CEO Q&A: Steve Hughes, Smart Balance

Smart Balance CEO Steve Hughes talks to Brittaney Kiefer about the natural food company's rebranding and the importance of authentic content

Smart Balance CEO Steve Hughes talks to Brittaney Kiefer about the  natural food company's rebranding and the importance of authentic content.

Can you explain some of the changes you made?
It has come full circle. Back in 2005 when I founded the company in Boulder, we called it Boulder Specialty Brands. In 2007 we bought Smart Balance, renamed the company, and moved the headquarters to New Jersey. Back then it was primarily one brand and one category.

Since then, the business has grown. We acquired Glutino and Udi's. Now about half of our business is natural products focused and we thought it was the right time to move our headquarters back to Boulder and rename the company Boulder Brands.

Boulder County is the Silicon Valley of food, with about 250 natural food-related companies in the area.

How has the natural foods industry evolved?
It has gone from a cottage industry to a major force. About 30 years ago, people made food more resistant to pesticides, increased productivity per acre, and shifted to more processed goods.

Now we are facing health problems such as obesity, and it's been a self-inflicted wound. The consumer is starting to get wise to this. The consumer is now starting to distrust advertising and those big brands we've grown up with. They're now seeking out emerging brands.

How is PR and communications important to your business?
The natural foods industry works on word of mouth. The consumer doesn't want a 30-second ad anymore. They want content and if it's authentic, they will change their purchasing patterns.

At the same time you have to have real products that meet expectations. We do more than 4,000 product demos a year at stores. You build credibility that way. PR is much more of a driver in how brands grow. Last year we did an in-store PR-driven program that was all about a gluten-free Thanksgiving. Business stepped up about 8% coming out of that program.

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