SAN DIEGO — Shopper interest in fresh snacking has accelerated in recent years, driving demand for refrigerated, ready-to-eat offerings positioned as premium and free from preservatives. A San Diego startup is tapping into the trend with a line of chilled oat bars inspired by muesli.

Marketed as a “fresh granola bar,” Mooski Snacks’ bars are coated in dark chocolate and formulated with organic oats, nut butter, almond flour, coconut oil and organic agave. Flavors include peanut butter banana, cookie dough and chocolate peanut crunch. The products are sold in coffee shops and specialty markets in California.

“We’re rolling out into Mother’s Market now and Bristol Farms shortly, part of a larger, focused push into bigger retailers in the Southwest market,” said Robert Broome, founder and chief executive officer. “We are in the late stages of finalizing a national launch for later this year.”

Prior to launching Mooski last April, Mr. Broome held innovation and marketing roles for prominent nutrition bar brands. He began his career at RXBAR, tasked with leading the development of a savory snack bar featuring chickpeas and lentils.

“I spent eight months every single day in the lab working with chickpeas and understanding how binder syrups work,” Mr. Broome recalled. “Honestly it gave me the foundation to learn how to create bars. I spent literally three months trying to figure out how to create a non-sweet binding system. It’s not easy… I was working 80 hours a week trying to figure out a binding system that would work with those flavors like Buffalo and chili lime. I learned so much about ingredients and sourcing ingredients and making bars.

“That was basically the root of generating my interest in bars. Mooski in many ways, it was, how can you create this granola bar without all the typical granola bar features like using a large amount of binder syrups and high sugar? That’s how I started thinking about this product.”

He began experimenting with the concept several years ago, initially aiming to create a bar based on overnight oats prior to landing on thicker and firmer Bircher muesli, a breakfast staple of his Swiss heritage.

 Eager to escape Chicago winters, he moved to California at the onset of the pandemic and joined Clio Snacks, the maker of coated Greek yogurt bars, as brand manager for nearly two years, gaining insight into the refrigerated bar segment.

“As I was working at Clio, I had this itch,” Mr. Broome said. “I knew I had to leave to (launch Mooski).”

He produced early batches of Mooski bars in a commercial kitchen, hand-dipping each bar in chocolate, prior to snagging used manufacturing equipment “at a heavily discounted rate” through an industry connection and splurging on a chocolate enrobing machine.

“Now we have a full-scale mini operation facility that we built out in four months,” Mr. Broome said. “From an (intellectual property) perspective, we can make the product we want to make. We have full control over it … there’s different concessions you have to make when going to a (contract manufacturer). Every single co-man I talked to said to use compound coating for the chocolate with palm oil … I was like, ‘No, I want to use a real chocolate coating.’”

He recruited a pair of RXBAR veterans to join his team. Stano Lio, a former food scientist at RXBAR, is research and development scientist. Chelsea Sherman, previously a supply chain manager at RXBAR, is head of finance and supply chain.

“We’re all bar people,” Mr. Broome said. “It is intentional in many ways because when you’re a startup you don’t have time, and being able to talk with and work with people you know or people that know the industry of bars, it saves so much time. We trust each other because we all know this very well.”

As Mooski Snacks enters its second year of business, the startup is planning to raise a seed round of funding and is assembling an advisory team “with awesome and very relevant industry experience,” Mr. Broome said. The brand exhibited at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif., March 7-11.

Future product development may “tap into the higher protein occasion,” Mr. Broome said, noting “being rooted in freshness, indulgence and oats are our brand and product guardrails.”

“I think if there’s one thing I’ve learned at RXBAR and Clio, it’s that a lot of brands try to add on too many (stock-keeping units) way too fast,” he said. “So, I’m trying to be conservative … use these three SKUs that have proven they are winners in this area and scale those nationally.”