For almost five years, cyclist, Brian Cornelius has been making RBars – a tasty nutrition bar for people on the go. The idea for the product came from Cornelius’ experience as a cyclist. Cornelius spent over 6 years as an elite cyclist. “Through races I learned a lot along the way about nutrition. I would take a bag of dried fruit and nuts with me and I wanted to find a way to make that into a great tasting product that could be eaten on the go. RBar Energy is about creating something that is very delicious and very simple - but doing it well and doing it consistently is very hard work.” Cornelius continues to make the bars from whole simple ingredients and sources locally when he can. Pecans from nearby Green Valley are used in the Prickly Pear Pecan and Double Chocolate bars. They also come in other great flavors like Cranberry Cashew, Lemon Poppyseed and Peanut Butter and Jelly. All the bars use 7 or fewer ingredients. “Its very hard to make something without cutting corners. We still make the bars from scratch from recognizable ingredients,” comments Cornelius. “ I have always felt like you should be able to go into a store, look at one of our bars and know exactly what the ingredients are. A lot of companies use fillers, we don’t do that. We used to use date paste because it was easier but when you taste the date paste and the dates side by side you realize they are nothing alike. Where we can use the whole product we prefer to use the whole product.”
RBar has an innovative process that allows them to use whole ingredients while avoiding the binders used in so many other commercially available nutrition bars. Cornelius cites their innovative process as one reason why they were awarded as one of six winners of the Arizona Commerce Authority Spring 2015 Innovation Challenge. The challenge represents early-stage Arizona companies creating innovative solutions with the potential for significant economic impact. RBar Energy was the only Tucson company to win the statewide challenge. Cornelius also credits StartUp Tucson as a great resource that helped grow his business. RBar was one of the first graduating businesses of StartUp’s Thryve accelerator program. “To be part of that first cohort at Thryve was huge for us,” comments Cornelius. “ It was incredibly instrumental in growing our business. The local community has been fantastic to us and we have worked hard to earn their trust.”
As a part of the cycling community, cyclists were the first people that Cornelius reached out to for help improving the bars. The bars don’t melt and are a perfect fit for athletes on the go. “We have a lot of athletes who use the bars,” comments Cornelius. Athletes figure prominently in his business model as both ambassadors for his products and his focus group. RBar has gradually expanded from testing recipes in a kitchen to a full production facility making 20,000 bars each month. RBars are available at many local food retailers like Food Conspiracy and AJ’s and can also be found in over 14 airports nationwide. The bars are also available as in in-room snack for guests at The Downtown Clifton Hotel. The other thing that cycling taught Cornelius is follow through and perseverance. “People have been telling me since I started this company that I don’t have a chance. Its not about the end result, its about the process you go through. We always try, we always give it a shot.”
Cornelius loves having a business in Arizona. While his products are sold nationwide, he sees no reason to move. “This has been my home for 18 years. There are other businesses that pick up and go, but where do the relationships go? What is the upside to that? I love being from Arizona. This is an incredibly cool state to be from.” Cornelius cites the tight knit Tucson community as another key to success. Cornelius has a great relationship with a local packaging company and uses local talent to help with his marketing. “We have an enormous amount of cheerleaders and influential people in this town. This is a small community and if you do something good and you are honest, people will support you. In Tucson good news travels fast.”
RBar Energy is one of the many vendors at the Arizona Farmer Chef Connection on September 16th. Come learn more about RBar and other great local food producers at this important event.