crossing the protein chasm

One of the things I love to do when traveling on business is checking out new restaurant concepts.  On a recent visit to Chicago, I visited Protein Bar and I haven’t stopped thinking about the brand since.ProteinBarBackground_bigger

A little background:  Protein Bar opened in May of this year.  It’s the brainchild of Matt Matros who became a believer in protein after losing 60 pounds on a high protein diet.  Protein Bar offers smoothies and other blended drinks with fun locally-inspired names like “Wrigley Peeled”, along with bowls, wraps, and soups — all high in protein, low in sugar — and all served up with a stylish, yet friendly vibe.  The brand’s mission is “to be the destination for individuals seeking the quick and filling essential protein they need to live a healthy, active lifestyle.

I had a great experience at the place and so that’s part of the reason why the brand has stuck with me.  But it’s also been on my mind because the company has a big challenge ahead and I’m not sure how to solve it (yet!)  You see,  Matros says his ingredient mix is a point of difference from competitors — and he’s banking on the loyalty of clientele who want low-fat, high-protein meals several times a day.

But I believe it’s going to take more than a great product and a satisfied fan base for Protein Bar to grow from being a single unit with modest revenues to a thriving QSR chain.  I believe protein is going to have to “cross the chasm.”

“Crossing the chasm” is a concept introduced by Geoffrey A. Moore in a book by the same name.  The chasm represents the huge gulf between two distinct markets — the first is comprised of early adopters and insiders who are quick to appreciate the value of a new development; the second is the mainstream market which wants to experience the benefits of the new development but is much less likely to accept it until it’s been tested and proven, the benefit of switching from current options is made clear, and its value is made relevant to their lives.

Moore explains that many new product introductions falter because they aren’t able to cross the chasm.  He advises winning entry to the mainstream by:

  • targeting a very specific niche market where you can dominate from the outset
  • forcing your competitors (or existing options) out of that market niche, (added note mine) and then,
  • using it as a base for broader operations.

Although the book was originally written nearly 20 years ago and spoke primarily to the adoption of new technologies, I still find it a useful reference as I help clients plot new product introductions — and I think it definitely applies to Protein Bar.

The superiority of the kinds of products Protein Bar serves are well-understood and valued by body builders, fitness professionals, and health and wellness enthusiasts — i.e., the early market.  But the mainstream market has yet to adopt this understanding.  In order for Protein Bar to generate sufficient market demand and acceptance to fuel significant business growth, it’s going to have to figure out how to cross the chasm — how to stimulate a groundswell of demand for protein among mainstream consumers.

Embracing Geoffrey Moore’s approach seems to make sense — identify a specific niche market to dominate, and then use it to evangelize the concept to the broader market.  Perhaps the niche is moms with young children who need to eat healthily but who are too busy to prepare protein-rich meals for themselves.  Or maybe it’s dieters looking for ways to supplement their existing Atkins or South Beach diet program.

I’m not sure what the answer is — but I believe the right strategy is, as Moore advises, to “take a ‘big fish, small  pond‘” approach” which leads you to owning a market and having enough power and momentum to ignite strong word of mouth.

Do you have any thoughts or advice for Protein Bar?  Please let me know — and in the meantime, let me say “Kudos and Best Wishes!” to Matt Matros and his great crew at Protein Bar!

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