Clodhoppers founders recount transformation

Chris Emery and Larry Finnson aren’t the only high school buddies who have pursued a questionable business idea.

Chris Emery and Larry Finnson

Chris Emery and Larry Finnson aren’t the only high school buddies who have pursued a questionable business idea.

But they’re among the most successful.

The founders of Clodhoppers candy recounted their transformation from kitchen manufacturers to confection magnates during a presentation in Red Deer on Tuesday.

Speaking at a Farm Credit Canada forum in the Capri Centre, the Winnipeg men described how they used a tasty recipe of Emery’s grandmother to build one of the top food companies in Canada.

After each contributing $6,000 in start-up capital, the pair began making Clodhoppers as Krave’s Candy Co. Initially, they made the graham wafer fudge clusters in Emery’s home and packaged it in clear plastic jars — which appeared half empty when their contents settled.

“We basically went around Winnipeg resetting every jar,” said Finnson, recalling how shaking the containers left something that looked like a “brain in a jar.”

The partners bought some used equipment and changed their packaging.

“That resulted in Wal-Mart deciding to carry our product,” said Emery, referring to this 1998 development as Krave’s first big break.

Wal-Mart remained a buyer in 1999 and other retailers came on board. Emery and Finnson had to increase the size of their operations, but capital proved elusive.

Ultimately, they managed to borrow $100,000 at an interest rate of 30 per cent, pledging their homes as equity.

A profile on CBC business program Venture helped raise their business’s profile, and eventually a Manitoba venture capital fund and then traditional lenders provided financing.

In 2001, the creators of Clodhoppers found themselves chatting with a stranger at a Wal-Mart vendors show. He turned out to be then Wal-Mart president and CEO Lee Scott.

Scott suggested that they send some Clodhoppers to Wal-Mart’s global head office in Bentonville Ark. Soon, it was available in 2,700 Wal-Mart stores.

While visiting Bentonville, Emery and Finnson conducted a product demo. There, a man commented that they reminded him of famed ice cream entrepreneurs Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield — a.k.a. Ben & Jerry.

“That was kind of the impetus for us to change our packaging,” said Emery, explaining that adding their caricatures helped capitalize on the well-publicized story about how two young men had built the business around a family recipe.

They also described how, during a Dairy Queen forum in Nashville, Tenn., they discovered that the fast-food company’s president and CEO was auctioning his services as a charitable fundraiser. Seeing a promotional opportunity, they joined the bidding — only to realize at the end that Emery had inadvertently topped Finnson’s final offer.

“That’s how I became president,” laughed Finnson.

Another marketing strategy involved partnerships with WestJet and Air Canada, who agreed to serve Clodhoppers to passengers as alternative to traditional snacks.

“We were paid for that, and it greatly exposed our brand to a lot of people,” said Emery.

“We had no money, so we had to be creative,” added Finnson.

In addition to Venture, they got air time on television talk show Open Mike with Mike Bullard and even on CNN.

They also grew Clodhoppers from a Christmas treat to a year-round snack.

“We were up to about 35 employees and we were producing over two million pounds of Clodhoppers annually,” said Emery.

By 2004, Emery and Finnson realized they had to undertake some costly marketing initiatives to take Krave’s to the next level.

“We were at $10 million in sales, and we wanted to go to $20 million,” explained Finnson.

The company’s board of directors, which had evolved from its venture capitalists and other financial backers, were not prepared to make that investment. So the decision was made to sell the business, and a deal with Brookside Foods Ltd. closed in 2006.

The partners have no regrets, pointing to many business lessons learned and contacts made.

Now 41 and 40 respectively, Emery and Finnson are preparing for their next venture, although they’re not ready to disclose details.

“We’ve got a plan,” said Emery.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

Just Posted

Men posing as repo men attempt to steal vehicle in Red Deer County

Two men attempted to steal a utility vehicle from a Red Deer… Continue reading

Red Deerian spreads kindness with one card at a time

One Red Deerian wants to combat bullying by spreading kindness in the… Continue reading

Bowden baby in need of surgery

“Help for Alexis” Go Fund Me account

PHOTO: First Rider bus safety in Red Deer

Central Alberta students learned bus safety in the Notre Dame High School… Continue reading

WATCH: Annual Family Picnic at Central Spray and Play

Blue Grass Sod Farms Ltd. held the Annual Family Picnic at the… Continue reading

Woman has finger ripped off at West Edmonton Mall waterslide

SASKATOON — A Saskatchewan woman says she lost a finger after her… Continue reading

Uncertainty looms over Canada’s cannabis tourism, but ambitions are high

TORONTO — Longtime marijuana advocate Neev Tapiero is ready for the cannabis-driven… Continue reading

Feds mulling safeguards to prevent ‘surge’ of cheap steel imports into Canada

OTTAWA — The federal government extended an olive branch of sorts to… Continue reading

Ontario govt caps off summer session by passing bill to cut Toronto council size

TORONTO — The Ontario government passed a controversial bill to slash the… Continue reading

Updated:Italian bridge collapse sends cars plunging, killing 26

MILAN — A 51-year-old highway bridge in the Italian port city of… Continue reading

Saudi Arabia spat affecting Canadians embarking on hajj, community members say

TORONTO — Members of Canada’s Muslim community say recent tensions between Ottawa… Continue reading

Tug carrying up to 22,000 litres of fuel capsizes in Fraser River off Vancouver

VANCOUVER — The smell of diesel filled the air as crews worked… Continue reading

Nebraska executes first inmate using fentanyl

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska carried out its first execution in more than… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month