Energy bars are a dime a dozen these days and it's often hard to figure out which one will suit you best. Here at Rhone, we've tried just about everything out there and each time, we kept coming back to one: PROBAR. So, being fans of the brand, we reached out to PROBAR’s Founder and CEO, Jeff Coleman to have a chat. We talked about how PROBAR got its start, why it's great for athletes and working professionals alike, what they have coming up next, and more. Read on to get the full scoop.
We hear you have a funny founding story of PROBAR. Can you share it with us?
I started PROBAR in 2002 when I was living in Park City, Utah, and doing a lot of trail running at the time. Park City gave me, this New Jersey native, a chance to exercise freely in nature instead of dodging between cars in the city. My diet at the time consisted of fast-food breakfast sandwiches, quick meals, and convenience-store burritos – which isn’t ideal for anyone. As my passion for running developed, I had an itch to learn more about nutrition to have a wholesome understanding of health, because nutrition wasn’t a topic I knew much about throughout my education.
I ended up meeting my nutrition coach, Art Eggertsen, who was a vegan cook and seemed to know everything about food and the types of ingredients one should steer clear of – which wasn’t very common knowledge at the time. It turns out, sugar, hydrogenated oils, and dairy flood grocery store products, and these were exactly the ingredients he steered clear of.
Art came over one day and made me the best sloppy joes I’ve ever had. I expressed that he didn’t need to abandon his vegan cooking for me, and he looked at me with a sly smile and said, “There is no meat in there.” It was that moment that it dawned on me – that you can have incredibly great-tasting food that’s super healthy for you.
Fast forward a few months, and I’m shopping in my local health food store, Fair-Weather, in Park City, and I picked up a protein bar called PROBAR. Now this protein bar changed everything. It turns out, this delicious bar that sustained me for hours on end, and didn’t hurt my sensitive stomach, was made by my nutrition coach, Art.
I couldn’t believe it, he never even mentioned it to me. I confronted him about it, and one thing led to another, and I ended up buying out his partner and going into business with him.
Were there any other bars in the market like PROBAR at the time?
It was great because there wasn’t another product that was exactly like PROBAR when we first entered the crowded space. However, the trend at the time was low-carb diets. Our Meal Bar was the first product to hit shelves, and, you know, those are meant to be able to replace an entire meal to sustain you throughout a workout. So, even though our product was unique in the marketplace, we were faced with a challenge to sell a bar that was higher in carbs than all the others.
How was PROBAR able to shift consumers’ thinking and lifestyle habits?
In the early years of launching PROBAR, we happened to be in the time of consumers becoming more educated about what they were eating and the effects it had on their bodies. It was a huge opportunity for us to introduce people to our products. Our bars provided valuable, super healthy, and convenient food that actually tasted great, and consumers were on board to switch from these giant companies to our growing brand.
Why not just settle on one bar, instead of all of the different product lines?
It’s all about the product’s purpose. We were motivated to create something better than what was already available in the market and introduce consumers to something that hadn’t been done before.
First, all of our products are plant-based. This is a standard that we will continually hold ourselves to. Second, we make products that answer a consumer’s needs and offer a solution to a problem they are faced with. If they want to get extra protein in their day, we have a product for them that has 20 grams of protein. If they want just a nibble, we have Bite as the perfect snack-sized option. If they’re doing an athletic event and need quick energy in the form of a chew, we have them covered.
It’s no secret that PROBAR is loved by athletes. How does PROBAR fuel these professionals?
PROBAR was extremely proud to be titled the official Nutrition Bar and Energy Chew for the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team. We help fuel and energize these Olympic athletes on the mountain, during race day and throughout their training with our robust product lines.
PROBAR’s core values and convenient products align with U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s to help bring the “Best in the World” to life. This partnership inspired us to support the team even further by creating a limited-edition U.S. Ski & Snowboard Meal Bar Pack that gives back a percentage of proceeds to the team. For every purchase of this box, PROBAR donates $20 to the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team to help fuel excellence in these athletes. We had these limited-edition boxes designed by a Montana based artist, Heather Rapp, to showcase paintings of the mountain slopes that represent what the athletes perform on.
We all strive to be athletes, but how does PROBAR fit in with the everyday working professional or busy family members?
We’ve made our products with everyone in mind. Whether you are climbing Mount Everest or tackling an inbox full of emails – we want them to be delicious, healthy, and fuel them for success. Our approach was to make something that holds high standards that we can feed to our own families and kids. Because, you have to fully love and believe in the product you’re selling, right?
Individually packaged, we give consumers the convenience of slipping one of our products into their backpack, gym bag, purse, or lunchbox and knowing they will reap the nutritional benefits they are looking for, and feel excellent after consuming it.
Our full portfolio is Certified Gluten-Free, USDA Organic, Kosher, plant-based, and Non-GMO Project Verified – which in turn, makes a lot of our lines great for consumers’ kids. It’s unique because most nutrition bars aren’t made with children in mind, but our real and recognizable ingredient label gives parents the confidence and pleasure to feed their kids PROBAR.
How does PROBAR differentiate from the rest, now that there are many bar companies out there compared to when you started in 2002?
From the beginning, it’s never been about profit. It was about the ingredients, and showing people that they could enjoy great-tasting on-the-go food that was actually good for you. Art and I agreed that no matter where PROBAR took us, we wouldn’t ever compromise on the integrity of what goes into our products. We will always provide our consumers with the highest quality, real, clean superfood ingredients. I said, “Whatever we do, at the end of the day, I can tell you one thing. When I’m lying on my deathbed, the last thing I’m going to say is how many bars we sold.”
A big differentiator is that PROBAR makes all of our bars in-house, and they are blended not baked. Unlike most performance bars, our bars are minimally processed and made with real plant-based foods that are blended together in whole form. We never heat or cook our bars, which maintains each ingredients’ optimal nutritional value and integrity. Simply put, we don’t cook the nutrition out! All PROBAR products are vegan, Certified Gluten-Free, Non-GMO Project Verified, and Kosher. Our Bite, Bolt Chews, Live, and Nut Butters are all USDA Organic. We work hard and are proud to give consumers quality assurance through the certification seals our products have earned.
After we broke a profit, it was also about contributing to philanthropic activities in some way. For instance, last year, we gave a couple hundred thousand PROBARs to the Utah Food Bank for kids, as one in five kids in Utah is at risk for not knowing where their next meal is. This is the kind of story we want to keep telling, and we’re fortunate to be in the position to do so.