By Gregory Daurer | Nov 08, 2021
Dairy-free protein bars
When it comes to No Cow, Haddenhorst wants consumers to know what his company doesn't do: it doesn't "compromise on either taste or nutrition" when it comes to its protein bars, while simultaneously providing an alternative to products containing dairy protein (such as milk or whey). In other words, "No Cow" in its ingredients.
The company mixes together a "proprietary blend" of brown rice protein and pea protein, and utilizes a "sweetener blend" of erythritol sugar alcohol, stevia leaf-derived Reb M, and monkfruit -- which keeps the total sugar content down to one gram. Protein ranges between 20 to 22 grams, depending on the bar. And, per bar, fiber runs from 13 to 18 grams, and calories are generally either 190 or 200.
In terms of flavors, there are close to 20, ranging from Cookies 'N Cream to Blueberry Cobbler, Chocolate Fudge Brownie to Lemon Meringue Pie, Raspberry Truffle to Carrot Cake. Add two seasonal flavors, as well, just in time for Thanksgiving: Pumpkin Pie and Maple. "We learn about what flavors [our customers] want to see from No Cow," says Haddenhorst. "We work with our manufacturing and ingredient partners to figure out what is possible for us to create, and then we marry those two things together. And we're pretty quick to launch new flavors and try things out."
The bars are made in Longmont, Colorado, by a contract manufacturer. And they're also produced in Ohio. The ingredients "are, basically, mixed together, and they are extruded into a bar format," says Haddenhorst. "It's a pretty simple process, but the ingredient combination -- and making sure that [it] works on our manufacturing equipment -- is the part that is complex."
No Cow was founded in 2015 by then-18-year-old Daniel Katz (also known as "D"). Haddenhorst describes Katz as a "fitness junkie," as well as "probably the most entrepreneurial person I've ever met." When Katz realized he was sensitive to the dairy within the power bars he was regularly consuming, he set about creating his own in his parents' kitchen. By early 2017, he'd moved his company from the Cincinnati, Ohio area to Denver.
Today, the bars -- which Haddenhorst calls "first to market" in terms of their specific protein-based ingredients -- are available through 20,000 retail outlets. Originally available in The Vitamin Shoppe and GNC, the business next expanded into Whole Foods stores. Retailers now also include Kroger stores and Walmart. "The company has been growing at a 30 to 40 percent growth rate over the last few years," says Haddenhorst.
Haddenhorst transitioned from working at a Chicago-based equity firm now-called Loft Growth Partners -- which was one of No Cow's early investors in March 2017, according to Food Business News, along with the General Mills-affiliated 301 Inc. -- to quickly become No Cow's president and then CEO.
"I fell in love with what [Katz] was trying to achieve at No Cow," Haddenhorst says. And although founder Katz is no longer involved in day-to-day operations, focusing on other ventures since 2020, he remains a board member and consults with Haddenhorst "almost every day."
Haddenhorst calls No Cow a "food-tech" business: "We use a mixture of technology -- and research and development -- as a critical part of developing our products. That's how we get to the optimal nutrition we've been able to achieve, while maintaining an amazing taste." And given Colorado's health-conscious consumer base, in addition to its natural food scene and burgeoning technology sector, Haddenhorst calls the state "a perfect place for a nutrition business."
And No Cow is apparently finding customers in Colorado -- and beyond. "What we know is a majority of consumers, all things equal, would prefer to get their protein from a plant-based source," says Haddenhorst. "But to date, they believe there's some sort of compromise in doing so [in terms of flavor or nutrition]. So, we wanted to tear down those barriers, and allow them to make that switch to plant-based."
Challenges: Haddenhorst says it's "continuing to educate people on whey protein and dairy protein, and how that is an animal-based source. And, how you can actually get better nutrition and better taste -- that combination -- from plants."
Opportunities: "Continuing to build out a plant-based nutrition platform is the opportunity for No Cow," says Haddenhorst. On the horizon: "More protein bar innovations. Different formats, different textures." There might be beverages, as well. And more selections in a chocolate-dipped line of bars.
The company recently released two flavors of protein powder, which are being marketed online as well sold in The Vitamin Shoppe stores. The company is the first to package its powder in an aluminum canister, which can be recycled, says Haddenhorst.
Needs: "Great people," says Haddenhorst, who says the company plans to continue hiring. "A great team is the greatest investment you can make in a company."