Does anyone remember Reebok Pumps? That’s right, the inflatable trainers with a lurid miniature basketball on the tongue that became the height of cool (at least to me, aged 11) upon their launch in the late 80s. How times, and trainers, change. Earlier this month Reebok launched something new for 2017: the long awaited Nano 7, a flexible, multipurpose shoe aimed at the Crossfit crowd. There wasn’t a pump in sight.
But there was, bizarrely, Britain’s biggest peanut butter brand. A bit like Reebok, whose sales have exploded since signing a decade-long sponsorship deal of Crossfit in 2011, Whole Earth Peanut Butter has undergone something of a transformation in recent years. By dialling up the ‘all natural’ cues in its marketing and billing itself as a ‘wonder fuel’ for active types (but not being too ‘Grrr… eat more protein!’) it’s overtaken Sun-Pat to become Britain’s best seller.
Teaming up with Reebok is another smart move (Whole Earth is giving away a pair of Reeboks a day in an on-pack deal). Crossfit – a fitness movement that combines elements of weightlifting, gymnastics, calisthenics, skipping and pretty much anything else that gets the heart pounding – is the largest gym chain in history, boasting more than 12,000 affiliated ‘boxes’ (Crossfitters don’t call them gyms), with more than 2,500 in the UK alone. That’s potentially a huge captive market.
Of course, fitness fads come and go. The bulging muscles, lurid socks and sopping sweatbands of your local Crossfit Box will likely soon be passé, but the desire for a healthy life will endure. Similarly, food fads come and go. The protein craze – of which peanut butter has been a key beneficiary – will come to pass too, yet people will still want to eat natural foods that make them feel good and provide a healthy source of energy.
Therein lies Whole Earth’s genius.. It’s capitalising on current trends without trying to commandeer the entire bandwagon. And sales are booming – up by a third in the supermarkets to more than £20m says IRI. In short, they’re doing it without the help of a little lurid basketball.