Spokane Valley nutritional bar maker buzzes along

Down to Earth News

By Sandra Hosking
Down to Earth NW Correspondent

BumbleBar improving operations, options this year

SPOKANE VALLEY, WA-After a down year last year, BumbleBar, a nutritional snack-bar maker, is making a bee line toward record revenues this year. In addition, the Spokane Valley company is preparing to launch new products soon.

BumbleBar recently bought new equipment that will help streamline its production process and plans to buy a cartoner, which will package its new line of products – junior-size bars, says Liz Ward, who owns the company with her husband, Glenn. The packs, which are expected to hit the market within the next few months, will be sold in sets of 12, either including one flavor or a variety of flavors.

While original BumbleBars are 1.6 ounces, about the size of a full-size Hershey’s chocolate bar, the junior BumbleBars will be about a third of that. “We’ve had a lot of requests for that over the years,” Ward says. “A lot of kids eat our BumbleBars, and a lot of times the bars are too big for a kid.”

All of the company’s bars are seed-based, vegan, and gluten-free, and are geared toward people who have food intolerances or who just want a healthier snack. Their ingredients are “ethically sourced,” meaning they come from farms and co-ops worldwide that use organic farming methods. The bars cost between $1.79 and $1.99 each. Flavors include peanut, cashew, chocolate, cherry, lemon, and more.

Next year, the company plans to launch a new line of bars, called BumbleBar Active, that won’t be seed-based but will be dairy- and gluten-free and will have more protein.

Finding ingredients that are produced by socially responsible growers can be a challenge but also is important to the company’s mission. “We know who the grower is. The source is someone who puts money into education for the workers and makes it a good situation for them,” Ward says.

As a result, ingredients hail from all over the world. The flax seeds it uses come from a Canadian co-op, while other ingredients originate in Central America. The almonds in its most popular bar come from Baugher Ranch Organics, a Northern California ranch that farms with horses.

As part of its company policy, BumbleBar has committed to using ingredients produced by organic farmers to avoid pesticides and the pollution caused by conventional farming methods, Ward says.

The Wards launched BumbleBar in Seattle in 1995. After searching for an organic snack bar for herself, Ward, who enjoys the outdoors, decided to make one.

“I was just kind of fiddling around,” she says. “I love to cook.” Her first flavors were peanut and chocolate crisp. Receiving positive feedback from friends who tried the bars, inspired her to sell them. Ward picked the name BumbleBar because it “sounded sweet and natural and bees are one of the first animals affected by pesticides, so it made sense to me.”

When she first began making the bars, she rented a commercial kitchen by the hour and did everything by hand. Even though the company now has equipment and a production staff, “we still have a very handcrafted process,” she says.

Ward wanted BumbleBar’s products to be organic and vegan. “We’re also committed to gluten-free because it’s a really underserved population, and it makes me happy to give them something that tastes good,” she says.

The couple moved the company to Spokane six years ago, in part for a better lifestyle. “Our move to Spokane has been really good for us,” Ward says. “Our business kept growing, and we were looking at a four-hour commute, and that doesn’t fit in with any sort of family life,” she says. So, the couple researched different places around the Northwest, including Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. “Spokane was awesome,” she says, “kind of a hidden gem.”

BumbleBar currently employs six people aside from the owners, including a Seattle-based sales director. It leases about 12,000 square feet in two buildings at the Spokane Business & Industrial Park, which house its offices, production facility, and warehouse. The company produces from 7,000 to 15,000 bars a day, depending on demand, Ward says. Those bars are then sold at about 3,000 outlets across the U.S. and Canada.

The company also develops and makes bars for other companies, some of whom are large but whom Ward declines to name.

She develops all the new products and flavors. “I love to be creative,” she says.

Ward starts the development process by brainstorming ideas based on her own thoughts or suggestions by her clients. “I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what we’re going to use and where we’re going to get it,” she says. She enjoys researching sources for new ingredients. “It’s really fun learning about new things all the time.”

While Ward likes all of the BumbleBar flavors – since they are made to her taste – apricot is her current favorite. “We really enjoy what we do, and I feel really lucky that I get to do something I’m so passionate about,” she says.