Via Financial Post

It’s been non-stop action for Awake Chocolate since its Toronto-based founders Matt Schnarr, Adam Deremo and Dan Tzotzis decided to pool their collective 35-years’ of consumer packaged-goods experience and build their own brand.

The trio appeared on Season 7 of CBC’s Dragons’ Den in 2013, closed a deal with then dragon David Chilton and haven’t looked back.

Awake has grown substantially since the founders appeared on the show. Sales for fiscal 2016 are just shy of $8 million, compared with $500,000 at the end of 2012. Eight-five per cent of those sales are from the U.S. In the past three years, product placement has grown from 6,000 retail locations to nearly 20,000. While much of Awake’s sales are south of the border, production remains in Ontario and Quebec.

The product line is also growing. “We have added granola bars as a second product line and we are now available in major U.S. retailers like Walmart, Walgreens and 7-Eleven. These are a good complement to our bread and butter which remains retail outlets on university and college campuses,” Schnarr said.

Darren Calabrese/National Post/Files

Awake is a caffeine infused chocolate bar that delivers 100 milligrams of caffeine — a definite boost to help students push through their day. Awake is now being sold at about 2,000 campuses across North America.

“We’re one of the best selling snack items, which is phenomenal,”  Schnarr said.

Why granola bars? In May 2015, Walmart reached out to Awake to develop a granola bar for the giant retailer. While creating their own granola bar was on the founders’ radar, it quickly became a priority.

“The call from the buyer came out of the blue. He didn’t even know Walmart was carrying our chocolate in some of its stores,” Schnarr said. “We launched the product in months. It was on store shelves in January 2016. By August, we launched a single-serve granola bar that is sold on U.S. campuses and in 2,000 7-11 stores.”

Awake’s four SKUs of gluten free granola bars with as much caffeine as a half-cup of coffee (Awake Energy Granola) are now on shelves in 2,600 Walmart stores across the U.S. sold in five-unit boxes. They are not yet available at stores in Canada.

In the last two months, Awake has also updated its product line in Canada. The original 44-gram caffeinated chocolate bars that retailed for $2.49 have been replaced with a lower-calorie version (same caffeine content) that retails for $1.49 in milk chocolate, dark chocolate and caramel. Awake also launched individual bite-sized portions.

Now, the focus is on building awareness for its products. On Nov. 6, when daylight savings ended and North America gained an extra hour, Awake launched the 25th Hour as part of its integrated campaign — Energy to Do More Stuff. The campaign promotes the 25th Hour as something consumers (in this case its target demographic of 18 to 22 year olds) can have all the time with Awake.

In a program similar to Red Bull’s, Awake is hiring 200 campus ambassadors across North America to help spread the word. “We’re planning to hand out a couple million samples. This will be the biggest marketing initiative we’ve ever done, by far,” Schnarr said.

All three say, their biggest lesson to date is: “Every product needs to have a good connection with their consumer and to do that you have to know exactly who your consumer is. For us, it’s 18 to 24 year old people, especially on university and college campuses, who need more energy to do more stuff.”