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Homemade Snacks, Worldwide Reach

How Perfect Snacks went from being sold out of the back of a van to a worldwide brand

By Dan Letchworth

Perfect Snacks

Bill and Leigh Keith, cofounders of Perfect Snacks

The Hollywood pitch for the rise of Perfect Snacks would go something like this: “The Partridge Family becomes Succession, but without all the backstabbing.” The 13 children of the Keith family grew up touring the country in their bus-turned-motorhome, singing onstage as a sort of sideshow to their father’s health and fitness lectures. Now the two eldest, Bill and Leigh, run the newest feather in the cap of global snack behemoth Mondelēz (formerly Kraft Foods, Inc.), custodians of such hallowed brands as Oreo and Chips Ahoy.

Seeing where they are now, it’s hard to believe that just 14 years ago Bill was sleeping in his van, trying to sell Perfect Bars door to door, one store at a time.

Adversity breeds innovation, they say. In the early 2000s, their father, Bud, fell ill and could no longer support the family, so Bill and Leigh (ages 22 and 19 at the time) went into business selling the protein bars Bud had made for them as kids.

“We really didn’t understand the rules around what you need to start a business, as far as education or funding or anything,” Leigh says. “We just rolled up our sleeves and said, ‘Let’s buy a candy-wrapper machine off of eBay that we don’t know how to use.”

They invested two-thirds of their savings in the machine, and “proceeded to spend the next year and a half going broke,” Bill adds. All they had to do was convince grocery stores to stock a protein bar in the refrigerated section—that their lack of preservatives was a feature, not a bug.

Perfect Snacks ingredients

Perfect Snacks ingredients

Their first big break came when a single Whole Foods store in Berkeley agreed to stock Perfect Bar on a trial basis for 30 days. The bars sold so well they got into 10 more Whole Foods—and for the next decade business clawed its way up inch by inch.

In 2009, the company moved into a 30,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Sorrento Valley, and Bud Keith passed away, having been able to see his kids use his invention to bring the family back from the brink of bankruptcy.

The 2010s saw rapid expansion for Perfect Snacks—and they ultimately caught the eye of Mondelēz. “Bill and I had to step back and go, ‘What do we wanna be when we grow up?’” Leigh says. “I would love to see this brand last generations beyond us.”

Mondelēz acquired a majority stake in Perfect Snacks in 2019, and they’ve kept their promises to leave the company alone: Its headquarters is still in San Diego, run by the family who founded it. The recipe is virtually the same as Bud’s—fresh-ground nut butter sweetened with wildflower honey—but some ingredients have, thankfully, changed. “Dad would add, like, eggshells for calcium,” Leigh says. “Beef liver powder for vitamins. There was some cod liver oil in there for sure. So we cleaned it up a little bit.”

And not all of their bars have been perfect. Their acai flavor was discontinued. “That was Bill’s invention,” Leigh jabs. “It was delicious, but apparently I was the only one that thought so.” 

In response to the Succession comparison, Bill and Leigh just laugh. “I think a big reason for our success is that, because we were in close confines for so long growing up, we really grew to trust each other,” Bill says. “I tend to be more sales, front-end; she’s making sure we can do everything I’m promising. And when you have that kind of partnership and trust, you can move mountains.”


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