Kindness may be its own reward, but for KIND Healthy Snacks founder Daniel Lubetzky, it has paid off monetarily as well. Not content just using his company to sell snack bars (and ultimately selling off the snack bar company to a major candy maker for billions), Lubetzky also views himself as the leader of the "the KIND Movement," which claims to have made 17 million “everyday acts of kindness” happen so far.
So, what inspired Lubetzky to run his business that way? Perhaps a knowledge of what the absence of kindness can mean. His father, a Holocaust survivor, told his son growing up about the three years he spent at the infamous Dachau concentration camp, and it had a profound affect on how the entrepreneur approaches life.
His father “not only survived the Holocaust – he saw the good in humanity despite it all,” according to the businessman's website. As a result, Lubetzky “has made it his life’s work to help prevent what happened to his father from happening again.”
Like kindness, business came naturally to Lubetzky, who was born in Mexico and started his first business while he was still in high school after moving with his family to Texas. He started buying watches wholesale and selling them at flea markets for a tidy profit. By the time he was in college at Trinity University in San Antonio, Lubetzky was selling the watches at kiosks he rented in malls.
Nonetheless, after pursuing a degree in economics and international relations, Lubetzky opted to pursue a career in diplomacy with a focus on brokering peace in the Middle East. After graduating from Stanford Law School, he moved to Israel to further his peace making goals.
But once in Israel, his career took a turn in another direction. He made the acquaintance of an Israeli businessman who had recently closed his sundried tomato spread business due to the high cost of importing tomatoes and olive oil from Italy and jars from Portugal. Lubetzky had an idea, and he told the owner he could find the products he needed for the sundried tomato spread closer to home, cutting down on the cost of importing those goods from other countries.
“Like kindness, business came naturally to Lubetzky, who was born in Mexico and started his first business while he was still in high school after moving with his family to Texas."
That experience led Lubetzky to found PeaceWorks, a consulting business that worked in marketing and distribution. He started the business in 1994 with a $10,000 investment and got to work helping his clients find more cost-efficient supply chains. He also tried to bring together businesses owned by conflicting groups like Israelis and Arabs.
Things took another turn in 2003, when Lubetzky found himself frustrated at the lack of availability of a healthy and convenient snack without preservatives. The closest thing he could find to what he was seeking was a fruit and nut bar from Australia. He invested $100,000 of PeaceWorks’ profits to come up with his own version of that snack bar, and ultimately his new business was born. From the beginning, Lubetzky was so committed to spreading kindness and giving back that he called the new brand KIND.
KIND Healthy Snacks officially launched in 2004 in Whole Foods stores in Los Angeles and Denver. And Lubetzky was a hands-on founder, helping store managers stock the shelves and getting them to try samples of his snack bar until they eventually caved and placed an order.
But the company hit a snag in 2008. It started selling KIND Bars in Walmart in 2007, yet by 2008 the retailer had bowed out of the deal. Walmart placed an order for KIND Bars for 1,000 of its stores, but KIND's logistical processes weren't up to the task of handling such a large customer. Shipments went missing, and the nation's largest retailer grew impatient with the company's tracking problems.
The timing was terrible as it was the beginning of the global financial crisis. So, in December of 2008, Lubetzky made a hard choice – he sold one-third of KIND Healthy Snacks to VMG Partners and Vitaminwater for $15 million. The cash infusion helped Lubetzky get KIND back on track.
The company started a strong upswing in early 2009. Starbucks started selling KIND bars in 2009, Walmart welcomed KIND back to its shelves in 2012, and Target started selling the healthy snacks in 2013. In 2014, Lubetzky bought back the minority stake he had sold in late 2008 for $220 million.
But in 2015 new trouble arrived in the form of a warning letter from the FDA informing Lubetzky that he had been mislabeling his fruit and nut snacks as healthy. Under FDA regulations, any product that derives more than 15% of its calories from fat or has more than one gram of saturated fat per 40 grams of weight was considered unhealthy. KIND bars are high in fat because they are nut-based.
The company immediately removed all references to its products being healthy from the packaging and the website. But Lubetzky also fought back against what he saw as false determination because the FDA doesn’t separate healthy fats, such as those found in nuts and avocados, from unhealthy fats. KIND filed a Citizen Petition at the FDA’s headquarters in the spring of 2015, one year later the FDA reversed its decision. KIND could once again use the word "healthy" to describe its fruit and nut bars.
Throughout it all, Lubetzky kept his original focus on spreading kindness along with snacks, starting up offshoots like the non-profit KIND Foundation and Empatico, a school-based platform aimed at teaching kids empathy in a globalized world.
“This overarching commitment to social change certainly hasn’t hurt the company on the business side...KIND is one of the bestselling snack bars on the market alongside Clif Bars, Nature Valley granola bars, Quaker Chewy Granola Bars, and Nutri-Grain Bars."
This overarching commitment to social change certainly hasn’t hurt the company on the business side. When Lubetzky founded KIND in 2004, the snack bar industry was a $6 billion market. Today, it is a $20.1 billion market. And KIND is one of the bestselling snack bars on the market alongside Clif Bars, Nature Valley granola bars, Quaker Chewy Granola Bars, and Nutri-Grain Bars.
That market saturation brought Mars Inc. calling. The M&M's maker bought a 40% stake in the company in 2017, leaving Lubetzky with 51% stake. In 2020, Mars purchased the remaining stake in KIND for $5 billion, now making Lubetzky worth an estimated $2.2 billion.
But kindness isn’t taking a back seat at the company just because the bars are now sold by a candy giant. The deal announcement noted that Lubetzky would retain a financial stake in the company, “a majority of which was previously donated to charity to further his philanthropic efforts to build bridges across lines of divide.”