Taste Radio Episode 627

How She Got Walmart To Say ‘Yes’ In The Pitch Meeting

+ Katie Lefkowitz, Harken Sweets


It’s rare for a five-month-old CPG brand to be featured in the checkout aisles of one of the world’s largest retailers. But Katie Lefkowitz, the founder and CEO of Harken Sweets, an upstart brand of plant-based, better-for-you candy bars, made it happen.

Prior to launching Harken, Katie was the chief operating officer of Caulipower, helping the cauliflower-centric brand generate $100 million in sales annually within four years of its launch.

In 2022, she set her sights on the confectionery space with the goal of creating a brand that rivaled legacy players like Snickers in terms of taste and texture, but made with significantly less calories and sugar and enhanced with functional ingredients. Harken was the result. The brand debuted earlier this year and comes in three varieties: the Crunchy One, the Gooey One and the Nutty One. 

Last month, Walmart added Harken’s Crunchy and Nutty varieties to 3,500 of its locations across the U.S. The retailer merchandises the candy bars in the cash register aisles of its stores next to category stalwarts like Twix and Payday.

In this episode, we speak with Katie about how a personal crisis led her to create Harken, how she drew upon her professional experience to develop the candy bars, and how she secured and prepared for a pitch meeting with Walmart. She also explains why the category buyer said “yes” almost immediately, balancing a healthy margin with a reasonable everyday price and how the company is supporting sales growth at Walmart.

In this Episode

0:42: Is That My Daughter In There? CPG Heroine (Check The Spelling). Aye, Poppi. – A local brand feeds the beast(s) just before the staff lunch, which, for some, becomes unnecessary. The hosts reveal their favorite moments of BevNET Live (the pen of judgment!) and discuss the ramifications of a high-profile class-action lawsuit. They also binge on boba (not popping) pearls.
22:43: Interview: Katie Lefkowitz, Founder & CEO, Harken Sweets – Taste Radio editor Ray Latif professes his passion for Harken; Katie talks about how cancer impacted her dietary habits and her perspective of “food as medicine.” She also discusses the challenges of developing a candy bar that can compare to ones like Snickers, why it’s imperative for entrepreneurs to be honest with themselves about taste and how package design influences retail strategy. Katie also talks about how Walmart buyers are empowered to “own their sets,” why understanding how the retailer operates was valuable information, how the popularity of GLP-1 drugs factored into Walmart’s decision and how a minor degree in consumer psychology helps guide her assessment of the CPG landscape.

Also Mentioned

Dumpling Daughter, Poppi, Twrl Milk Tea, Heath-Ade, Bai, Harken Sweets, Caulipower