If your New Year’s resolutions included getting in shape and eating better, these three energy bars — all with a San Luis Obispo County connection — may be able to help keep you on track. Locations and ordering information can be found on their websites: benefitfoods.com, bigsurbar.com and vegthisway.com.
Benefit Foods’ VBars
When Amanda Gerard found herself traveling a lot for work, she quickly became frustrated at the lack of healthy food available for people on the go, especially those like herself who can’t — or just don’t want to — eat refined sugar.
As a solution, she decided to just make her own — using such ingredients as nuts, fruits and carob to make nutritious, easy-to-pack bars that were also vegan and gluten-free.
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Fast forward to 2012, when Gerard was between jobs and “found myself sitting at the breakfast table wondering what I was going to do.” A family member suggested she try selling her snack bars, and both VBars and their parent company, Benefit Foods, were born.
“I finalized the recipes and got the packaging together in a couple of weeks,” Gerard recalled. With the encouragement of locals, including a boost from the San Luis Obispo chapter of Slow Money (an entrepreneurial group that invests in local food and drink startups), she started selling her VBars at various farmers markets, where the product quickly gained a following.
“It’s really fun to share my story at the markets,” Gerard said. “They’re really important to me, and I’m hoping to add more of them.” The retail aspect of VBars is also gaining ground, and you can find them at several local stores and delis. In addition, VBars will soon be on the shelves at some select Whole Foods, and Gerard is looking for interested investors to help get her Benefit Foods products out to an even wider audience.
Currently, there are six vegan, gluten-free VBar flavors: almond/fig/carob, almond/blueberry, almond/chip, almond/cherry, sunflower/cashew and sunflower/ginger.
All are still made locally, and Gerard is adamant about maintaining a clean and transparent ingredient list, both for her own principles and because “everyone should care about what they’re putting in their body!”
Big Sur Bars
“Big Sur Bars are like the coastline itself: rugged, but delicious,” said Ulli Richards, who bought the bar business with husband Jeff Richards about eight years ago.
Originally created and crafted in Cambria, the three flavors of bars — original, Blind Date and Orange Zest — are made at a facility in Northern California. (There’s no local production facility currently available that could meet the volume demands.)
However, even though the bars themselves are no longer local, the Richardses — who are Morro Bay residents — do make it a point to source as many ingredients as possible first from California, and then from the U.S.
“That’s really key for us,” said Richards, “and we’re using the highest quality ingredients we can find — no artificial colors, preservatives or GMOs.”
As such, the optimum shelf life for Big Sur Bars is only about a week, so store them in the freezer if you aren’t going to eat them right away.
VegThisWay’s Rawr Bars
The brainchild of Cal Poly food science students, a Rawr Bar is a fruit-and-vegetable leather. The resulting thinness makes them easy to pack, they’re gluten-free and vegan with no added sugar or preservatives, and the playful packaging appeals to the younger set.
Current flavors are Super Sweet Potato, Beet-A-Peel and Very Berry Kale.
Rawr Bars are now produced in Hayward, but VegThisWay is still in the hands of Cal Poly grads: two food science majors, Sabrina Muttillo and Kaitlin Munoz, and Kate Mecozzi, who studied business entrepreneurship.
“Although we have moved, San Luis Obispo remains a special place in our heart,” said Mecozzi, adding that the trio is often in town distributing or demoing their products.