The beauty of steel is it’s infinitely recyclable, so it will never break down.
“All new manufactured steel is already using 75 percent of recycled steel,” Esche says. “I believe 70-80 percent of steel is recycled properly. It can go on curbside. It’s also magnetic, which means a lot of sorting systems, when they are sorting through trash or recyclables, use magnets to pull out metals. So even if it does get tossed in the wrong bin, there’s still a large chance that it will be pulled out and sorted correctly. We’re by no means thinking that we are the only ones that are going to do this. We hope to inspire others as well, because it is an industry-wide issue.”
The move from plastic to steel was in line with Gnarly’s overall brand positioning of respecting the outdoors—the recreational playground used by so many of Gnarly’s consumers—and doing their part to keep their environmental footprint down to a minimum. It also came with a price increase, marking the first time the company did so in nine years.
“We raised our prices between $1 and $1.50 per product because of this overall update in packaging,” Esche says. “In the past year we also upgraded our bags, so our bags are recyclable plastic. We’re still investigating even better solutions. And then we upgraded our plastic tubs to steel.
“In order to get it down to a price that we could afford—because we’re not massive—we had to buy more products in advance, more than we’ve ever bought at one time. Raised prices across the entire line made sure that we could cover the costs and continue to keep searching for new solutions and look toward the future and invest in the research on how we can continue to improve our packaging, because this is definitely not the end of the story. We know we’re not perfect, and we want to continue to address the issues that we see in our packaging and shipping. Nobody seems to mind the extra money. to protect it they are 100 percent on board. We’ve definitely had some questions about how to open the cans.”
Think of the packaging as something similar to a paint can. Users pry open the lid, remove the seal and pop the lid back on. Esche feels the steel packaging reseals better than the plastic tubs ever did.
While Gnarly has a dedicated elite-athlete following, the brand considers itself a marketer to athletes of any fitness levels, from elites to someone who exercises a few times a week.
“We’re one of the few companies in the outdoor industry that really approaches the full spectrum of every customer,” notes Esche. “Any level of athlete is who we want to talk to. That’s actually where we usually see this huge educational gap between what you can use that will help you reach your fitness and strength goals versus someone who is achieving those super high levels, climbing those but the daily weekend warrior, the person who is running a couple of times a week, whether it’s on the road or on the trail, probably hasn’t been approached about nutrition .
“If you look at everything we put out there, it’s very educational first because we want people to understand that there are products that can make you feel better while you are doing the activities you enjoy. It can make you stronger and help you achieve those very personal goals. We are not trying to sell something to someone that they don’t need.”
The small, community vibe is how word about the brand began to spread—on a local, grassroots level. These days, Gnarly dabbles in nearly every form of advertising, from influencer marketing to social media and sponsorships.
“Gnarly was built on relationships,” says Esche. “We were getting that immediate feedback from the athletes and the community using our products. Gnarly’s based out of Salt Lake City, Utah, and there were a lot of friends of friends who were immediately engaged and interested in using the products that Gnarly was putting out.
“We were founded on that influencer and grassroots marketing style. In 2022, we’re looking to grow quite quickly. A number of years, working with them to put out a lot of educational information. We’re working with Trail Sisters this year. It’s this combination of partnerships and very select, targeted advertising. As many people as I could possibly reach. I want to send very targeted messaging to select audiences that’s based on education that’s helping people understand what’s best for them.”
The rise of user-generated content and posting videos online of workouts and meal plans/prepping has served as a boost to Gnarly and the nutrition industry as a whole.
“One of the reasons it’s very important for us to be a relationship-focused company because nutrition is not something that is often very visible,” Esche concludes. “We’ve benefited a lot—and I think all nutrition and supplement brands have benefitted—from this new age of user-generated content and video content. It allows more eyes to see how you might prepare something in a certain type of shake or favorite recipe.
“When the world was just super image focused, it wasn’t easy to get an image of an athlete using your nutrition that felt authentic because it’s not something you do in front of the world. an apparel brand, the apparel is going to be right there at every moment. Nutrition happens behind closed doors. Or it’s in your water bottle or in your pocket. The video age has been much kinder to nutritional and supplement brands.”