Epic Provisions is launching its first performance bar, and it lacks the ingredient the brand is most known for — meat.
Epic, based in Austin, Texas, and owned by General Mills, is now selling four varieties of the protein-rich bars that are each made from just six ingredients, including egg whites, dates and nuts.
Epic began selling the bars online last month and General Mills quickly ramped up distribution. Last week, the bars debuted at Target stores nationwide.
Epic expects the new, all non-GMO bars to attract consumers who may not be drawn to its other meat-centric offerings. The new bars were designed for high-intensity athletes who may need quick access to energy, but also caters to "clean-label" consumers seeking fewer — and high-quality — ingredients.
Since its inception in 2013, Epic has been focused on the intersection between food, nutrition, the environment and animal welfare. Husband and wife co-founders Taylor Collins and Katie Forrest converted from their vegan lifestyle to become meat eaters by sourcing ingredients from ranchers and farmers who raised their livestock in a way that the couple felt good about.
This led to Epic Provisions' first product, the bison bar. The brand, which Golden Valley-based General Mills bought in 2016, has since expanded to a number of meat-based items, like bone broths and pork rinds. Collins said they have always considered Epic an "animal superfoods" brand with a focus on optimizing human health and wellness, whether someone is sedentary or a competitive endurance athlete, like him and Forrest.
The "egg bar," as Collins calls it, was inspired by the couple's traditional morning meal of bacon and eggs. They already had the bacon in products, but not the eggs. At first it seemed like a dead-end idea.
"Initially we thought it wasn't possible because there wasn't an available supply chain that met our standards," Collins said.
Epic is known for its focus on the animals used to make its food, both in how they were treated and how their rearing affected the land and natural resources. The company built relationships with 10 large-scale hen farms in the Midwest to convert their operations from conventional to cage-free systems, and changed the birds' diet to non-GMO feed, through long-term buying commitments.
Cage-free is a USDA standard that means the egg-laying hens aren't raised in cages. For those concerned about animal welfare, it's a start but is not considered the highest level.
"It could be better, but we wanted to get a product out to the market," Collins said.
Eventually, he said, Epic wants all its egg producers to meet pasture-raised standards, which give the birds access to the outdoors.
RXBar, owned by Kellogg, is similar to Epic's new performance bar, including the large, bold ingredient list on the wrapper.
Epic differentiates itself by claiming to be the only "widely available fruit- and nut-based egg bar made with cage-free egg whites on the market."
Epic is one of several fast-growing food companies that General Mills has purchased in recent years in an attempt to jump-start its own lagging sales. Larabar, also owned by General Mills, makes snack bars from dates, nuts and fruits, but not eggs.
General Mills has a reputation in the food industry for buying startup brands in the natural and organic space and allowing them to preserve their headquarters, culture and food ethics.
This product launch was a bit unusual, Collins said, for the speed at which the idea was taken to market and the high level of support it received from General Mills' teams in Minneapolis.
"The timeline was unbelievable, and they accepted the challenge of doing things in a way that we would've done at Epic as a small business," Collins said.
Epic took advantage of General Mills' sourcing of dates — the main ingredient in Larabar products — and other nuts, as well as its R & D, sales team and relationships with large national retailers.
"This is really the first Epic product that we've ever been able to turn on through the larger Mills organization," Collins said. "It's been pretty cool to see some major wins with [retail] accounts we haven't traditionally had much success with."