I made over 100,000 protein bars over the course of more than two years while getting my business off the ground. Since I couldn’t afford to pay anyone for help, I didn’t have much of a life, slept on a cot, showered at the YMCA, and just made protein bars every day.
As the business continued to grow, I just kept making more and more bars. After a couple years of doing that, I maxed myself out and made the committed leap of faith from handmade to manufacturing.
From sourcing manufacturing equipment, preparing to use it, screwing everything up, learning how to use the equipment properly, refining and fixing recipes, to finally running smoothly, that whole process and transition took about another 12 months.
Here’s how I made my protein bars and got the business off the ground.
If you look at the ingredient list on a Macaw! Bar, you’ll see that “organic date paste” is one of the main ingredients. Now we buy pallets of the stuff and it comes stacked in 40lb boxes with a certificate of analysis. But that wasn’t always the case. In fact, I didn’t even know date paste was a commercially available product when I first started making protein bars back in 2014. Until I figured this out, I had to make my own date paste.
I would go to Costco and buy shopping carts full of dates and manually remove the pit from each individual date. I made approximately 30,000 protein bars this way, before discovering “prepackaged date paste”. Ugh.
That discovery sure saved me some time, but I still went on to make over 100,000 protein bars with a pizza cutter and a rolling pin. I’d make them in batches of 12 and manually package each of them into a polypropylene pouch which I’d manually label front and back with the flavor and ingredients.
In the grand scheme of getting my protein bar business started, here’s what an average day would look like. Also, my 1992 Nissan Sentra was stuck in 1st gear so all of my commuting times were limited to a maximum speed of 24mph.
1.) Picking up Ingredients
Because my car was stuck in 1st gear, this process would usually take me about 4 – 5 hours from the time I left my facility to the time I returned with everything I needed.
- Drive approximately 7 miles from my facility to Costco.
- Fill my shopping cart with 2lb containers of dates. (At the same time, inspecting each container to make sure the dates are not over or under ripe. They have to be just right.)
- If I couldn’t get enough dates from the first Costco, I’d have to drive another 11 miles to another Costco to get more.
- With a trunk full of dates, I could now head 12 miles back to my facility, picking up all remaining ingredients and miscellaneous supplies on the way.
- Unload everything from my car.
2.) Mixing the Ingredients
- Prep my work space.
- Put on gloves and start pitting dates. Lots of dates.
- Meticulously peel paper lids off jars of cashew butter or almond butter.
- Combine ingredients and follow recipe to make a large batch of protein bar mixture – approximately 15lbs.
3.) Weighing the Ingredients
My protein bar mold was designed to form 12 protein bars @ 55g’s each. So I would take the 15lb batch of protein bars that I made and break it down into individual 660g portions (12 protein bars).
4.) Rolling & Cutting Protein Bars
This is where the actual protein bars are formed into the final product by compressing the 660g portions into the bar mold and then cutting them.
- Cover the opening of the protein bar mold with a sheet of parchment paper.
- Dump one of the 660g portions of mix into the bar mold.
- Spread out the mixture evenly with your hands.
- Fully compress the protein bar mixture into the mold with a rolling pin. Creating a “slab”.
- Cut the slab into individual protein bars using a pizza cutter, kitchen knife, and plastic template.
- Three cuts with pizza cutter, running lengthwise from bottom of the slab to the top.
- Lift the parchment paper and cut slab out of the bar mold.
- Now two more cuts with kitchen knife from left to right to create 12 individual bars.
- With the kitchen knife, finish cutting through the slab at the edge of each individual cut mark (the round pizza cutter isn’t able to cut through the edges of the slab when it’s still in the bar mold.).
- Repeat steps 1 – 5 based on however many batches you’re making. (300 bars = 25x).
5.) Labeling & Packaging the Protein Bars
Making over 100,000 protein bars by hand is a lot of work. But packaging and labeling them was also really time consuming and labor intensive. Each individual pouch needs a label on the front and back before it can be used to package a bar. Here’s what the process looked like:
- Print the labels.
- Front label = the “flavor” label.
- Back label = the nutrition chart / ingredients label.
- Sticker the labels onto blank bar pouches.
- By hand, peel labels off sheet of paper, and stick onto the front of each pouch.
- Repeat for the backside labels.
- Now the pouches are ready to be used for packaging up the protein bars.
- Using your fingers, open one of the finished pouches.
- Pickup a finished protein bar and stuff it into the pouch.
- Slide the pouch into heat sealer.
- The bar gets carried through a series of heated bands and wheels that seal the pouch.
- The finished bars fall onto a stainless sheet pan and are ready for sale.
- Package all of the bars by repeating steps 1 – 4.
By this point, the last thing you want to do is clean. But you’re never really “finished” until you’ve washed all the dishes and thoroughly cleaned / prepped your workspace.
7.) Selling the Protein Bars
Farmers Markets allowed me to get my business off the ground. For about the first eight months, that’s where I got things going. I went on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday. After making a batch of protein bars I would do the following:
- Go through my list and pack Farmer’s Market supplies and boxes of protein bars into my car. Folding 6ft table, display supplies, umbrella, etc.
- At the blistering speed of 24mph, drive over to the Farmers Market with my supplies and bars.
- Unpack everything from my car and setup my display.
- Prepare samples of my protein bars for customers to try.
- For about 6 hours I would stand at my table, hand out samples, talk to customers, and sell individual protein bars until they were all gone.
- Break down my display setup and pack everything back into my car.
- With a pocket full of cash and no protein bars, I’d make my way back to my facility.
- Go to sleep on my cot for a couple hours.
- Start the whole process over again.
So there you have it. In a nutshell, that’s how I started my protein bar business and got things off the ground. Nothing fancy and no secrets. Just a lot of work.