Pat Cavanaugh grows Come Ready Foods with a can-do brand mentality

Just before Aaron Donald made the game-saving tackle that secured the Los Angeles Rams Super Bowl championship last year, he was drinking Ready® Sports Drink on the sidelines. Similarly, as soon as Jessica Pegula won her second round at the US Open last year, the top-ranked tennis star enjoyed a Ready® Clean Protein Bar to replenish her energy after the match.

“Every athlete at that level is looking for an edge that will help them win,” says Pat Cavanaugh, founder and CEO of Come Ready Foods LLC, a fast-growing sports nutrition company based in Pittsburgh. “They’re very particular about what they consume, and they’re not going to put anything in their body that will deter them from being the best.”

A former college athlete himself, Cavanaugh understands the performance-driven goals of the customers his company serves — from student athletes to professional sports stars to consumers who just need a boost of energy. That’s why he founded Ready to help customers achieve their goals by providing all-natural nutritional products designed to fuel their performance.

Supported by a mentality of determination, the Ready® brand has become more than just a snack. It’s a lifestyle brand that inspires the company’s teammates and customers alike. Founded on the belief that “It’s not where you start; it’s where you finish,” Cavanaugh continues building Ready, his underdog success story, into one of the fastest-growing nutritional companies in the country.

Starting Ready

Cavanaugh learned the value of hard work and dedication early on, both on and off the field.

“It started when I was a young boy growing up in Grove City,” he says. “I was selling flower seeds and shoes door-to-door at the age of 10, so I had an early entrepreneurial spirit that allowed me to equate effort with results. That taught me early on (the importance of) setting goals and the feeling of achieving them.”

That goal-oriented determination followed Cavanaugh into sports, when he turned down a football scholarship at a smaller Division 1 school to pay his own way as a walk-on point-guard for the University of Pittsburgh basketball team. He soon earned a scholarship and went on to become a two-time basketball team captain.

Cavanaugh’s entrepreneurial journey followed a similar path. He launched a promotional products company, Cavanaugh Marketing Network, from his college apartment and grew it into an Inc. 500 firm ranked in the top 1 percent of its industry. Then in 1996, a few years after earning his MBA from Pitt, Cavanaugh established Crons, which described his tenacity to “Come Ready Or Never Start.”

The Crons brand encompassed athletic apparel, goal-setting programs and, since 2012, proprietary nutritional bars. By the time Smart Business featured Cavanaugh on our cover in 2014, Crons was outfitting nearly 30,000 divisional athletes at 80 colleges across seven conferences.

But to truly compete against major sports apparel brands, Cavanaugh realized Crons would have to cross into footwear. Rather than jumping into a new product category, he decided to refocus on the company’s biggest strengths.

“I looked at where we had the opportunities to impact people on a greater scale,” Cavanaugh says, “and nutrition came to the forefront.”

Since Cavanaugh’s mother is a dietician and nutritionist, he grew up knowing how proper nutrition impacted his athletic performance. Leveraging this background, he pivoted fully into Come Ready Foods by 2015.

Brand mentality

Throughout the product pivot, however, the motivational mission and mentality behind the brand remained steadfast.

“We still get up every single day to help people achieve their goals,” Cavanaugh says. “We develop products, but we also have a brand culture that’s intertwined into everything we do that challenges people to make their best better.”

Cavanaugh illustrates this brand ethos with what he calls the Ready Triangle Mentality, which stresses the importance of attitude, effort and energy as the three factors that people can control, whether in business or in sports. This mindset also promotes principles like outworking the competition and pushing through challenges — attitudes that are just as valuable in the corporate world as they are on the basketball court.

To reinforce these values, a “motivational wall” in the Ready office features inspirational quotes. The wall incorporates core values like discipline, honesty and commitment with mottos like, “Don’t give up — give more.”

Just as teams of athletes unite around their shared goal of winning, Cavanaugh leverages this culture to keep the Ready Team aligned.

“At the end of the day, our No. 1 asset is our culture, followed by our team members, then our products,” he says. “If you don’t have a culture that is clearly defined and you don’t have the people that can uphold that culture, you’re not going to have anything special.”

This culture has become more refined over time. For example, Ready rolled out an evaluation program that offers employees regular feedback. Just as Donald and other NFL players review their performance after every game, Cavanaugh strives to coach his team toward continuous improvement.

“We have a formalized process that gives people feedback on a continuous basis related to our code of conduct, values and standards,” he says. “When they have to sign their name to that, it sets an expectation. It can look good on the wall, but when people see that this is not just lip service, it’s actually carried out, then they understand this (culture) is very real.”

Performance test

Ready launched in 2012 with a single protein bar sold through retail outlets and directly to college sports teams. Since then, the brand has expanded into beverages, including sports drinks and protein waters, while adding other functional snacks, like plant-based protein puffs and protein powders. Ready has also reached into new geographies along the way, with its products now available in Central America and Europe. The company is poised to grow 200 percent this year, after growing 100 percent in 2022.

Available in more than 26,000 retail outlets across North America, Ready’s products now span more than 40 SKUs with new flavors and innovations on the way. For example, Ready unveiled a new Ready® Light Sports Drink on March 16, and is introducing six new protein bar flavors in June and rolling out new functional snacks over the next two to three years.

“We follow the science in the development of our products,” says Cavanaugh, acknowledging Ready’s robust research and development team. “At the end of the day, our products have to actually functionally make a difference and help somebody perform better.”

Ready® is the official sports drink of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), the largest athletic organization in the U.S. with over 700,000 athletes who compete in 41 sports. It’s also the official sports drink of seven Division 1 conferences, spanning 48,000 athletes at 80 colleges and universities. More than 200 teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) use Ready products, including Power 5 schools.

“We take a lot of pride in that, particularly at the Power 5 level, because those schools scrutinize the products that their athletes take to the nth degree,” Cavanaugh says, explaining that college nutritionists review the ingredients and macronutrients, while strength coaches verify that products actually support athletic performance. In addition to these tests, he says, the players’ taste test is critical.

“Athletes won’t choke it down if it doesn’t taste good,” he says.

These schools aren’t the only customers with strict sports nutrition standards. The professional athletes who have endorsed Ready have similarly stringent expectations for the products they consume.

Donald, who played at Pitt before he was picked by the Rams in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, became the first professional athlete to invest in Ready in November 2019. Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks 2013 first-round pick and 2021 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, signed on in May 2020. Pegula joined in August 2022 as Ready’s first female athlete, and then rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett, the first team All-American Heisman Trophy finalist from Pitt and Pittsburgh Steelers’ first-round draft pick, joined the team last September.

As investors in the company, Donald and Antetokounmpo also received ownership stakes in Ready — along with opportunities to be actively involved in product development, community engagement and brand awareness programs. They’re not just endorsing Ready® products, though; they’re actually using them.

“A lot of athletes get paid to endorse products,” Cavanaugh says, “but these athletes are using our product at the most peak times of their professional careers. At the end of the day, if they don’t like the product, they would not be using it.”

Community impact

As much as these athletes appreciate the taste and nutrients packed inside every Ready package, their passion for the brand isn’t just about the products. In the press releases announcing these brand partnerships, each athlete emphasized how important it was to align with the brand’s mentality, too.

“I’ve looked at hundreds of brand partnerships over the past couple years and have found very few that match my standards and interests in making a difference in a global community,” Donald said in the 2019 press release announcing his partnership with Ready. “The fact that Pat, also a Pitt guy, shares the same mindset about hard work and helping others, and runs the business with that mindset every day, made Ready the perfect fit for me.”

Ready’s athlete co-owners play an active role in supporting the Ready Foundation — a 501(c)3 charitable organization dedicated to donating products, funds and training programs to benefit the community. For example, Donald and Giannis participate in Ready’s youth athlete programs by giving motivational “Ready® Talks” to encourage young athletes to achieve their goals.

Other outreach initiatives at Ready include Mobile Training Table™ educational programs, with 12 different modules to provide free nutrition advice and products. Nutritionists from the company speak to teams about various aspects of proper eating, offering demonstrations on food prep and meal planning. “

That’s how we try to give back to the community,” Cavanaugh says, “not just with donations but also from an educational perspective.”

The Ready Foundation also donates products nationwide to support those in need. During the pandemic, for example, Ready delivered products to schools, medical centers and other organizations — giving more than 120,000 bottles of protein water to frontline health care workers.

One of Antetokounmpo’s first initiatives as a Ready partner was providing 34,000 bottles of protein water and 34,000 protein bars to the daily meal program at Milwaukee Public Schools, and another 34,000 bottles of protein water to area health care workers — in honor of his jersey number, 34. Donald, similarly, helped Ready donate water to the Los Angeles Fire Department while firefighters battled wildfires there.

Most recently, in October 2022, Ready announced an official partnership with Susan G. Komen®. The company will donate $250,000 annually to fund breast cancer research and patient support services, and supply protein bars at Komen’s events throughout the year.

Cavanaugh says that these community efforts align perfectly with Ready’s brand mission. “At the end of the day, that’s what we do,” he says. “We help people.” ●


  • Help your employees and your customers achieve their goals.
  • Be clear about your culture and brand mentality.
  • Give back to the communities you serve.

Pat Cavanaugh

Founder and CEO
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