By Chris Meehan | Aug 17, 2015
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City
When Coleman tried his first PROBAR sometime around 2002 it was in a giant package in a health food store in Park City, Utah -- "probably the worst packaging job you could imagine," he says.
He found out that a food coach he'd recently worked with was making them. Within in a couple of weeks of having his first bar, he'd bought out a partner's interest and started working to build the company into what it is now.
Coleman and the food guru co-founder initially had to go four separate locations to make and package the bars. Then they had to store them. "We had a closet across the hall in Skullcandy that we rented for $100 a month," Coleman says.
Now the company is nearly ubiquitous in grocery chains across the nation, and its bars are popping up in vending machines alongside the potato chips and chocolate bars. "A bunch of universities are using them in their athletics departments," Coleman asserts.
The company ultimately moved to Salt Lake City as it grew and moved to a new 35,000-square-foot facility in 2014. "We manufacture ourselves, which is really different than a lot of bar companies," he says.
Coleman asserts that lot of other health food bar companies use a contract manufacturer to make their goods. "Our stuff is blended but it's not baked. It has to be handled really sensitively to make sure it has a good shelf life and to really ensure great taste." However, its energy chews and protein bars use highly specialized equipment that PROBAR has chosen not to invest in thus far.
PROBAR became profitable three years after Coleman joined once the company's products were in Whole Foods and other health food stores. That was thanks largely to the efforts of Jules Lambert who joined the PROBAR team as a salesperson and took a multi-year RV trip with his family to evangelize the products.
"He got us in Wild Oats. Wild Oats got bought by Whole Foods and he was going into those stores and picking up accounts across the country," Coleman says and quips, "He went out with three kids and his wife . . . and came back with four kids."
Whole Foods remains a linchpin for the company, but it's also in REI, Sprouts, and thousands of smaller outdoor sporting goods stores across the U.S. "What's nice about our product is it goes great in a lot of different channels," Coleman explains. "Years ago, we would only be in health food stores or a health food section."
The company isn't resting. Coleman says they are looking at new products, improving flavors, and using SKU rationalization to make sure its products are meeting customers' tastes.
Coleman attributes part of the growth to taste and part of that to the nation's growing interest in healthier foods. "We're changing people's ideas about what good food can be," he says. "If it doesn't taste great, you'll never eat it."
Challenges: "Deciding which is the right place for us to go and with which product," Coleman says. "Continuing the search for better ways to deliver convenient and delicious healthy whole food choices."
Opportunities: "Much broader distribution in the next few months," Coleman says, adding he can't discuss details yet. "There will be some additional PROBAR products that will expand our opportunities."
Needs: Talent. "We're building out our team, there are always one or two spots we're advertising for," says Coleman. Utah's tight labor market makes it harder to find new employees, he adds.