Last weekend, I was walking out of a used furniture store with my kids when I crossed paths with Justin Gold of Justin’s Nut Butter fame. Boulder, Colo., is a small town, and I had certainly seen him around before: at the gym; at the store; I had even e-mailed with him for work, but I had never been compelled to introduce myself.
For some reason, on this particular Saturday, I stopped him and thanked him for his products and explained to him that his almond butters are one of the few foods that haven’t been knocked off my “can eat” list by food allergies. (I also mentioned that I couldn’t find his new almond chocolate bars anywhere.)
But after our short, friendly conversation, I walked away thinking nothing of it. Until my 10-year-old daughter asked, “Is that ‘the’ Justin from Justin’s?” I paused, before replying, “Yes, that is ‘the’ Justin.”
She was in awe. My 7-year-old son, perhaps confusing this Justin with another famous Justin, said, “He’s a pop star.” "No," I corrected him, “he’s a food star.” And so went our conversations throughout the day. I heard my kids telling friends about Justin, my husband about Justin. Meeting “Justin” was the highlight of their day.
I didn’t know any “food stars” growing up other than Chef Boyardee or “Mikey” from the Life cereal commercials. Food was not a sexy topic in Vancouver, Canada in the '70s. My family growing up was not brand focused or particularly health focused. The primary food standard was that we could afford it.
My family now is certainly more food aware. We talk about organic and GMOs and what healthy food means, but still, I don’t talk a lot about brands. My kids know that if it’s in the house it meets my standards. Justin’s happens to be one of those brands. And so I was fascinated that my kids had such a strong response to meeting Justin.
The person-brand connection
I wrote Justin to share my kids’ reaction with him and to remind him that his sphere of influence not only covers a wide span of ages, but that his work is influencing younger generations in a really positive way. In thanking me for sharing with him, he responded, “I’m really proud with what we’ve done and I think it’s neat to know that your food comes from a real person and not always a brand!”
And that does make a difference. I realized then that the brands my kids tend to recognize have people's names on them. My kids know Justin’s and they know Annie’s and Lara Bars, even Clif Bar counts (named after founder Gary Erickson's dad).
And even though Annie and Lara sold their companies and are no longer the only drivers behind their brands, they were instrumental in creating them. I remember "the" Lara handing out samples at our local Whole Foods Market when she was first starting out.
My kids appreciate other products, but would be hard pressed to remember names. They relate to the brands or companies that are named after real people. And I’m glad my kids recognize this.
There are a lot of companies out there doing good things, with hard working people behind them, but at the end of the day there isn’t a face to the brand. Putting your name on something takes guts. It means you’re willing to stand behind the integrity of your product. You take the glory as well as the heat. You're willing to be a face who helps to influence generations to come, and you're willing to listen to people who stop you on the streets or outside of a furniture store to tell you what they think.
What do you think about brands that are someone's name? Leave a comment.