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When bars boost business

Interview with Jouko Prami, Interim CEO and CFO of Leader Foods Oy

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“We were extremely lucky that we entered the market with the right products at the right time when the protein market really had kicked off. From then on, we have enjoyed a strong upsurge, and in line with massive demand from the market we have gradually broadened our portfolio,” says Jouko Prami, interim CEO and CFO of Leader Foods, which is looking for a new permanent CEO after the founder is moving to another position within the company.

“Today, we provide a wide range of snack and protein bars, fruit bars, meal replacement bars, as part of the daily diet, not only for sports purposes. We also offer products exclusively for sports, too, and also for snacking while being in the great outdoors.”

Leader’s success started in 2001 when the company started importing protein powders and bars. At its peak it had 25 retail stores in the South of Finland. “In 2008, we set up our own factory, when the protein market in Finland was building up and we faced a supply shortage,” points out Mr. Prami.

A second production site was opened in 2010, focusing on snack bars and ready-to-go meals. “Even though the market is saturated now, we are still the biggest player in this market segment. We compete with traditional manufacturers of chocolate bars on the one hand and with pharmaceutical companies on the other. In retail we are by far the biggest player,” stresses Mr. Prami.

Today, the company’s bars and snacks are sold to more than 15 European countries, and also to the USA. Currently, test-marketing in selected Asian countries and in South America is under way. “Finland is still the most important market for us. In Europe the Netherlands and Poland are two of the biggest markets, and are closely followed by the DACH region,” stresses Mr. Prami. “In the Nordic countries, protein bars are already a part of the daily diet, and we project the rest of Europe will follow in the years to come.”

Last year, Leader launched a highly successful protein snack bar, which has become one of its bestsellers. “It has a new composition, it was something completely new and everybody was surprised that a protein bar can taste so good,” says Mr. Prami. “99% of our products are made in-house. Many of them are lactose-free, which is standard in Finland, and also gluten-free, which has become a big thing here, and we also have halal and kosher food.”

For Leader, its R&D department is of special importance, as structure and taste are the main issues that we devote ourselves to. Its in-house research team has always been innovative and it has developed over 3,000 products in the company’s lifetime.

Jouko Prami
Sustainability and environmental friendliness have been our goals for many years. Jouko PramiInterim CEO and CFO

“Probably, the introduction of the cricket bar has been our most prominent product launch and attracted a lot of attention, including the US, Australia and Spain. So, while in Finland people found eating insects strange, we moved into markets where eating insects was normal and had a tradition,” states Mr. Prami.

These nutrient-dense insects are ground down and baked into bars with wholesome ingredients such as dates, fruits, and nuts. Against the backdrop of sustainable and eco-friendly food solutions for the growing world population, insects have emerged as a good alternative, even for the Westerner who has not been used to insect-based food.

“We have always trodden new ground. Sustainability and environmental friendliness have been our goals for many years and they are now becoming more and more important, for instance, with regard to packaging, and we will have some revolutionary new launches coming up,” states Mr. Prami. “In a constant struggle against big players, you have to be ahead of the market all the time.”

This year, Leader will widen its activities in the European market sales-wise and it will focus on growth in Central Europe as a whole. “We are looking for new partners and customers for our products. Our portfolio is ready for European conquest, and we would like to double our turnover, which has now reached 20 million EUR,” stresses Mr. Prami. “We know that this is possible. In addition, digitalization has brought about new opportunities to market our brand. We really focus on international growth in Europe. We hope to spread the passion for protein bars.”