Talk about taking matters into your own hands. When NBA star Meyers Leonard was struggling with nutrition issues while recovering from an injury, his wife, entrepreneur and athlete Elle Leonard, made special protein bars for him. He found that they worked better than anything he’d tried before, so he started sharing them with teammates and others. Before they knew it, the couple were in business marketing their own line of healthy snacks. We recently spoke with the Leonards about their food company, Level, which helps elevate the body to fight fatigue and stress.
Elle, we read that you started this company to help your husband, Meyers, improve his NBA career, as well as to boost your overall health as a couple. At what point did you realize you could turn your passion for healthy food into a business?
Elle Leonard: When we realized that what we eat has a direct impact on how we feel, and especially on how Meyers performs in his career and recovered from injuries. He was bringing home protein bars that didn’t work for him, so I took up the challenge. I was like, “Game on, I’m jumping in the kitchen!” Then, Meyers started sharing my protein bars with his teammates and they started asking to order them. That’s when we realized we might be onto something.
Meyers Leonard: My teammates trust me when it comes to what to eat. They see me making strides and they think, “He seems to be on a good path.” So, I just started giving away Elle’s protein bars, and this small community of people trying Level grew.
The healthy snack space is pretty crowded at the moment. A new brand would face challenges building brand awareness, as well as understanding consumer preference. And then 2020 hits you with a pandemic. How has this affected your go-to-market strategy?
EL: When the pandemic first hit, we were rocking and rolling with a subscription strategy, a low barrier to entry. But with the uncertainty of everyone’s jobs and even when we’re going to return to normal life, we had to pivot away from subscriptions. The beautiful part of being a smaller business is you’re constantly pivoting. And it turned out that the D2C model that we’ve been pushing just happened to be ideal for the environment.
As a smaller brand, what marketing program pivots have been a slam dunk for you?
EL: We started out with Facebook and Instagram, and since then, we have gone on to Google and are now looking at platforms such as Pinterest, reddit, and YouTube. We’re also looking at Walmart and Amazon.
Let’s bring this back to community. While you no longer live in Portland, you supported the community there when wild fires broke out across the state. Level ran a campaign to support families and frontline workers who had been affected by the fires. Tell us a little bit more about this campaign.
EL: When we launched Level, Portland was our main market, and while we were in the NBA bubble, there was a lot of concern about the wild fires in Oregon and particularly the Portland area. For two weeks, for every two bars ordered, we would give a bar to firefighters, Oregon Food Bank, etc., just to help in whatever way we can.
ML: It’s always in our hearts to give back. That may be a clichéd statement, but we truly mean it. Portland is where we grew up as a couple and as a company. We got married there. The community was always very loyal to us. And when the fires happened, we were in Miami, literally the farthest NBA city from Portland. So, it was great to be able to help, not only by giving away our bars, but also by bringing awareness to the situation.
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