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Originally published December 5 2004

Larabars are unique food bars with no preservatives, no refined sugars: exclusive interview with Lara Merriken

by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, NaturalNews Editor

The following is part two of an exclusive interview with Lara Merriken, CEO of Larabar, makers of natural food bars.

Mike: How do you make your Larabar products with a decent shelf life without using preservatives like most of the other food bar products do?

Lara: Well, I did a lot of shelf studies before I brought Larabar on the market and I have a great packaging company that worked with me on really good packaging. And that was a very essential ingredient as to how we have a shelf life.

Mike: So... and this is explained on your site, and for those reading, that's, by the way. It's explained there that all the oxygen is removed from the packaging...

Lara: It’s a five-layer barrier package, and we also do what is called nitrogen flushing. We put nitrogen in there that stabilizes the environment. And that's used in a lot of food products and it basically, it keeps the environment stable. The barriers keep out the light, the oxygen and the heat. And that's what keeps something more stable on the shelf. So for instance, when you go in grocery stores, they use UV lights in there. And actually, packaging has to protect your product from those UV lights. They actually degrade, you know. So that's why the packaging is so important.

Mike: Given that complex of a package, and the fact that you're using ingredients that are more expensive than the cheap filler ingredients used in a lot of bars, how do you keep the costs competitive?

Lara: Well, that was a big thing that I had to figure out when I started this is how can I make these ingredients affordable? And I just worked a lot on different suppliers, making sure the quality was there. And setting a price that I felt like was reasonable within this market. There's 99 cent energy bars and we're definitely not that. And some people will say, 'Gosh! You know, are you ever going to be 99 cents?' And I said, ”No! Because the quality of what we use is far better than people that are selling bars for 99 cents.” The ingredients are not inexpensive and basically, you get what you pay for.

Mike: Yeah! Well, puffed rice and sugar is darned cheap to me! (Laughs) Yeah! What about... what's the most popular flavor today?

Lara: The most popular flavor is Cherry Pie! Followed by that is kind of in a tie are Cashew Cookie and Apple Pie. So those are the top three flavors and then Chocolate Coconut and then Banana. You ask different people, and everybody has a favorite. But the overall favorite is Cherry Pie.

Mike: That's my favorite! I love the Cherry Pie.

Lara: It's very good!

Mike: Well, it's funny because a lot of companies send me samples of products to review, and yours is one of the few that I tried and then just went right out and had to buy a lot more. And then I started showing people, ”Hey! Check this out!” And gave it to the entire staff and said, “Try these. Try these.”

Lara: Well, it took a while to develop the flavors, and you know, I love them all, because I created them all, but certainly I guess there are phases when I eat just one, and I just want that one and then I switch flavors. Or I have different times of the day that I like different flavors. Like in the afternoon, if I have some tea, I like the Chocolate Coconut, it's fun. It's nice to have the variety.

Mike: So I've got a couple of questions for you about where this is heading then?

Lara: Sure!

Mike: One relates to the story of what happened to what would be one of your competitors, perhaps, Power bar. I'm sure you know the history of Power bar?

Lara: Yes.

Mike: And when they got big and popular, the recipe changed. And all of a sudden, it really wasn't an athletic bar, it was a popular sugar bar. Or corn syrup bar. How are you going to avoid getting too popular and giving in to that kind of pressure?

Lara: You know, for me, the reason I do this is the importance of eating good food and that's the mission behind my company. And what makes us really stand out is the simplicity and the quality of what we produce. And so to me, that's always the most important thing. So I don't ever see losing sight of that because even though we have grown this past year, it's the same product, and I feel it's even better than it was in the beginning. And my goal is to continue to make us even better, like one of the things that people ask us about is organic ingredients. And we certainly, are always looking into that because I know the importance of that.

So in my mind, we want to continue, I want to continue to make a better and better product, not compromise as we get better. That's most important to me.

Mike: That's great to hear. And obviously yours is a mission-driven organization.

Lara: Yeah.

Mike: And profits are certainly nice but it's not like that's the driving factor?

Lara: No, and we, you know, we already produce something, and we are already in business and we're staying in business... so why would we change that? That's what really makes us stand out as different. And to me there's no reason to change that, just to improve upon it.

Mike: What about the projected growth – are you able to handle the manufacturing and the demand for the product?

Lara: We definitely are. We continue to handle more growth and we've set ourselves up so that we can handle that. So my goal in the beginning of starting this company, was not just to reach out to only natural foods people and athletic-minded people, but to reach out to a broader audience of people, mainstream people that are interested in health, but they don't really know about nutrition and they get most of their information from media and advertising. And my goal is to get this in the hands of people like that that because they deserve good food too. They just don't know about it yet.

Mike: That's right!

Lara: And so that to me is a mission beyond just this national market that we're in. And we do work with some bigger stores right now, like some of the Kroger grocery stores, and Costco here in Colorado, and we've had great success with them. And people are so excited about it. And to me that is very exciting because one of the big epidemics in our country is heart disease and diabetes, and those are food related diseases for the most part.

Mike: Yeah.

Lara: So if we can impart a positive change by offering them something better, then I feel like we're really doing something good for our society in the company.

Mike: Indeed you are! What about upcoming products or anything coming down the line that you care to talk about?

Lara: Well, upcoming products, we'll keep those as trade secrets.

Mike: (Laughs) All right.

Lara: We have some new ideas, but we will be coming out with some new flavors of Larabar. So people have been asking about new flavors for a while. And next spring, you'll see some new flavors from us.

Mike: Wonderful! And is that public knowledge yet of what those flavors are going to be?

Lara: They're not determined yet! So we're deciding among a few ideas and next spring, you'll have an idea of what we had in mind... so...

Mike: What about going to some other kinds of nuts? You don’t use macadamia nuts in the bars at the moment, do you?

Lara: You know, I don't use macadamia nuts, and certainly, we're open to using different types of nuts. So as we look at new flavors for instance, we look at different combinations and things like that. So we certainly aren't going to limit it just to you know, almonds, walnuts, and cashews.

Mike: Well, let me put in my vote for the Tropical bar, the Tropical Larabar.

Lara: Thank you for the recommendation!

Mike: Just macadamia nuts and bananas and unfortunately that's going to be an expensive nut. But, I'm sure you're well aware of what that costs.

Lara: Yes.

Mike: But boy! Is it worth it! Maybe there'll be enough people willing to pay to get macadamia nuts?

Lara: Well, I'll put that in my data bank and I'll consider that.

Continue with part three.

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