The PUR Company: Canada’s Best Managed Companies 2018

Popcorn and gum go together, and other valuable tips from Jay Klein

 
Canada’s Best Managed Companies
piece of gum and kernel of popcorn running away with a bag of cash

(Illustration by Sam Island)

Despite remarkable year-over-year growth since launching in 2010, Jay Klein says this could be an even better year for the Pur Company. “We are going into 2018 as organized as we’ve ever been,” says the CEO and founder of the company, which started out as an aspartame-free, better-for-you gum brand.

For most of its early history, Pur Company was a reactive, defensive organization, focused on whatever business imperatives were right in front of it. They were unable to capitalize on the opportunities that needed more time, he says.

“You really don’t have a clear vision when you’re playing defence. As opposed to today—we are playing offence and we are executing a strategy.”

And yet, after selling its first packs of gum in May 2010, revenue had grown to $10 million by 2014 (when Klein appeared on Dragon’s Den). Revenue has doubled each of the three years since then. In 2015, Pur introduced its second product line, mints, and surprised the market in 2017 when, rather than expanding further into candy, Pur made a move into salty snacks with the introduction of Pur Popcorn.

Pur may not have been running as smoothly as he liked, but Klein’s vision of consumer trends was spot on. “The market is trending toward us,” he says. “People are gaining a better understanding about eliminating chemicals from their diet and they don’t want artificial sweeteners.”

That vision aside, Klein has obviously made a lot of smart plays even while on defence. Here are a few that explain why Pur was in such a positive position going into 2018.

1. Drive revenue through HR: One of the most important moves Klein made was creating an HR department, led by Cerys Cook, two years ago. “When I was starting the business, I never looked at HR as a revenue-generating department, I looked at it as a tax,” he says. But today he calls HR “one of our larger revenue-generating departments.” Why the change? Someone asked Klein in 2015 what he spends most of his time on. He replied that it was hiring, even though he had no real staffing experience. “They said, ‘Imagine if you freed up the time you spend and put it toward what you’re good at? What impact will that have on the business?’ ” It was a revelatory moment for Klein. “Now that is good advice,” he thought. He still had to find and hire the best HR person he could, but with Cook in place, the department is efficiently hiring the people who drive the Pur bottom line, while Klein is freed up for other things. “I have a lot more time to focus on vision.”

2. Ignore VCs: With a hot brand garnering lots of media buzz, Pur has had its share of suitors. “Endless VC opportunities and a lot of brand alignment strategies,” he says. But Klein insists they’re not interested, remaining focused on building a much bigger company over the long haul and turning down short-term, quick-buck opportunities. Partnering with a larger health food company or consumer packaged goods (CPG) or taking on VC funding would instantly introduce new and different kinds of pressure that Klein doesn’t want. “That changes the dynamic of the business; it changes the focus of what we’re doing and it moves us more to an exit-oriented [outlook],” he says.

3. Keep prices low: One of Klein’s core principles is to make it easier and more affordable for people to eat healthy. That mission has personal roots. “I was raised by a single mom with a limited budget. Sometimes you can’t get what you need,” he says. The Pur Company formula is to develop healthy products at a market price. That includes absorbing cost increases from time to time and encouraging retailers to keep prices in line with other products in the category. “We never believe in charging a market premium for our product just because it’s healthy,” he says. “There is no reason a bag of popcorn should be $5.99 just because it’s got less calories. It should be $3.99.”


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