Review: Real Food Bars

When you're looking for energy bars, meal replacement bars, or any sort of wrapped rectangular shaped food, it can be tough to tell the difference between all of the options out there. So many bar companies claim theirs are the healthiest, the most filling, the best to take on your next adventure. But when Anna Sullivan and her husband Sean realized the bars they were eating didn't cut it nutritionally, they got to work coming up with a better option. The result? Real Food Bar.

The ingredient choices are a big part of what sets Real Food Bars apart. (PC: Real Food Bars)

Each bar is designed to contain complete nutrition, 15g of plant-based rotein, 9-10g soluble fiber, and low glycemic index carbohydrates to keep you full longer. I tried one of each bar on hikes this spring, and found the bars much more filling than what I'd normally bring (Quest bars and Rx bars). Of the three currently available flavors, cacao sea salt was my favorite, narrowly edging out the peanut butter bar.

But aside from what's in a product, I'm always interested in how products come to be and what sets them apart from other similar products. I was fortunate enough to get to ask Anna, formerly known as the Real Food Bar Co-Founder & CEO, some questions about her and her company.

Have you always know you wanted to start an energy bar company?

Anna: No, my husband and I were eating lots of bars for breakfast or on busy days and couldn't find any that did everything we wanted. Most had more sugar than protein and the ones that weren't bad for you lacked the nutrients we were hoping to find in a bar. We started by experimenting in our kitchen. And I will admit the first bars were pretty bad!

This package is actually empty because I'd already eaten the bar! On a hike in Pennsylvania.

What's the most challenging issue you've had to tackle as an entrepreneur so far?

Anna: There are all kinds of things that are hard and often things are way harder than imagined, but the most challenging thing is finding ways to make our company heard. As a young company, there are so many other companies screaming for people's attention that we get drowned out or overwhelmed by their marketing budgets. While we believe our product is significantly better, it is hard to make other people aware of that. So awareness is a constant battle.

The bars contain pea protein, why that protein source over others?

Anna: When we started experimenting with ways to ensure that the bars had a full 15 grams of protein, there were initially two priorities, to ensure that the protein was a complete protein and to get a protein source that was processed as little as possible. Whey based proteins are highly processed so we nixed that and in our research came across pea protein. It checked all the boxes but had the added benefits of being allergen friendly and plant based. Seemed like the best option by far.

Let's talk flavors. What's your favorite? Any plans to create new flavors?

Anna: The cacao sea salt one, though I eat so many of them myself that it's hard to choose. The peanut butter recipe has been tweaked to make it more moist and peanut buttery, and that new version launches July 1st. It might become my new favorite.

We've discussed a number of new flavor options - everything from a coffee flavored bar to simply adding cacao chips to the peanut butter bar (editor's note, yes please!) - and we are looking into making the next flavors vegan. We didn't focus on that with the initial flavors because we wanted to use the most natural form of sugar, which is honey.

Real Food Bar Co-Founder & CEO Anna Sullivan unwrapping a Real Food Bar in Ireland. (PC: Real Food Bar).

There aren't any flavors that didn't work, but there were definitely some early versions of the bars that didn't work. We struggled initially to make the bars healthy and stick together. Since sticky things are sweet and we were trying to minimize sugar, that was a challenge. I remember my husband made one batch early on that stuck together really well and tasted great. Turns out he had used so many dates to make it stick together that the bar had over 30 grams of sugar! Had to nix that version though.

The bars aren't wrapped in your average wrappers. Where do the photos come from?

Anna: Each photo on our bars was taken by my husband or myself on one of our adventures around the world. The photos are from three different hikes: one is from Kahana Bay in Hawaii, the other was taken near the Columbia River in Portland Oregon, and the final image was taken in Costa Rica while looking at Arenal Volcano.

They're definitely not your average wrappers. An image of Hawaii helps decorate the wrapper on my favorite flavor! (PC: Real Food Bar)

When we were trying to decide what the label should be, someone suggested we just use some of the photos we've taken while traveling. Seemed like a great idea. Plus it gives us an excuse to travel in the future so that we can have more photos for future flavor options!

Huge thanks to Anna for taking the time to share some unique information about her company with us! You can find Real Food Bars here, and if you love them, there's a subscription option as well.