By Lorrie Baumann
Fueled by an $8 million round of capital in 2017 and this year’s launch of a new product line at Natural Products Expo West, Bobo’s is poised to break into the national mainstream with its range of oat bars, bites and, now, toaster pastries that offer solid nutrition as well as taste and texture that appeal to the entire family. Last year’s capital infusion paid for an expansion of the Boulder, Colorado, company’s capacity, resulting in top-line revenue growth of almost 70 percent in 2017 and an increase in the number of salaried employees to 29, says CEO T.J. McIntyre, who joined the company in 2016.
Bobo’s was started in Boulder in 2003 by Beryl Stafford, a mom who named the company after her daughter Bobo. She started by making a batch of oat bars – soft oatmeal cookies in bar form – in her home kitchen over a weekend. They turned out well, and she started selling them to local cafes and then to Whole Foods. A few years later, she was baking her oat bars in a commercial bakery and selling them in supermarkets, and potential investors came calling.
Today, the company is still baking all of its products in its Boulder bakery and has completed a re-branding and the strategic work to establish a new foundation, and it’s ready for launch into the national mainstream market. The product range includes 15 flavors of oat bars, individually packaged 3-ounce bars that work as both breakfast and afternoon snacks. “It’s so simple that any of our consumers could make it at home, yet we do an incredible job of producing a bar that tastes homemade,” McIntyre said. “We’re the only bar in the category that has a home-baked aroma when you open it.”
Bobo’s consumers enjoy the bars for their flavor first and for functionality second, and the bars bring a sense of freshness to the center of the store, which many consumers regard as a plethora of processed products, McIntyre added. “We are far and away the least-processed bar in the market.”
Bobo’s research indicates that about 50 percent of them are consumed for breakfast, with the rest of them consumed as snacks at scattered times throughout the day. “When our bars are purchased and brought into the house, it’s the whole family that eats them,” McIntyre said.
The Bars line has been extended with new STUFF’D bars. The four STUFF’D bars are currently offered in Peanut Butter Filled, Peanut Butter Filled Chocolate Chip, Coconut Almond Butter Filled and Chocolate Almond Butter Filled varieties. The 2.5-ounce bars are packaged for individual sale. They offer 5 to 7 grams of protein, depending on the variety, and carry the Non GMO Project Verified seal on the front of the package.
Bobo’s Bites are oat mini-muffins offered in seven flavors: Original, Coconut, Maple Pecan, Lemon Poppyseed, Apple Pie, PB&J and Gingerbread. Packaged with five Bites per package, each Bite is one serving that offers 160 calories and 2 to 3 grams of protein.
The new Bobo’s TOAST’R is a Bobo’s oat bar turned into a toaster pastry with the addition of ancient grains and a filling of either fruit or nut butter for what McIntyre says is the least-processed toaster pastry on the market today. Packaged for sale as singles and currently offered in four varieties — two with fruit and two with nut butter fillings — the 2.5-ounce pastry is just a little smaller than the 3-ounce Bobo’s Bar and retails for $2.49. “We’ve made an incredibly high-quality toaster pastry,” McIntyre said. “A cup of coffee or another beverage with one of these, and you’re probably good until lunch.”
By Lorrie Baumann
It’s not often that a story about a food product for the American market begins with an ancient Greek philosopher, but this one does. That’s because a Greek philosopher, Theophrastus, who lived between 371 and 287 B.C. wrote a book in which he told us how the Greeks propagated olives. Which means that the Greeks have been taking olives seriously as a food crop for at least that long. That’s important today because a new entrant into the olive category, Alive & Well Olives, have introduced olives into the American market using the same traditional methods that might have been observed by Theophrastus.
Unlike other olives on supermarket shelves or in olive bars today, Alive & Well Olives are naturally-cured by lacto-fermentation, the same process that turns cabbage into sauerkraut and milk into cheese. As a result, Alive & Well Olives contain natural probiotic lactobacillus cultures that remain active in the olive flesh and in the brine. “There is something new under the sun, even if it’s something that existed a thousand years ago,” says Greg Leonard, a Founding Partner of Alive & Well Olives who’s intent on livening up a category that even he is used to thinking of as totally mature. Ancient, even.
Leonard and four other partners started the company two years ago with the idea that they wanted to bring a product to market that would fit with the values they’d espoused through their careers in the natural products industry. Leonard himself spent over 40 years as a senior executive for Tree of Life, a natural and specialty foods distributor that’s now part of KeHE. “I certainly understand the challenges of going to market and enjoy navigating that path thoughtfully and in a collaborative way with retailers to get to the consumer,” he says. “If you had asked me three years ago when this notion of developing a branded product line came up in conversation, olives probably wouldn’t have made the list…. What we quickly came to realize was how little we – or most people who enjoy Mediterranean food – really understood about how virtually all olives today are grown and processed. Our ‘aha moment’ was the realization that … in the 50s and 60s, the traditional growing and processing techniques were replaced by chemical-based processes designed to speed time-to-shelf and extend shelf life.” Most commercially produced olives found on grocery shelves or in olive bars are pasteurized and often lye-cured to accelerate the fermentation process, according to Leonard. Black olives are either dyed using ferrous gluconate or subjected to rapid cures that are accelerated through artificial means. “Speeding up the process reduces the cost and the curing time to weeks instead of the months required by natural fermentation,” Leonard says.
Alive & Well Olives are grown in Greece on small family farms and village farming cooperatives. The olives stay under the care of the same group of growers throughout the curing process until they’re packed. In contrast to commercially produced olives, Alive & Well Olives are organically and sustainably grown, non-GMO verified, harvested by hand, naturally fermented and probiotic, and authentic and traceable back to the groves in which each olive variety is grown. Alive & Well Olives are packaged in the original mother brine in which they were cured. “The mother brine itself is loaded with probiotics and can be used in salad dressings, or in pasta dishes. It adds a nice, round olive flavor to the dish, and you’re getting those additional health benefits that come with the probiotics in the mother brine,” Leonard says. “To a large degree, it was the fact that these olives had such a robust story and long list of on-trend benefits that caused our team, Legacy III Partners, to go into this particular product category.”
In contrast with most of those other olives, Alive & Well Olives still have the pits in them, which improves their flavor and prevents the tissue damage to the olives that occurs when the pits are removed. Alive & Well Olives, packaged in glass jars, are sold in the fermented foods section of the refrigerator case. They’re offered in six varieties: Kalamata, which offers pungent earthy aromas and the supple nutty accents of the classic Kalamata flavor; Chalkidiki, a firm green olive with crispy, savory and peppery notes that pairs well with sweet accompaniments; Atalanti, which has a complex balance of sweet and savory flavors; Green Rovies, with a rich and buttery flavor with a long finish and a bitter aftertaste; Black Rovies, which offer subtle flavors of peach and pear and end with acidic and balsamic notes that balance out the richness; and Green Mix, which includes a blend of Kalamata, Atalanti, Chalkidiki and Green Rovies. The company guarantees a minimum of six months of shelf life from delivery to retail.
By Robin Mather
For Marshall Rader, a 2009 diagnosis of celiac disease meant more than the usual headaches as he tried to eat gluten-free while on the road.
“I could be going anywhere from two days to two weeks abroad,” he says. “The gluten-free market was in the Stone Age in that time. Finally, I found an acceptable gluten-free bar and used them to subsist while I was on the road. I was eating about four bars a day, and one day, I thought, ‘I can do better than this.’ I was wanting to use better ingredients.”
So Marshall, now the CEO of The GFB: The Gluten-Free Bar, persuaded his brother, Elliott, to join him as the Vice-President of Marketing in the company, founded about seven years ago in Grand Rapids, Michigan. One of its newest products is the Power Breakfast bar, a higher protein oatmeal product “in a cool new package,” Marshall says. Its suggested retail price is $2.19 to $2.79.
The company’s other bars have suggested retail prices ranging from $1.99 to $2.49, and its Bites line, in larger packaging, has suggested retail prices of $4.99 to $5.49.
“My dad, when I got home and told him about the diagnosis, said, ‘that’s not real.’ Finally, after several years, he was tested and he has celiac disease, too. He’d been medicating for 40 years for skin issues, and once he stopped eating gluten, his skin issues cleared immediately. So there are four of us in the family, and only one of us can eat gluten.”
Elliott himself also was subsequently diagnosed with celiac disease, Marshall says, so the brothers have a special commitment to making a superior product.
“Our ingredients are super simple,” Marshall says. “You could go to the local grocery store and buy all the ingredients to make something very similar. We have all the goodness of homemade, and save you the trouble of making them yourself.”
Marshall is proud of the quality ingredients used in the GFB, he says. “We use vegan proteins, and high quality ingredients. Our almond butter is only almonds, for example. Our chocolate chips are premium, dairy-free dark chocolate.”
He’s also proud of “some great sourcing stories,” he says. “We work with Caro Nuts to source cashews from Africa, where they’re picked and processed on-site by disadvantaged women. We feel really good about using them.”
Caro Nuts, a division of Candor Ag, works with small farmers around the world to help them market their crops. The company also markets small farmers’ artichoke hearts under its Cynara division and small growers’ olive oil under its Bellucci division.
The GFB is a certified B Corporation, too, Marshall says, so “we’re around to make great products and do some good in the world. Even if it costs a bit more, we’re doing good.”
The GFB’s products are manufactured in Grand Rapids, Marshall says, and employs about 45 people. “We’re also a little bit unusual in that we don’t outsource the manufacturing of our products,” he says. “We own our own manufacturing facility.”
The future looks bright for The GFB, Marshall says.
“We have big goals — we’re an emerging national brand,” he says. “We’re already in about 9,000 stores in the United States and Canada, so we’re planning to continue to grow our customer base by making the best gluten-free snacks. We have a lot of innovation coming — exciting new flavors coming down the line for our bar line, and expanding our breakfast line this year.”
Turning a health liability into a positive asset, both as a business and as a positive force in the world, seems to be Marshall’s strong suit.