E Pluribus Vegan

December 4, 2008
Daniel Schatzman

When chef Art Eggertsen sold his first nutrition bar in 1999, he was just one of many entrepreneurs competing for space in an already crowded marketplace. By the time he founded his company, Probar LLC (Park City, UT) in 2002, hundreds of new nutrition bars were hitting store shelves every year. To succeed, the bar needed to stand out from the crowd.

Probar did so by playing up its differences. While other companies touted their use of various nutraceutical ingredients, such as soy or whey protein, herbs, and vitamins, Probar took a different tack, emphasizing instead the whole-food character of its bars, which also happen to be organic, raw, and 100% vegan.

The strategy paid off. Probar doubled its sales during every month of the year in 2007 and earned top awards from four different retail publications in 2008, according to Eggertsen.

Despite the company's reliance on vegan ingredients, its bars aren't niche products. "The target consumer for Probar is anyone who needs more whole-food nutrition and anyone having difficulty finding time to stop for a meal," Eggertsen says, claiming that "travelers, business professionals, law enforcement officers, firefighters, athletes, students, soccer moms, construction workers, kids, teenagers, and grandparents are all fans of the Probar."

Communicating how the bars are made is a key part of Probar's marketing strategy. The company highlights its materials-selection process as well as its environmental commitment. "We do not compromise when it comes to our ingredients," Eggertsen says. "We support the sustainability movement and source all that we can from independent, domestic, organic, and sustainable producers."

For instance, the company uses well-known certified-organic sources such as Sambazon (San Clemente, CA) for its acai powder and Manitoba Harvest (Winnipeg, MB, Canada) for its hemp ingredients.

"Our ingredient selection is based on quality organics," Eggert­sen says. Probar's whole-food theme also explains its decision to avoid the use of many common ingredients, a decision that may seem counterintuitive to many manufacturers.

"The protein sources in the Probar are all whole-food sources: nuts, seeds, whole rolled grains, and nut butters," Eggertsen says. "Soy and other protein isolates are used by the industry primarily as fillers. They cost pennies per pound and supply very little nutrient value. Americans grossly overconsume protein, and we won't support or promote this just to make a buck."

While the whole-food sources impart protein to the bars, they also impart something else: fat. The bars are relatively high in fat and calories. However, the fats are healthy fats that are necessary for a good diet, Eggertsen says.

"As a functional meal replacement, the Probar supplies approximately one-third of the daily requirements for a broad spectrum of fats, including critical omega-3 EFAs and medium-chain saturates," Eggertsen explains. "The body cannot function properly without all of these important lipids, and when we have a deficit, we crave fatty foods and become vulnerable to unhealthy, convenient food choices."

The Probar's selective use of raw, vegan ingredients also turned out to be a manufacturing asset rather than a liability, Eggertsen adds. While processed ingredients convey many advantages to manufacturers, the Probar's whole-food, plant-based contents may offer other benefits.

Eggertsen, who has 14 years of experience as a vegan chef, says that because plant-based ingredients often lack the microbiology associated with animal-derived foods, they make it easier to manufacture bars without using extreme heat or chemical additives.

"In almost every case, it is actually easier to use plant-based ingredients," Eggertsen says.