BALTIMORE — Dissatisfied with the quality of protein bars available in the marketplace, two Chicago-area CrossFit enthusiasts developed one that suited their needs. Many kitchen experiments and four years later, RXBAR has become a fast-growing brand in the natural and organic segment, tracking triple-digit revenue growth year over year with products sold in 20,000 retail outlets, gyms and fitness studios.
With six or fewer simple ingredients and 12 grams of protein, RXBAR offers nine varieties of bars ranging from apple cinnamon to mint chocolate chip to pumpkin spice. The bars contain no gluten, soy, dairy or added sugar. Ingredients are listed on the front of the packaging, down to the number of dates, almonds and egg whites used per bar.
“When we think about our product philosophy, we wanted the highest value ingredients,” said Peter Rahal, co-founder and chief executive officer of RXBAR. “Each ingredient has to be relevant.”
At Natural Products Expo East, held Sept. 21-24 in Baltimore, RXBAR highlighted its latest addition, maple sea salt, made with dates, egg whites, pecans, cashews, sea salt and maple flavor.
“The team wanted to bring something that would really complement the portfolio and doesn’t fall under either chocolate or fruit,” Mr. Rahal told Food Business News. “We feel like maple sea salt adds incremental value to our offering.”
Formulating with simple ingredients has its challenges. For one, maintaining shelf life, specifically water activity, without the use of preservatives may be difficult, Mr. Rahal said. The company also is limited in terms of flavor innovation.
“Given that we have a really high ingredient standard, we can’t do cookies and cream or really desserty things,” he said. “What we can produce can be challenging at times. I would say the development process for us takes about a year from conception to market, and there’s a lot of trial and error.”
And sometimes certain flavors just don’t work out. As an example, the company attempted to make a vanilla almond protein bar.
“We just couldn’t get it out of the first round of the development phase, so that was four months kind of wasted, but the direction wasn’t there, so we cut it,” Mr. Rahal said. “And that’s a common thing. We have three people dedicated to R.&D. on our team, and that’s part of the territory. Trial and error is part of the game, but we learn a ton in the process.”
Looking ahead, RXBAR may expand into other product categories, but for now the brand is focused on flavor innovation and ingredient improvement within its existing lineup.
“We want to stay ahead of the trends,” Mr. Rahal said. “We would never do a ‘me, too’ type of product.”
Mr. Rahal shared three pieces of advice for emerging start-ups in the food industry.“One, you have to fill a need,” he said. “You can’t just make something; it has to have a home, and the need has to be clearly thought out. Two, it takes a ton of hard work. There are failures. I underestimated the amount of work that goes on with building a brand. So the second thing you need is tenacity. There are ups and downs emotionally and sacrifices you have to make. And the other thing is passion. If you don’t have passion backing all of this, you’re going to tap out.”