Feb. 18, 2016
Over the past three years, Epic Provisions has grown from offering a handful of meat and fruit bars online to merchandising approximately 20 products in stores throughout the country. (Photos: Epic Provisions)
Ever since Taylor Collins and Katie Forrest started Epic Provisions they have been getting offers from larger companies to partner with them, but they could never find quite the right fit because their company’s vision wasn’t typical. The husband-and-wife team from Austin, Texas, formed their company in 2013 with a mission in mind – to create high-quality meat products sourced from humanely treated, pasture-raised animals while making a positive impact on the environment.
Over the past three years, Collins and Forrest have grown their company from offering just three meat and fruit bars online to merchandising around 20 products in stores throughout the country. They always said they would consider a partnership if they found a strategic partner that shared their vision. On Jan. 6, Minneapolis-based General Mills Inc. became that partner after it acquired Epic Provisions.
In a recent blog posted on the company’s website, Collins explained his thought process behind partnering with a larger company. “By doing so, we would allow Epic to have an exponentially larger impact. Today, we are excited to announce we have found a partner that believes in our mission, shares our vision and is committed to allowing Katie and I to continue leading Epic while adhering to our foundational values.”
The company will continue to be based in Austin, led by Collins and Forrest and staffed by their current employees. Epic will operate under the Annie’s Inc. business that General Mills acquired in 2014.
“The acquisition of Epic positions General Mills for exciting growth with a highly authentic brand in an entirely new natural snacking category,” said John Foraker, president of Annie’s, in a company statement. “A purpose-driven brand like Epic perfectly aligns with the experience and capabilities set that Annie’s brings to the table. Epic has tremendous potential for growth in the natural snacking category. We’re committed to maintaining the great-tasting Epic snacks people love while further building this important brand to drive positive impact we can be proud of well into the future.”
According to Collins, General Mills’ acquisition of the Annie’s brand had a lot to do with his and Forrest’s decision to accept the offer. “Other larger brands weren’t in line with our ideals. General Mills met our needs more,” Collins explains. “Their recent acquisition of the Annie’s line showed us that they are interested in different healthful markets. They understood the legacy that we wanted to create with Epic.”
Collins and Forrest hope that growing Epic through the partnership will mean bigger and better things for the company, the brand and their mission.
“Our decision to sell Epic to General Mills will exponentially influence large-scale grassland restoration, further create a need for pasture-raised animals, as well as increase the availability of our nourishing food to consumers. This acquisition represents real change in how ‘big food’ thinks. Our greatest hope is that the continued success of Epic serves as a catalyst for other large food companies to invest in young, passionate, mission-driven brands like Epic,” Collins wrote in his blog. “This acquisition is not about General Mills changing Epic, but rather Epic changing General Mills.”
Katie Forrest and Taylor Collins started Epic Provisions with sustainability in mind. Epic meat snacks are made from the meat of grass-fed, pasture-raised animals.
Strangely enough, Collins and Forrest came up with their idea to create meat-based bar products while they were following a vegan diet. The couple – both ultra athletes who regularly participate in century bike rides, ultra marathons and triathlons – was searching for healthful ways of eating that would fuel their active lifestyle while also supporting the environment.
“We were going with the conventional wisdom that said that a plant-based diet was the best for our bodies,” Collins explains. “Turns out that was the worst decision we could have made.”
As Forrest was training for Ironman World Championships and following her new vegan diet, she started to have health issues – including low energy and gastrointestinal problems. The holistic naturopath she went to for advice suggested a new approach – a high animal protein and fat diet. “It was a game changer for us both,” Collins says.
Soon after changing to an all-Paleo diet, the two quickly realized there was a lack of convenience packaged foods that were made of animal proteins. So they set out to make the first 100 percent grass-fed meat, fruit and nut bar.
To come up with product prototypes, the two tinkered in the commercial-grade kitchen they already had from a previous vegan food venture they had in college. “We started with the foods we liked. The foods that made our bodies feel good. Then we turned them into bars. We took our prototypes on 100-mile bike rides to test them out,” Collins says. “The crazier the flavors, the better they were.”
They launched Epic in March 2013 at Natural Products Expo West with three meat bars that were like nothing else on the market – Bison Bacon Cranberry (still the top seller today), Turkey Almond Cranberry and Beef Habanero Cherry.
“Within two hours of the show opening, we had already lined up national distribution with Whole Foods. And we were awarded the Best Brand award for that year’s show. It was a dream scenario for us – definitely not typical for a startup,” Collins explains. “We knew we had something special.”
Epic bars bring together flavors not commonly found in other protein bar products, such as Beef Habanero Cherry and Chicken Sriracha.
Epic previously reported to MEAT+POULTRY’s sister publication. Food Business News, sales of $6.8 million in its first full year of business. In 2015, the company projected sales of approximately $20 million.
During its first two years, the company only offered four bars. Now there are 20 products under the brand’s umbrella – all meat-based.
“We decided to introduce some additional items because, for some, meat bars are a bit intimidating,” Collins explains. “The jerky bites are a good gateway to our product line – less intimidating for most. Our trail mix also incorporates meat, and it’s more mass friendly for consumers.”
The product portfolio now includes nine meat bars, five flavors of Epic Bites (animal muscle meat combined with spices, superfood seeds and fruit), five flavors of Hunt & Harvest Mix (grass-fed beef jerky and bacon jerky mixed with berries, nuts and seeds), three varieties of meat bits (uncured bacon and chicken bits used for salad toppers) and three types of animal oils (beef tallow, pork lard and duck fat).
“We have done 100 percent of our product development right from the start,” Collins says. And that should continue even following the General Mills acquisition. “We have always just gone with our own ideas and trusted our gut. If we like it and our friends like it, then we give it a try in the marketplace.”
But Collins is the first to admit that not every flavor combination works. “I have been trying to make a chocolate and meat bar from day one, but still haven’t been able to come up with something that’s good. But I’m convinced that one day we’ll figure it out – so I’m going to keep trying.”
Most of the bars contain fruit, which adds sweetness without adding sugars or syrups. But Collins says not all fruit works in the bar formulations. “I love figs but we’ve never had much success using them because of the seeds,” he says.