How the Right Packaging Partner Led to Smoother Scaling for Bobo's

Bobo's Chocolate Chip Oat Bites

When Beryl Stafford and her daughter, Alex (nicknamed “Bobo”), began baking oat bars in their kitchen one rainy day 21 years ago, they never dreamed it would be the start of a million-dollar business with enormous yearly growth. While it sounds like the American dream come true, there are major challenges that come with high demand.

In 2018, consumer demand was far greater than Bobo’s ability to produce. The brand quickly maxed out its Boulder, Colorado factory, forcing the team to turn down major orders from grocery chains like Walmart. The team was trying to meet demand while working out of three facilities, still making and packing all their oat snacks by hand. 

“We were growing 40 to 50 percent a year. We didn’t have the capacity in our facilities to keep up with those sales, so we needed to build a new facility and automate to get our fill rates up and be able to satisfy our customers,” said Bobo’s EVP of Operations Rob Streight. 

Smooth scaling is easier said than done for most high-growth businesses. In addition to the typical concerns any business has when transitioning to automation and new facilities, the team at Bobo’s had the added concern of staying true to its homegrown roots.

“A big part of our goal in scaling our manufacturing was to make sure that consumers don't see the product any different than they did when it was coming out of Beryl’s kitchen,” said Henry Hughes, Bobo’s EVP of Marketing. “So, our automation process has been a little bit more complicated because of some of the unique characteristics that we wanted to keep with our product.”

Finding the right growth partner

To address its unique challenges, Bobo’s needed a partner that could help tackle all of them. When going from hand-packing to automation, there are new skills for staff to learn, new processes to form, a larger inventory to manage and greater cash flow to scrutinize. There’s also a lot of new automated machinery to purchase, which is a major capital investment for any business.

Streight previously worked with Janell Frisk, a national sales rep at Victory Packaging, a WestRock company specializing in full-service packaging and distribution. When he contacted her about transition needs, Frisk was able to pull in other WestRock team members who could consult on automation, packaging processes, training and more, creating the partnership Bobo’s needed. WestRock consultants analyzed Bobo’s needs and challenges and then proposed a few automation options.  

“This was a unique project. We actually managed and financed the whole automation, from palletizers to cartoners, even the baking equipment,” said Frisk. “We worked with them to use all the vendors they wanted, because obviously baking equipment is not our thing. But we were able to manage the purchase of that equipment along with the equipment for the new automated packaging lines, so we could provide financing for the whole thing.”

Workers on the Bobo’s line ready oat bites for packaging

New facilities and new product line

With a project this large, it was necessary to automate in phases. During Phase I, Bobo’s transitioned to automated lines for its oat bites and oat bars. And during Phase Two, the team began automating its new product line—PB&J Oat Snacks.

The new line is so successful that a couple of weeks after its April 2023 release, Bobo’s was already sold out on its website and many Costco stores reported they too were also sold out. The team added a third shift to increase production, with plans to add more production lines. 

Bobo’s new PB&Js snacks flew off shelves, spurring additional automation

“Its growth right out of the box was dramatic. So we had to go back to WestRock again and find a solution to be able to produce PB&J. We currently produce around 150 pieces a minute. But we have a system coming here in the next few months that will do them highly automated at 600 pieces a minute with two flavors,” said Streight

CEO TJ McIntyre said the company is already “leapfrogging” the growth projected when initially developing the new facility in Loveland.

Bobo’s new production facility in Loveland, CO

Bringing organization to chaotic growth

While investors love fast growth, McIntyre likens it to managing “hair-on-fire chaos” and trying to tune an engine while driving 100 miles an hour. To organize the chaos, Bobo’s needed new processes and work methods along with new production and packaging lines.

WestRock’s team offered help in readying Bobo’s workers and training them in processes that would bring that order. They sent Mike Higgins, senior manager of performance excellence, to Colorado to share his Six Sigma training on the Kaizen work method. There are five S’ in the Kaizen method that guide workers to prevent and address issues in manufacturing: sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain.

“Mike leading Kaizen events increased the efficiency of our facility and helped us streamline and organize across our whole facility, warehouse production … everything,” said Streight.

Packs of Bobo’s Oat Bites travel down the line

The difference made by the right partnership

“This relationship with WestRock and Victory Packaging brought us a lot; it’s been the complete package for us.”

With the right partners in WestRock and Victory Packaging, in less than a year Bobo’s was able to consolidate three facilities into one and successfully surpass double their output.

“We’ve gone from about five million units a month to over 11 million units, and we’ve also gone from five million dollars in packaging a month to over nine million,” Streight said. “And we’ve increased our speeds. Our depositing speeds on oat bites have gone from 200 pieces a minute to 600 pieces, and on oat bars, we’ve gone from 100 to 200 pieces a minute.”

Between production and packaging, Streight says Bobo’s increased its efficiency three-fold, ensuring his team can meet today’s customer demand, and is positioned for the future. With the company continuing to surpass its growth projections, there’s no telling what the future holds.