Picky Bars: Real Food That Tastes Good

We sat down with Jesse Thomas, co-founder and CEO of Picky Bars, to chat about how the Bend-based company got its start, the importance of involving real athletes in their process, and what's next for them.


Where did the inspiration for the Picky Bars name come from? Is there a story behind the name?

There actually is a story behind it! Originally, we had our basic recipes that most people ordered, but we also offered the ability to customize the bar – e.g. add walnuts, almond butter, cranberries, etc. – you could choose which additions you wanted. So, we called them “Picky Bars” because not only were they all gluten/dairy/soy free, real food, and balanced for sport, our customers could be picky about the specific ingredients as well!

It was an awesome idea, but then the biz side of my brain modeled the financial plan and scalability of creating custom energy bars, and I quickly suggested we just make the flavors ourselves and let people buy those! We were making great flavors anyway, and it would have been impossible to make a business doing custom bars. Anyway, we loved the name, our customers loved it, and we still felt like there was plenty of Picky-ness to our bars and brand, so we just kept it.

What’s one thing that’s translated over from your career as a pro athlete? What’s something you’ve had to learn how to do?

The simple process of setting a goal, and creating an incremental plan to achieve it – from strategies all the way down to the nitty gritty details – that’s been the biggest thing that’s translated from racing to business. I (annoyingly) use sports analogies all the time in the office with my employees. For our planning process, we set yearly goals that hinge on big picture strategies, just like you would set your A race, and how you plan to build to it. Then we break those down into quarterly goals (like smaller races) and create a plan/budget that maps out the monthly, weekly, daily tasks (e.g. a training plan) that need to be accomplished to get it done. Every quarter we get together and evaluate what went right, what went wrong, and re-plan. It’s the exact planning process I use as an athlete.

Something I’ve had to learn how to do is be more comfortable relinquishing control of the process to those I trust. As an athlete, you are pretty much a one man (or woman) band. You have tons of support obviously, a coach, significant others, etc., but you do the work – you’re responsible for most of it, and the goal largely hinges on how well YOU execute the plan. But with a company, particularly as we’ve grown (now 10 employees), you rely more and more on the people you hire, how well they work together as a team, and how much you are willing to invest in and trust them. I love that process. To be honest, it’s probably my favorite part about owning a business, because there are more people in it and invested in it than just myself – but it’s also a hard thing to learn if you’re used to operating primarily on your own.

As a company founded by athletes, how important is it to you have real athletes test and use the product?

Super important! We go through a (semi) rigorous testing procedure – first Lauren, then me, then the office, then our athletes, then our subscription club and retailers, then the world. The bars were originally tested by us, the Oregon Track Club in Eugene, and people at Lauren and Steph’s coached group workouts. Since we’ve grown, it’s largely the same. When we developed Picky Oats Performance Oatmeal (launching in January!), we went through the initial part of that process about 3-4 times, back and forth, back and forth, etc. Testing not only for flavor and texture, but also efficacy – how good do you FEEL after eating our product? Did you have an awesome workout, did you feel energized during your day or next few hours? Did you have any stomach issues or no? It’s all about making a product we believe tastes good, is nutritionally balanced, and also effective for an athletic lifestyle.

Are there any flavors that you really wanted to do that didn’t work, or did you ever consider a different product before settling on a nutrition bar?

Everything we try works on the first try every single time. Haha, just kidding! We’ve tried lots of stuff that didn’t work! We spent about 6 months this past year on a new bar that ultimately couldn’t be made reliably at scale, so we had to ditch it (I’d tell you more about it, but I still want to make it and haven’t given up on it so I’m going to keep it a secret for now). It’s part of the startup process. We’re a young company with mostly under-experienced staff, myself included! We try and learn, try and learn, try and learn. There’s tons of failure in there – hey, it’s a lot like sports! What do you know!

What makes Picky Bars different from all the other bars out there?

Compared to the stuff out there right now, Picky Bars are: 1) made of real food ingredients, 2) balanced for sport (not a crazy/weird protein bomb or sugar rush, they’re right where you want it to be for an active lifestyle), and 3) they actually taste good! People will eat something stuffed with 20g of protein that destroys their stomach and tastes like garbage because they think it’s good for them (it’s not!). That’s not us. We aren’t chasing a fad, we’re creating real food products that we believe really work for athletes, that taste really good. You will enjoy eating them! Imagine that!

Shop our new stock of Picky Bars HERE.

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