Steamboat’s SolBites finds niche in healthy food market
July 27, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Nestled between cigarette lighters and energy snacks on a counter inside the Space Station is an item that seems out of place.
The item is unlike the candy bars and sodas that easily fly off the shelves inside the downtown Steamboat Springs convenience store. It doesn't even come in king size.
The four wheat crackers and two spreads inside each package of SolBites contain no trans fat or genetically modified ingredients, and the food is marketed as a portable snack "you can feel good about eating."
"We go into convenience stores looking for something healthy we can feel good about giving to our kids, but there's not much there you could eat and feel good about," SolBites co-founder Adam Spector said Wednesday while sitting on a bench outside the Space Station. "Through that frustration, SolBites was developed."
Spector has lived in Steamboat for 10 years, and he now is seeing his product shipped to about 400 retailers.
Last year, he saw an opening in a growing healthy foods market, so he left his job as sales manager at Steamboat-based Honey Stinger to develop his own portable, healthy product with business partner Arn Hayden.
A year after the launch of their product, it is expanding into big-name stores, including Whole Foods, Vitamin Cottage and City Market.
Spector said SolBites' first big retail landing was in REI stores.
But the plastic containers of crackers, spreads and wooden spoons had more humble beginnings in the Yampa Valley.
Before it could be shipped from a distribution center in Lyons to retailers across the state, SolBites needed a few flavors for its spreads.
Spector's original idea list of spreads included pomegranate, acai berry, clementine and red chili peanut butter.
"But we gave the flavors to some friends of friends for taste testing, and we came to the conclusion that people want what they're familiar with," Spector said. "Why shoot for the edges of the market when we can shoot for the bull's eye?"
Then, a painstaking effort to find the right plastic packaging for the product was launched. Local retailers report that was perhaps the biggest initial holdup for the business.
But a package to hold SolBites eventually was developed, and the first batches of the product were placed in Steamboat businesses, including Bamboo Market, Steamboat Powersports, the Space Station, Mountain View Car Wash, the Ski Haus Conoco station and Steamboat Flyfisher.
"People definitely like them," Bamboo Market owner Anne Halloran said. "It's a nice alternative to less healthy things you buy at the grocery store. I think we're going to start selling a lot more of them as kids go back to school. They're perfect to put in a lunch box."
Halloran said she was one of the first retailers to sign off on selling the product because of its local connection, its nongenetically modified ingredients and its portability.
At Space Station, it is surrounded by local products ranging from Sweetwood Cattle Co.'s beef jerky to Honey Stinger products.
While the product is not selling as quickly at the Space Station as it is in Halloran's healthy food market, Spector has hope it will gain notoriety and catch on.
A healthier alternative
Anyone who grew up eating Kraft Handi-Snacks is familiar with the concept of SolBites: a small plastic container containing a few crackers, a spoon and a spread.
Spector claims his product's natural ingredients and lower sodium content makes it a much healthier food for kids than the Ritz crackers and cheese spread.
He said that it's a young demographic pushing the most sales of the product but that SolBites also are consumed by hikers and outdoor enthusiasts who easily can throw it into a backpack.
"It's totally unique in natural foods, and the response has been awesome," he said.
SolBites come in three flavors, including almond butter and honey; chocolate almond butter and strawberry; and peanut butter and strawberry. Spector said future plans for the product include a gluten-free offering and perhaps cheese and hummus for spreads.
"I don't think we'll be the only food item in this portable, healthy food category for long," he said. "People have been taking notice. Just like Clif Bars, Honey Stinger and PowerBar make up a category, we could see SolBites evolving into a category of its own."
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com