CHICAGO — When Kellogg Co. paid $600 million for the maker of RXBAR nearly 18 months ago, executives there saw not just a brand of protein bars made with egg whites, dates and nuts, but a platform for disruptive innovation in the food industry. Now, the vision behind the valuation is coming into focus.
Chicago Bar Co. is assuming a new identity as Insurgent Brands to reflect a broader scope of new product development, and its co-founder Peter Rahal is transitioning from the role of chief executive officer to focus on innovation and strategy. Jim Murray, who joined the company as director of finance and later succeeded co-founder Jared Smith as chief financial officer, has been named president and will take over day-to-day operations.
At Natural Products Expo West this week in Anaheim, Calif., the company is unveiling a new product line and a new brand. TIG is a brand of savory snack bars featuring chickpeas and lentils, with 140 calories and one or two grams of sugar per serving. Varieties include barbecue, buffalo, chili lime and pizza.
“We designed it to be the opposite of RX — crunchy, not sweet, lighter in calories, not necessarily functional protein,” Mr. Rahal told Food Business News. “It’s a guilt-free indulgent snack bar.”
New from the flagship brand, which dropped the “bar” from its name as it expands into additional product categories, RX Oats combines egg white protein, almonds, dates and oats in single-serve cups. Flavors include apple cinnamon, chocolate and maple.
“When you think about breakfast, I find a lot of people are quite frustrated with it,” Mr. Rahal said. “Breakfast needs to be convenient and needs to bring a lot of value … We wanted to take our angle as a brand and add more value to breakfast, using egg white for protein, and almonds for more substance … same philosophy from a nutrition perspective toward the breakfast space.”
The introduction of RX Oats follows last year’s launch of RX Nut Butter, which contains a blend of egg whites, almonds or peanuts and dates, and includes flavors such as chocolate peanut butter and vanilla almond butter. The products debuted in single-serve packets and are launching in jars this year.
New flavors of RXBAR coming soon include banana chocolate walnut, chocolate cherry and lemon — each featuring the same simple formula that propelled the brand to success since its founding in 2012. Dissatisfied with the quality of protein bars in the marketplace, Mr. Rahal and Mr. Smith developed a recipe for the CrossFit community, which adopts the grain-free, dairy-free paleo lifestyle. With six or fewer simple ingredients and 12 grams of protein, RXBAR varieties range from apple cinnamon to mint chocolate chip to pumpkin spice.
From its creation in a suburban Chicago basement, RXBAR became one of the fastest-growing brands in the natural and organic segment, tracking triple-digit growth year over year. In October 2017, when Kellogg announced the acquisition, RXBAR was expected to generate annual net sales of $120 million.
At the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference in Boca Raton, Fla., recently, Kellogg executives said the team more than doubled the brand’s distribution and grew sales 180% in measured channels in 2018.
“The beautiful thing about RX is we have very clear principles; we can’t just proliferate our innovation, and on top of that we are very intentional in how the products turn out,” Mr. Rahal said.
The new products from RX and TIG will be sold online so the company may gather and respond to consumer feedback before rolling out to retail stores. Future opportunities for innovation may focus on the microbiome or “plant-based 2.0,” Mr. Rahal said.
“We’re spending a lot of time talking to consumers, learning, seeing what early adopters of nutrition are talking about … you see that in the bodybuilding community, you see it in any fitness community, you see it in the scientific community,” Mr. Rahal said. “We're keeping our ear close to the ground and trying to connect the dots of what’s the next thing that people need and are going to eat and value.”