It all started with a lockdown in a foreign country. My last year playing professional hockey was in France during the 2020/21 season. The country was experiencing a surge of Covid-19 cases forcing the president to do a nationwide lockdown. This meant no fans at our games and we were only allowed a few practices a week. All the restaurants and museums were closed, which was a huge bummer as an American living abroad in France. We had to fill out a form just to get groceries.
We were stuck in the house most of the day and going for walks became my outlet. On these walks I would listen to podcasts or audio books. My friend recommended the book, "Quench Your Own Thirst" by Jim Koch, the Founder of Sam Adams. It was while walking and listening to Jim talk about entrepreneurship that I got inspired. He stressed the importance of starting a business in something you knew about and had experience in. At first, I felt that I only knew about hockey, but then I expanded my thinking to all the things that contribute to getting better at hockey. I kept asking myself "What am I good at? What do I know about?" Then it hit me. I know exactly what athletes should and should not be eating. During this walk, my thoughts were flowing and I thought "Why don't I make a protein bar? I bet I can do better than all the ones out there!"
^My daily walking route with Paris in the distance
Experimenting with the Idea
I was overcome with excitement about the idea. I went to the kitchen appliances store to buy a food processor, which is pretty much just a giant blender. Then I went to the natural foods grocery store nearby and picked up dried fruits, nuts, and seeds. Over the next few days I was throwing ingredients into the food processor like a mad scientist. I shared them with my roommate and he loved them. Next, I brought them into the rink for my teammates to try. Everybody loved them. I thought I might be onto something. I couldn't pursue product creation too much further than that being in France and playing a hockey season, so I spent my free time writing a business plan and conducting market research of the current protein + energy bar market, where the market was headed in terms of growth, and what the competition had to offer.
^The first ever batch of TIROBARs made in France
The Problem with the Protein Bar Market
I have always eaten protein bars. I enjoy the convenience of them. When I would go to a workout, practice, or game, I would always pack a bar and a bottle of water into my bag. The problem was that 99% of the bars did not fit my standards or preferences. The usual problems I found in other bars were that they were too small and did not satisfy my hunger, they had no protein, they were full of added sugar, or they had tons of unfamiliar ingredients I did not know and could not pronounce. The bad ingredients would always leave me feeling bloated and lethargic, the opposite of what I wanted. Lastly, the taste and texture of every bar with high protein out there was terrible.
I was so confused why no one created a simple ingredient bar with high protein? Familiar ingredients and high protein, that's all I wanted. The 2 bars I used to eat were RXBAR and LARABAR. LARABAR had simple ingredients and a great taste and texture, but they were way too small and there was no protein. RXBAR had the simple ingredients I wanted and protein, but I just could not deal with the overly sticky texture.
^The lonely flight back to the US due to Covid-19
Formulating My Vision
So when the season ended and it was time to come back to the US, I went to work in the lab (kitchen). My first few weeks all I did was research ingredients. I made a list of every ingredient I would allow in the bar and researched all the benefits and qualities of each ingredient. I purchased the proper machinery and went to work. I say that I reverse engineered the bars because I first decided on the nutritional profile I wanted in terms of calories and macronutrients, and then went to the kitchen to try to make it taste good within the parameters that I set.
^Spent about 3 months in the kitchen experimenting with ingredients
My vision was a bigger bar around 300 calories to fill you up, 15 grams or more of plant-based protein, zero added sugar (18 grams or less natural fruit sugar from dates), and using only familiar ingredients most people have in their kitchen like fruit, nuts, & seeds. I ultimately decided my core ingredients would be dates, nuts, pea protein, & hemp seeds. I chose plant-based protein because it always went better with my stomach and eating around the time of exercise this was very important. Pea protein has a complete amino acid profile just like whey protein does. Dates provide fiber, antioxidants, and carbs/natural sugar for energy. Nuts, such as peanuts and almonds, provide healthy fats that give long lasting energy and are loaded with antioxidants and many other nutrients. Pea Protein helps to build muscle & satiate hunger. Hemp Seeds are a great source of Omega-3’s and also pack a lot of antioxidants.
Overall, I felt that each ingredient could be considered a SuperFood. I likened the final product to a favorite snack of mine, an apple with almond butter. One TIROBAR has almost the same nutritional value as an apple with almond butter in terms of calories, healthy fat, carbs, and fruit sugar, but the one difference is a TIROBAR has a lot more protein at 15-17 grams per bar.
The First “Soft” Launch
I created 5 recipes to start and did a soft launch on Instagram for my friends to see. This was mostly a proof-of-concept to see if people liked my product. My first 5 flavors were: Almond Coconut, Peanut Butter, Espresso, Cherry Cacao, & Cinnamon Raisin. At this time, I was making the bars by hand in my kitchen. I didn’t have real packaging. I was using clear pouches from ULINE, sealing them with a heat sealer, and putting a black & white label on the front. I received some great feedback and was gaining momentum with people ordering from me, so I had to look into how to turn it into a real business. Obviously, it was not sustainable to make them by hand and I soon learned that it was also not allowed to sell out of a personal kitchen (who knew!).
^Every one of these were made and sealed by hand
Can this be a Real Business?
I looked into using a commercial kitchen. I went down that road with several commercial kitchens and spent a lot of time trying to make something work, but ultimately I never ended up using a commercial kitchen. I decided to go straight to using a co-packer to manufacture my recipes for me. Co-packers work with massive clients and finding one that would work with a small minimum order quantity was almost impossible. It was hard to be taken seriously. After searching and calling all over the country, I finally found a co-packer willing to work with a small company where we could scale together.
I learned that my recipes were not “commercialized”. This meant that I had a nice little home recipe, but if I wanted to turn it into a business I had to tweak my recipes to get a much longer shelf-life. Sticking to my original vision would prove to be a tough task and along the way I was told many times that I would need to add in certain ingredients to make the formulation work. I felt that if I added in any sort of binders or processing agents that my brand would be just like everything else, and there would be no point in continuing. So, it was either make the vision come true or not do it, I wouldn’t sacrifice the standard I was trying to achieve. It took hundreds of recipes and about a year of R&D to finally get a commercialized formula that had the ingredients I desired, but also the shelf-life required to have a food business.
^A very very exciting day receiving my final product after over a year
We have a Final Product!
I was now ready to produce a final product. I decided to launch with 2 flavors, Salted Peanut and Almond Coconut, due to minimum order quantities. I thought these 2 would be popular flavors & were different enough that people could find something they liked. My brother and I designed packaging on Adobe Illustrator and I decided to keep it overly simple on my packaging. The ingredients are simple & minimalistic and I thought that the branding should be too. I am also always trying to make improvements. The packaging ended up being a major pain due to supply chain issues and took almost 5 months to first arrive. Since this was my first order, I was stuck in a holding pattern with the company not being able to sell since there were no bars.
Finally, in September of 2022, everything was ready and I began selling online. My strategy is direct-to-consumer, and I was selling on my Shopify store and driving traffic via social media and word of mouth only. Recently, in March 2023, I released a new flavor, Dark Chocolate Chip, which has already become a top seller. It’s been 8 months since selling this most recent version of TIROBAR and it has been growing month over month and is very exciting for me personally. I have sent a personal email, text, or Instagram message to every single customer of mine to thank them for their support and let them know how much it means to me.
Over the past few months, we have started to roll out an ambassador program where people help promote TIROBAR in their own unique way. It has been fun to bring people on the team who are also passionate about eating clean and exercising regularly. The bigger purpose is about encouraging this type of lifestyle and developing a community around it. I am excited to keep working hard and seeing where I can take the company. Please never hesitate to reach out to me personally. I love what I do and enjoy hearing from people who like what I’m doing with TIROBAR!
Hope you enjoyed reading,
Danny Tirone | Founder