Fort Collins, Colorado
Husband-and-wife co-founders Shauna and Todd Sledge are actively searching for investors to take their energy bar international.
Among the kettlebell-swinging, box-jumping, tire-flipping CrossFit crowd, Paleo Diet Foods is kind of a big deal -- and not only because of their whimsical mascot, Carl the Caveman, who rides a Paleolithic bicycle and does handstand push-ups on their product packaging. Rather, their growing fame is due to a duo of factors: their commitment to high-quality nutrition and the fact that their product, The Paleo Diet Bar, is the only energy bar on the market endorsed by Dr. Loren Cordain, founder of the Paleo movement.
A wholly raw product, each bar is comprised of equal parts carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats. The ingredients are simple: fruits, nuts, seeds, berries, egg white protein and hemp protein. Both varieties, Cinnamon Raisin and Cranberry Almond, are gluten, grain, soy, dairy, and preservative free.
"We have two new flavors ready to go," says Shauna, who manages the day-to-day operations at Paleo Diet Foods while Todd works in real estate. "We've done the R&D but we need to raise capital to launch those. One will be a cherry walnut and the other will be strawberry pear. They should be available in the next four to six months."
The couple outsources manufacturing of their product to Betty Lou's Inc., an Oregon-based specialty food manufacturer, co-packer, and private labeler. "Because we're certified gluten-free, they produce our bars in a dedicated gluten-free facility," Shauna says. "We also chose Betty Lou's because they have a great reputation, can get the ingredients we need, and offer scalability. We started small but knew we would grow and wanted a manufacturer who could keep up with our production."
Paleo Diet Foods produced 232,000 energy bars in 2014 before leaping to 370,000 in 2015. "We are expecting to produce between 700,000 and 800,000 this year," Shauna adds.
In addition to CrossFitters, the company's market includes natural foods fans and consumers who follow lactose- and gluten-free diets. They're planning to target outdoor adventurers this year as well. "Our new packaging will have Carl the Caveman trail running and hiking," explains Shauna. "The bar is durable. It doesn't melt or get too hard. It doesn't break down in the packaging, so you can take it with you anywhere, making it perfect for the outdoors."
The Paleo Diet Bars are currently available in Southern California Whole Foods stores, Natural Grocers and Vitamin Cottage establishments nationwide, as well as 500 independent grocery stores around the country. Consumers can also buy the product direct from Paleo Diet Foods online or on Amazon. "We have a verbal commitment from CVS stores as well," says Todd. "They are planning to feature us in a special Paleo section in 980 stores in March."
Challenges: "Money is the biggest thing right now," Todd says. "We just need to raise capital. It's so expensive to grow a brand and we've been pretty much self-funded thus far. Now we need to find an investor who can help us grow and take advantage of some of the opportunities that have been presented to us."
"We're actively looking for local finance help as well as reaching out to venture capital and consulting groups," adds Shauna.
Opportunities: "Paleo is growing in popularity," Todd says. "And we can capitalize on that opportunity if we get the capital we need to meet the demand. Right now, there are people all over the world who want to import our bars."
"We've been taken on by an international distributer, but we're still working on making our packing bilingual," says Shauna. "We're going to be meeting with some buyers at Expo West, a big food industry trade show, to help solidify some of those contracts."
Needs: "We'd love to find an industry expert who wants to invest," Shauna says. Todd agrees. "We've been at this for a couple of years, but we're certainly not experts in the food industry. It would be great to have some guidance and advice about where to go and how fast to build and all the pieces and parts that go along with that."