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Think Founder Falsetto Sings ‘Vitality Now!’

As think5—a nutrition bar meant for finicky kids who don’t finish their vegetables—hits stores, the super-psyched Falsetto said, “This is what the astronauts should be eating!”

Like many fledgling entrepreneurs, Falsetto has a quirky back story. She started thinkproducts out of her kitchen eight years ago after having lived the hectic life of an international fashion model. Tired of watching other models starving or eating junk on the go, she set out to create functional snack foods that were healthy, too.

While the idea was to create “natural, convenient, great tasting, functional foods for people striving to live a life of vitality and free of disease,” she found that her product had a positive side effect: It catered to the diets of the low-carb crowd.

“We grew 380% in one year [during the low-carb craze],” she said. The pendulum swung back by 2005. “The one lesson I’ve learned is to diversify,” she said.

That was when she went back to her roots or, at least, nature. In January of 2006, the company relaunched and repositioned its bars with new packaging from Berkeley, Calif., design firm Addis, that reflected a clean, simple look. A matte, color-coded system delineated products into lines that address every need of the category, such as diet (thinkThin), natural (thinkOrganic), nutritional “superfoods” (thinkGreen) and kids (think5). Concurrently, the brand embarked on a publicity campaign that told the story of Falsetto’s background and the birth of her brand.

The plan worked. Sales grew to $20 million in 2007—to put that in perspective, they were about $8 million in 2005, before the relaunch. During this period, think expanded its distribution from natural foods stores to national grocery chains. Aside from their new wrapper “wardrobes,” the brand was backed by a very modest marketing budget.

For the nutrition bar category, marketing is grass roots, she said. “[Just] get the food in their mouths.” Think does in-store demos along with sampling at green- and food-oriented events.

But Falsetto isn’t just thinking of think when it comes to marketing; she’s spearheaded a cancer prevention initiative with other value-based brand leaders. To benefit Susan G. Komen for the Cure, she rounded up 18 natural-brand executives to pose for a Vanity Fair-style portrait of progressive brands, such as Seventh Generation, Nature’s Way, Kiss My Face and Whole Foods Markets. Each May and October, she introduces a promotional item under the thinkThin Pink subline, proceeds of which go to the breast cancer research foundation.

And to show that “natural” fashion doesn’t have to be ugly, the indefatigable Falsetto held her second annual thinkVitality fashion show and concert at the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim, Calif., last weekend.

As the company moves ahead, “vitality” and its role in disease prevention will be a key driver. Falsetto has helped family members battle cancer, and she believes in a holistic approach to health. Her Pink bars are formulated to meet the nutritional needs of someone going though chemo or radiation. Someday, she envisions a whole disease-prevention aisle at grocery stores.

A mere eight weeks after her line relaunched in early 2006, Whole Foods’ sales of the bars had doubled. Falsetto definitely knew she was on the right track. However, she realized that she had truly arrived when her daughter did a taste test of the crammed-with-veggies think5 bar, which launched two months ago. “We were in the lab and she said, ‘Mom this is good,’ and I said ‘Really? You’ll eat that?’ Then we’re done!”

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