BALTIMORE — Before launching the Epic brand of meat snacks, co-founders Taylor Collins and Katie Forrest were vegans.
“We had worked with a vegan brand, which is how we entered the natural product world,” Mr. Collins told Food Business News at Natural Products Expo East, held Sept. 16-19 in Baltimore. “We constantly had customers at demos who said, ‘Hey, I want a bar that’s high in protein, low in sugar, low in carbohydrates, but it has to be whole foods. I don’t want isolates.’ And we’d be like, ‘Okay, that’s called fresh steak.’”
The Austin, Texas-based husband-and-wife team debuted the brand’s flagship line of bars made with meat, fruit and nuts in 2013, including such varieties as beef habanero cherry and lamb currant mint. Today, Epic’s bison bacon cranberry bar is the second bestselling snack bar in the natural grocery category, Mr. Collins said.
“There’s only one Kind bar that outsells that bar in the entire natural grocery industry,” he said.
|Katie Forrest, co-founder of Epic
In its full first year of business, Epic had $6.8 million in sales. This year, the company projects sales of approximately $20 million. The gluten-free, soy-free bars are made with meat from grass-fed and pasture-raised animals. Epic’s products primarily are sold in natural grocers and sporting goods stores, with plans to expand next year into such conventional retailers as select Costco and Target markets.
In addition to the bar lineup, Epic offers Epic Bites, which combine animal muscle meat with spices, superfood seeds and fruit in such varieties as beef steak with cranberry and sriracha, and bison meat with uncured bacon, chia and raisins. Another product line, the Hunt & Harvest Mix, features grass-fed beef jerky with berries, nuts and seeds. Mr. Collins describes it as a “savory trail mix for the omnivore.”
At Expo East, Epic unveiled a new line of salad toppers, featuring two varieties of bacon bits and a variety of chicken bits.
“They were designed for salads but you can put them on sweet potatoes, throw them in your favorite trail mix, put them on ice cream, pan-fry them up with eggs,” Mr. Collins said. “We had Whole Foods specifically request this in our local hometown region in the southwest. They noticed there hasn’t been a lot of innovation in the salad aisle, so they asked us to do this, and we’re never going to say no, ever. Since then, four more regions have picked them up. We gave them a three-month exclusive.”
In an interview with Food Business News, Mr. Collins shared plans for the company and details of product development.
Food Business News: You and Katie own your company. Is the plan to remain private?
Mr. Collins: We own the company. We control it. We only have a handful of employees. It’s really special. We didn’t partner with a private equity group or a (venture capital) group. We are really thoughtful about who we partner with and who we take money with.
We’re just really selective. We want to make sure our partners are philosophically in line with us. It’s more about the big picture, changing the world, changing consumers’ eating habits and health. We did partner with Bill Weiland of Presence Marketing, which is a really big name in our industry, and Boulder Brands came in at a very small stake a year ago.
Do you see the Epic brand entering other categories?
Mr. Collins: Totally. We always want to be very innovative, finding opportunities to innovate in stale categories and creating really nutrient-rich foods. For us, it’s important that we use the entire animal, so you’ll see more of that going into new categories. We buy the entire animal, so, for example, these beautiful Berkshire heritage breed pastured pigs, a lot of their body weight is fat, so we’re starting to render their fat. We have the supplies. We’re working on lard and chicken schmaltz and beef tallow. It’s the original cooking oil. It’s what our grandparents used.
|Taylor Collins, co-founder of Epic
We have some other really cool things coming out with other ingredients that we’re launching in January. Those are top secret.
Tell me about the innovation process.
Mr. Collins: It’s just trial and error and experimenting and having fun being creative. I mean, we’ve made some really gross bars.
Can you tell me about those?
Mr. Collins: I was convinced that I could make a chocolate beef bar. And I’m still working (on it). We’ve done chocolate-covered bacon bars. So, maybe it didn’t work putting chocolate in the bar, but (I thought), what if we enrobe it with chocolate, like a really nice high quality dark chocolate? But we just can’t get it. It hasn’t worked yet. But it’s definitely our mission. It’d be cool to do a Halloween-themed bar.
It seems like more small brands are churning out seasonal or limited-edition products.
Mr. Collins: From a brand perspective, it’s something new, unique. Everyone on the team can get excited about it. It breaks up the monotony.For us, we have some seasonal ambitions that I think are really going to shake things up, like a reindeer bar for Christmas. Use your imagination, what happens with Easter and Thanksgiving. I eat a ton of Turduckens. We’re in a really special place that if we execute that well, that is next-level seasonal stuff.