The Journey of Launching a Consumer Brand

SANS Meal Bar is now live!

In the final post of our blog series leading up to our official launch at SANS Meal Bar, I wanted to spend a few moments sharing some key milestones about the personal journey I’ve encountered to date in the founding SANS. This has been a 15-month journey filled with many ups and downs. However, I can speak for our entire team that we never wavered from our true north — we set out to create a pure, all-natural product that would make it easy and enjoyable to eat healthy and we believe we have succeeded.

Today, I am so incredibly honored and humbled to announce that we have officially “turned the lights on” and we are now accepting orders at www.sansmealbar.com. Our goal is to make it easier for you to eat healthy — we hope that you will give us a try!

The Idea

It was not until just a few years ago that I really became aware of the havoc that the “Western diet” has been wreaking upon our society over the last 50 years. During this time span, the ratio of American adults who are obese has risen from 1 in 8 in 1968 to 1 in 3 today. Our declining health has been fueled by the modern food industry, which has largely been providing food options to the masses that (1) are highly processed and (2) include a high dose of added sugar.

In the summer of 2017, motivated by the problem of the western diet and by the giving model pioneered by Blake Mycoskie at TOMS, I had the following thought pop into my head:

“What if we could come up with a delicious, well-balanced meal that makes it super simple for people to eat healthy. And for every package we sell, we can give a meal to someone in need.”

I had become much more focused on my diet after my crash course in nutrition a few years prior. It became clearer to me how dissatisfied I was as a consumer with the options that were currently available for eating a great tasting, enjoyable meal on the go. I wanted a product that allowed me the luxury of not having to think about what to eat — I just wanted to eat real food, real fast with no hassle. I realized that there was not a product on the market that had the nutrition profile of a meal replacement that also offered the critical components of (1) 0g added sugar; (2) simple, all-natural ingredients that can be seen and pronounced; and (3) no soy, dairy, gluten, or GMOs.

I began talking about my idea with two of my close friends, Mark and Julie Martin. Mark and Julie are a married couple who are extremely educated about wellness and nutrition, whose advice regarding all areas of nutrition I had coveted since my own awakening. Mark and Julie saw the same thing I saw — a total lack of product leadership in the meal replacement category.

I spent the next month independently researching the meal replacement, nut bar, protein bar and energy bar markets and became completely convinced that there was a massive opportunity to meet unmet consumer needs. In August of 2017, I made the decision to create a delicious meal replacement bar with clean ingredients, with Mark and Julie acting as my Advisory Board to help me develop our products (which they agreed to do).

I was also excited to start a venture that could help combat the problem of global hunger given that there are over 800 million people in the world today who don’t have enough food to live a healthy, active life.

Product Development

We hit the lottery. Mark and Julie connected me with someone who had experience developing food products for a few brands that were doing some pretty cool things in the space. Over the course of the next year, we would meet with our recipe developer on a weekly basis to brainstorm, tinker, re-formulate, repeat. We provided her a “rule set” of what we wanted the nutritional profile of our products to be and a list of nutrient-dense ingredients we wanted to utilize.

In May of 2018, after considering feedback on the beta products and tinkering with our formulas, we conducted a 3rd party product test. We learned a lot from this test — most notably that we were really on to something and that individuals that participated in our research resonated with the need for an easy, great-tasting meal replacement.

After the completion of our Phase 2 test, we completed more re-formulations and I began our search for a “co-packer” — the place where our products would ultimately be made and packaged for commercial sale. This was another long and exhausting process. Probably 80% of the co-packers in the industry were immediately eliminated because as a bootstrapped startup, we could not meet their volume requirements. We ended up selecting a co-packer who has become very close to us and is working with us in a partnership capacity, which was the most important thing for me. I needed to work with a group who understood our clean label vision and could commit to working with us. This was a different product than anything most co-packers had ever made before, and we were unwilling to compromise when it came to the nutritional integrity of our products.

Bringing on a Co-Founder

Read any book about startups, and most all of them will tell you that the most important ingredient for success is your people. I knew that our team, and how they would fit within the culture I wanted to eventually build for my new venture, would be paramount to any future success I dreamed of having.

For me, this decision was actually really easy and probably the least stressful of any decision that would have a meaningful impact on the business in its early days. My vision was to execute a direct-to-consumer strategy like many had before us, such as Warby Parker, Hubble, Harry’s and AWAY. I not only wanted to create a meaningfully differentiated product from a taste and nutritional standpoint, but I also wanted to provide a product that saves consumers time and money. The vision was always to create a model where we deliver our products to your door for under $3.00 per meal.

I met Corey Caffrey in 2006 when Corey came to work at an investment bank that I was currently working at. Corey and I were analysts — bottom of the totem pole, grinders — working long hours and as such, spent a lot of time together and got to know each other very well. Corey and I stopped working together when I moved to Chicago to take a job at a private equity firm, but we continued to stay in touch and remained close over the years.

Upon leaving investment banking, Corey’s career migrated to advertising, where he was most previously Head of West Coast Digital Partnerships & Innovation at LiveNation. Corey’s background, from a technical and execution standpoint, was perfect for what I needed if we were to execute a direct-to-consumer strategy. I needed senior leadership from someone I trusted who could execute my idea and vision and tell our story in a modern and relevant way.

On April 1, 2018 Corey joined SANS full-time as Co-Founder & Chief Marketing Officer. For one, Corey has helped make this journey much less lonely and two, has been an excellent partner who challenges me and helps me continue to refine our overall strategy and vision.

Branding & Packaging Design

Having Corey on board was a huge asset as we began the process of trying to take my vision and implement a brand identity. As a new brand competing in the very crowded consumer packaging industry, we were very focused on trying to create differentiated packaging and design elements that would speak well to our initial targeted customer base.

We were able to bring on-board a close friend of Corey’s who is an incredibly talented designer to help us with these efforts. Over a process of about eight months, we worked closely with our designer to develop our brand name, logo and packaging design. As someone that does not come from a creative background, this entire process was a huge learning opportunity for me, and I loved every minute of it. It is a really cool thing to be able to appreciate how talented other people are in areas that you yourself know very little about. Being a part of a team that created a packaged product implementing the identify of an entirely new brand was thrilling. Something about a new product makes starting a company so tangible in a way that doesn’t exist for service businesses. We can’t wait to create new flavors and product lines!

The Home Stretch

After about six or seven test runs at our co-packer, several iterations of film samples for our wrappers and many laboratory tests to ensure the safety of our products, we were ready for to make our products and begin to offer our creation to the masses! It was a special feeling, seeing our products being wrapped in the package that we meticulously designed to tell our story.

After laying out the framework for the website by hand in Corey’s basement back in May, we were able to go live with our website on November 20, offering specially priced pre-orders to those who had signed up for early access on our landing page.

For me personally, it is a special feeling to begin sharing our products with consumers and helping busy people all around the country eat healthy. We will begin our life-giving social mission in Haiti in December, which will be funded by our meal bar sales here in the United States. Follow us on Instagram @sansmealbar or check us out on the web to learn more! (www.sansmealbar.com).