By Nicole Stinson
Photo by Dane Feldman.
Picky Bars could be described as the product of a love story between pro-athletes Lauren Fleshman and Jesse Thomas. College sweethearts, the pair were married in 2007 and three years later founded Picky Bars.
Thomas is a three-time winner of the Wildflower Triathlon, while Fleshman placed 7th in the 2011 World 5k Championships and is a two-time USA 5k Track and Field champion. They are no strangers to the demands placed on their bodies by training, which provided the inspiration for developing Picky Bars.
Sidelined by injuries, Fleshman tells BTR that she wanted to support Thomas in his triathlon preparations. She looked for energy bars that were suitable for the sensitivity of an athlete’s stomach during training and came up empty handed.
“There was a hole in the market so I enlisted the help of my buddy Steph and we started cooking,” she says.
Picky Bars are made from organic ingredients and are gluten, dairy, and soy free.
“[They are an] all natural energy bar perfectly balanced for exercise and recovery,” Thomas says.
“Everything about Picky Bars is different,” Fleshman adds. “Our bars are much more expensive to make. We don’t use cheap fillers like gluten, dairy, or soy protein. The recipes are not driven by ingredient cost, they are driven by nutritional principles, a passion for real food, and an emphasis on quality.”
Each bar approximately costs $2.30 and they are sold in boxes of 10. Picky Bars are available in five different varieties including Blueberry Boomdizzle, Smooth Caffeinator, All-In Almond, The Need For Seed, and Lauren’s Mega Nuts.
When competing with the bigger companies like Nestle’s PowerBar and Balance Bar, Thomas and Fleshman believe their size is an advantage as they have been able to develop a tight knit community with their consumers, which they describe as the “Picky Life”.
“Our mission is more than providing people with healthy nutrition,” Thomas explains. “Our Picky Club does more than deliver people healthy nutrition on a monthly basis, it connects and motivates people with a similar way of approaching life, and that’s been the biggest benefit we can provide as a company.”
The internet and social media have played a big part in Picky Bars’ success. In addition to their website, the company posts regular updates on its Twitter, Facebook page, and Instagram. Their approach is personalized, which they believe is something that larger companies cannot fully accomplish.
“When you are small, your voice is your biggest asset,” Fleshman says. “The biggest mistake to avoid is trying to emulate the big brands in your efforts to grow. What works for them won’t work for you.”
Thomas, who has been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath, elaborates, “Just as the book says, sometimes what seems like a disadvantage can be an advantage. We never took on investors or raised any money, which most people would think is a huge disadvantage and it is in some circumstances. But bootstrapping forced us to think outside the box in terms of marketing, sales, and distribution.”
Their sales are direct with the consumer, most of which subscribe to a monthly program known as the Picky Club. Through their low manufacturing capability, they have also been able to produce seasonal and limited edition flavors for their customers. They are excited to be launching their new flavor, Cookie Doughpness in March.
“We might not be as big as the other guys, but if we can identify, access and service a core, enthusiastic audience, we can build a really cool, sustainable, meaningful business around that,” says Thomas.
Although consumer enthusiasm has spread internationally, the company is focusing on expanding within the US, which includes their recent deal with the camping and hiking store, REI.
“We still feel like there’s a lot of ‘low hanging fruit’ here in the US, so it’s more cost effective for us to grow domestically,” Thomas says. “We just want to make sure we can maintain our product and service quality and characteristics before we make the jump.”
Thomas and Fleshman also attribute a lot of their success to their team of employees, whom they say they would be lost without.
“I like to think that Picky Bars is the result of the founders searching for more out of their lives, more than what was obviously available to them in the moment,” Thomas says. “And without knowing what that pursuit would lead to, they eventually stumbled upon something that was really great, better than they could have imagined.”