apology if the writer had been misled and an explanation of following FDA guidelines that one brownie equals two servings. While Caplan does not overtly recommend eating the Muscle Brownie he certainly finds value in eating them when traveling. So much so that he started sending photos of himself in exotic locales holding up the Muscle Brownie package that are posted at the Lenny and Larry’s website. It is that personal contact that the pair want to maintain. “We’ve been able to personalize the business,” Turner said.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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