Wilde Snacks raising the (meat) bar

by Monica Watrous
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Wilde Snacks meat bars - sweet Thai basil and turkey cranberry
At Natural Products Expo West, Wilde Snacks unveiled two new flavors: sweet Thai basil and turkey cranberry.

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Wilde Snacks is not the first company to bring a meat-based protein bar to the market, but the product line is the first of its kind. Among a spate of similar products featured at Natural Products Expo West, including category pioneer Epic Provisions’ range of meat bars, Wilde bars feature lean cuts of meat or poultry and ancient grains, fruit and seasonings. What sets Wilde apart from other meat bars is a proprietary baking process, said Jason Wright, co-founder and CEO of the Boulder, Colo.-based company. Other brands use smoking or dehydrating techniques, he said.

Jason Wright, Wilde Snacks
Jason Wright, co-founder and CEO of Wilde Snacks

“We didn’t want to do a ‘me, too’ product, we wanted to use super lean cuts of meat, and we wanted to achieve something that broke more like a traditional bar,” Wright told Food Business News, a sister publication of MEAT+POULTRY. “So when we approached it, we said our process has to be different. We didn’t know about these other guys when this idea came to us in early 2013, and I didn’t know about anybody who had a meat-based protein bar.”

The brand debuted last fall with such varieties as maple bacon blueberry turkey and strawberry black pepper bison. Wilde Bars contain 100 calories and 10 grams of protein. Other brands use fatty cuts of meat for smoking or curing, resulting in a bar that is higher in calories, fat and sodium, Wright said.

“The advantage of baking is you have no choice but to start with a super lean cut,” Wright said. “There’s no fat to smoke out or cook out, so the texture is much different, more like a traditional bar, and as long as you’re driving more water out of it, or getting your water percentage down, then you don’t necessarily have to (vacuum seal) the product... We wanted to deliver it in a more traditional flow-wrap style that the customer was already familiar with.”

Wilde Snacks meat bars - maple bacon blueberry turkey and strawberry black pepper bison
The brand debuted last fall with such varieties as maple bacon blueberry turkey and strawberry black pepper bison.

Developing the baking process for Wilde bars took about two years. Wright’s business partner, Derek Spors, leveraged his knowledge of baking cereals and granola bars to create the products. Before launching, however, the company needed approval from the US Dept. of Agriculture, Wright said.

“We tried to launch last May, and that’s when the USDA came in,” Wright said. “They didn’t understand our process, and they weren’t going to allow us to go forward without having a third party study done on it.”

The company enlisted the help of a professor at Colorado State Univ. who duplicated the process and conducted validation studies on the products.

“They basically wanted to know if the product is safe and if the process is safe to yield a shelf-stable product,” Wright said. “It had just never been done before. But we were able to prove it’s a safe process, and in September we were awarded a validation study final report saying that, yes, we had come up with a new process, and it was indeed safe.”

At Natural Products Expo West, held March 10-13 in Anaheim, Wilde Snacks unveiled two new flavors: a sweet Thai basil variety featuring vegetarian-fed chicken breast, coconut, chia and flax seed, mango, lime, ginger and basil; and a turkey cranberry variety made with free-range turkey tenderloins, cranberries, chia and flax seeds, butternut squash, apples and sage.

“On that one, we like to say it’s everything you love about Thanksgiving minus your in-laws,” Wright said.

Wilde Snacks meat bars - peach barbecue and chili lime
Other flavors in the Wilde Snacks range include peach barbecue and chili lime.

Other flavors in the range include peach barbecue and chili lime, both made with grass-fed beef whole muscle sirloins, chia and flax seeds, quinoa, fruit and spices.

“Other competitors had already delivered a buffalo or bison bar or a stick in a more traditional way than you would find meat-based snacks,” Wright said. “We wanted to be different. Wilde was all about taking chances.”

That said, consumer education and product demoes are essential for driving trial of the products, Wright said.

“People are still learning about this product,” he said. “They’re trying to understand what meat-based protein bars are supposed to taste like. Social media is crucial. Early adopters like the CrossFit community were already looking for that type of protein bar. Epic has done a great job of educating the consumer.”

Speaking of Epic, which was acquired by General Mills, Inc. earlier this year, Wright said he would be open to a similar business move if the opportunity were to arise.

“I do think there is an evolution to every brand, and if you do your job and are successful, opportunities are going to come,” Wright said. “If you’re not willing to, at some point, let your brand go on to a larger company to do more for the brand, you could end up getting crushed. If that company is looking for a brand like Epic, then they’re going to find it. Somebody is going to partner with them. It could be a death sentence for your brand if you get to that point and don’t decide to partner with a larger company to put you in more spots and offer more marketing and support. You probably risk the next person getting that type of support.”

Wilde Snacks on display at Whole Foods in Boulder, Colo.
By the end of the year, Wilde Snacks will be available in 1,000 retail outlets, including Whole Foods.

By the end of the year, Wilde Snacks will be available in 1,000 retail outlets, including Whole Foods Market, Sprouts Farmers Market and Life Time Fitness gyms. Future product innovation will keep the brand in the bar category, Wright said.

“I believe there is a lot of white space in the bar category, and we don’t have any intentions of going into another category right now,” he said. “There is a large focus on nothing but staying in this bar category and coming up with other unique ways to deliver a meat-based protein bar to the consumer.”

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