"It's been quite a journey since we launched in the fall of 2019," says Rizzo.
She's referring to the trajectory of Byte Bars, the company she began with her cousin, Casey Nunnelly. With female athletes like themselves in mind, the company has developed three flavors of energy bars, as well as one protein bar: there's the energy-enhancing Peanut Butta, Choco Chip, and Cinna Cherry, as well as the protein-packed Lemon Razzy.
Just like there are two founders in the company, there are two pieces in each package of Byte Bars. "Casey and I wanted something that was portion controlled," says Rizzo, contrasting the smaller Byte Bars with a previous generation of energy bars like Clif, which, from their own experiences, left them feeling "sluggish" after eating a whole one.
Nunnelly adds, "All of our bars are made with amazing raw, organic ingredients. And three of our bars are peanut butter- and date-based. And one of our bars -- our [Lemon Razzy] protein bar -- is sunflower butter- and date-based. I put MCT oil in all of our bars. It's a triglyceride fat that feeds your brain, keeps you fuller longer, helps crush your cravings."
After launching in 2019, Byte Bars went from distribution, first, within the University of Colorado's library cafe to, soon enough, Whole Foods stores in the Rocky Mountain Region. In 2022, the company was named "Emerging Brand of the Year" at Naturally Boulder's awards event.
The company emerged as a direct result of the cousins' family ties. "We come from a super big family," says Nunnelly. "Our moms are two of nine girls. So we have, like, 30 cousins." Nunnelly grew up in Massachusetts, Rizzo in Pennsylvania. The two didn't even know each other especially well, until the slightly-younger Nunnelly moved to Colorado, where Rizzo was living. "I feel like it was very serendipitous," says Nunnelly. " I decided to take some time off from school to try to figure out my journey. And I called Sabina and asked her if I could come live in Denver for a couple of months with her."
While spending time together, they'd prepare Nunnelly's recipes for gluten-free, vegan energy bars in their kitchen. Soon, Rizzo suggested turning the pursuit into a business venture.
Apparently entrepreneurship runs in the family. Rizzo says their grandfather, Herman K. Dupré, was a "ski industry pioneer" who built the Seven Springs Mountain resort in Pennsylvania and, while he was running HKD Snowmakers, invented "the world's most efficient snowmaker."
Right from the beginning, Nunnelly and Rizzo went all in. The hired a branding team who helped them to frame their identity as a "groovy, carefree, health-conscious, active" energy bar company for Gen Z.
They also sought advice from food scientist Kelly Connelly at the Little Food Lab, which has worked with numerous CPG brands. Connelly tweaked the recipes so that they would be shelf stable, Nunnelly told the podcast Coloradopreneurs. And then the cousins found a co-packer in Chicago.
This year, just as they were set to expand locally into a major supermarket chain, circumstances forced them to find a new co-packer in Las Vegas. At the beginning of February, they had their first production run at the new facility. "Everything went well," notes Rizzo. "They have been amazing, and informed [Byte Bars] on some way we can even improve our existing recipes/ingredient sources."
Byte Bars can now be found in King Soopers and City Market stores in Colorado, as well. And the company expects to be within Fresh Thyme Market stores in Illinois in April. They've already produced 100,000 bars this year, with a 2023 year-end goal of 500,000.
Nunnelly and Rizzo have come a long way since utilizing a food processor in their kitchen, along with a tablespoon to measure the bites. They've seen Byte Bars manufactured on a professional scale: wet and dry ingredients mixed together, prior to getting squeezed through a mechanical extruder, and then chopped into segments and packaged.
On the company's LinkedIn page, Byte Bars cite an acronym which the founders keep in mind during their ongoing journey: "B.Y.T.E.R.G.Y."
Rizzo says it stands for, "Be yourself. Treat everyone really great. And then the 'Y' is 'YOLO,' which stands for 'You Only Live Once.' So, it's that work hard, play hard mentality -- squeezing the most out of life."
Challenges: "I think funding is a big one," says Nunnelly. "Obviously, growing a business is no joke. And it takes a lot of capital. So, I think it's making sure we have the necessary funds. And then, also, just proving yourself as a new brand in such a saturated market has been a challenge."
Opportunities: Nunnelly says, "I think being the next best -- like, the next RXBAR or the next Clif Bar. We believe that we've made a product for the next generation. So we hope that the world sees it like that, as well."
Needs: "More money," says Rizzo. "We always need more capital." She adds, "Brand awareness is a big need as well."