A protein-rich on-the-go snack can be tough to come by if you adhere to a paleo diet; for the most part, your choices are limited to hard-boiled eggs or beef jerky. But EPIC Bar co-founders Taylor Collins and Katie Forrest were inspired to create meat-based paleo bars that are a huge step up from convenience store meat sticks. EPIC's unique whole food bars are rich in nutrients and flavor, featuring humanely raised meats paired with a variety of intriguing fruits, nuts, and spices for a gourmet protein bar that stands up to even the most discerning sustainability and humane standards.
Sustainable, Humane, Meat-Based Paleo Bars
EPIC is not Collins and Forrest’s first rodeo. The former raw vegans previously produced meatless energy bars, but after they switched to a primal diet for health reasons, they realized that there was a hole in the market for clean, protein-rich paleo bars that were low in sugar and high in flavor.
“There wasn't a lot of high-quality, on-the-go nutrition that came from grass-fed, pasture-raised animals,” Collins says.
That’s exactly what they’ve created with their paleo bars, which come in several flavors, each of which boasts a remarkably short ingredient list. The flagship bison bar is made with 100 percent grass-fed buffalo and humanely certified uncured bacon with a hint of sweetness from tart cranberries. Other bar flavors include Chicken Sesame BBQ, Beef Habanero Cherry, Lamb Currant Mint, and Smoked Salmon Maple.
“We like to do things that are less commonly available,” says Collins. “A lot of other meat bar brands have very mass-friendly flavors, but we prefer really special, really unique combinations.”
Feedback from consumers has been mainly positive, especially with regard to the flagship product, with fitness blog Gear Junkie reviewing the bar as "smoky, meaty, and fruity [...] it kept us coming back for more." Ultimate Paleo Guide notes that while some of the other flavors don’t live up to the flagship product, the bison bar is a slam dunk.
EPIC has also branched out from its line of paleo bars to produce humanely-raised bone broth, pork skins, paleo fats like beef tallow, bison tallow, and duck fat, and a “Hunt and Harvest Mix” that riffs off of classic trail mix by combining organic beef jerky with berries, nuts, and seeds.
Two Important Guiding Principles: Clean and Humane
EPIC is careful to keep its recipes as clean as possible: the paleo bars are devoid of gluten, and efforts are made to ensure that sugar content is kept as low and as natural as possible.
“In a perfect world, any kind of sugar that's in our product is going to come from a dried fruit,” says Collins, who notes that the rare exceptions, like the salmon bar, which “didn’t really pair well with any fruits,” use less than 5 grams of a whole food sugar, like maple or coconut.
“These are very natural, very flavorful, very aromatic sugars that complement the products,” he says.
From the Organic Authority Files
Keeping sugar and other extraneous ingredients low also to highlights the quality of the meat, something that Collins notes has always been a priority for the company.
“Right off the bat, we recognized the quality of the protein and how the animal was raised, and the way that translated to how the consumer was impacted,” says Collins.
EPIC notes that sustainability is as much a journey as it is an end goal, and while the company is actively working toward humane and organic certifications across its product lines, its priority lies with the former.
“[USDA organic] is really good at regulating what animals are fed, but it’s not good at regulating how those animals are raised,” says Collins, noting that it is important to EPIC that animals be fed feeds that are “consistent with the evolutionary biology” of their individual digestive systems. For this reason, EPIC has prioritized Global Animal Partnership certification rather than USDA organic, for now.
“Organic cow and organic bison could be more or less locked in a feed lot and fed organic corn, and it's not intended to eat and be raised like that,” he says. “So we thought that being in the meat industry, it was much more impactful to focus on pasture-raised and grass-fed, and eventually get to where we're getting all those boxes checked: grass-fed, pasture-raised, and organic.”
Transparency is a priority for EPIC: the company provides information on the sourcing of each animal on its site, allowing discerning consumers to ensure that individual bars meet their standards.
Bringing Back Bison
EPIC’s commitment to sustainable and humane meat has led to changes in the supply chain, notably with regard to the main ingredient in the flagship bison bar.
Last year, President Obama designated the American Bison as the national mammal of the United States, but despite the fact that 150 years ago, 70 million bison roamed the American plains, when EPIC was making its first paleo bars, the supply of grass-fed bison was stagnant at around two to three percent of the bison population on the whole.
Working with producers like family-owned Northstar Bison, EPIC has begun to develop a solution. The company invested several million dollars in the purchase of bison for Northstar to pasture raise over the next several years, not only expanding the population of grass-fed bison in the United States, but also affording an opportunity for young ranchers, contracted by Northstar, to learn to raise bison in this traditional and sustainable way. Due in part to this initiative, the grass-fed bison population has increased to seven percent; EPIC's goal is to reach 30 percent across the industry in the next few years.
“We’re working to get our internal bison supply chains up to 100 percent grass fed by 2020,” explain the founders, who have committed to using 98 percent of the bodies of these animals as part of EPIC's nose-to-tail commitment.
“Moreover, we’re striving to dedicate 1,000,000 acres of North American grasslands to our bison herd in three years," they say. "These are lofty goals, no doubt, but shooting for the stars is all we know.”
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