The 700-calorie meal bar created by Range founder Zach Hein is a direct result of his love of epic backcountry adventures and his affinity for large volumes of food.
As an engineering student at Montana State University, he admits he used to eat a lot. “Dozen egg omelets, multiple chicken breasts with a ridiculous amount of rice for lunch…I was quite the spectacle in the food hall,” he laughed.
But when he found himself in the kitchen at 4 am before an early climbing trip or backcountry ski mission, PB&Js and bananas simply weren’t enough, and he struggled to prepare enough sustenance for his long day ahead.
“It’s kind of a feat to put together that much food that doesn’t make a mess,” he said. “And, Clif Bars are expensive and aren’t really designed to eat in excess.”
Being an engineer who likes solving problems, he set out to make something better, healthier, and in his words, something massive.
Zach, who proudly won a school food competition in 6th grade (with a recipe that utilized ample peanut butter, no less), has always felt comfortable in the kitchen. “I always enjoyed being in the kitchen. I like to eat fairly healthy, and it was also just partially pragmatic to cook for myself through school.”
In order to formulate a meal bar that would meet his nutritional needs, he spent a winter schlepping home ingredients on his bike — grocery bags dangling from his handlebars while his headlamp lit up the snowy path in front of him.
“I mixed it all by hand, used a Pyrex cake pan, some wax paper, and called it a day,” he said of his early meal bar prototypes.
Over the course of that school year, he experimented with different ingredients and tweaked ratios to achieve a good consistency and tasty flavor. In no time, friends started asking “Where’d you buy that?”
Shortly after Zach graduated and relocated back to his home state of Washington, he put the steps in motion to create Range and make his meal bars the real deal. He even took a local course in food innovation that helped him fine tune his recipe and dial in measurements, ultimately formulating a shelf stable, marketable, and appetizing product.
Finally, just this year, Range’s flagship Alpine Start Meal Bar was released and is full of nothing but the good stuff: oats, chia and flax seeds, walnuts, cocoa powder, dark chocolate, cinnamon, brown rice cereal, peanut butter, organic coffee, and honey.
“The proof is in the pudding,” Zach said of how Range stands out in this crowded market.
“It’s easy on the jaw, appetizing, and priced well.” Equally as important, he’s proud of the bar’s high-quality, nearly 100% organic ingredients. “You’re hard pressed to find a bar without brown rice syrup. I feel better using honey than rice that’s broken down by an enzyme.”
Additionally, the product’s deliberate caloric and physical weight adds to its uniqueness. “It’s shamelessly ridiculous,” he said of the bar’s heft. “That’s the whole point!”
Zach agreed the bars really aren’t intended for the casual three-mile hike. “It serves a niche market who look at it and wish it was twice as big,” he joked. “There is a portion of the population that wants that and can’t find it.”
“If I find the right group that sees a 700-calorie bar made with quality ingredients as a plus, I don’t have to do much talking. The marketing does itself once you find the right people.”
While the product development, packaging, and legal stuff is all in Zach’s wheelhouse, he admits the sales and marketing is not. “I find building the brand very fun, but I’m starting from nothing,” he said.
“I’ve enjoyed the process of learning social media strategies, cold calling, and building partnerships, but that’s certainly the side that took the most effort,” he said.
There are big plans for the brand to expand its product line and flavor selection in the coming year, including a peanut-free variety.
One meal bar at a time, Zach’s efforts are paying off. Hearing from happy customers never gets old.
“These are random strangers I never would have interacted with, and I was a part of their experience — and a positive experience! I don’t see the buzz of that going away anytime soon.”