Taylor Collins and Katie Forrest have come a long way since their time at Austin High School in Texas where they would occasionally lock eyes. It wasn’t until they were both enrolled at Texas State University in San Marcos that they would begin dating. At university, Taylor studied sports science, earning a master’s in physical therapy. Katie studied psychology, then earned a master’s in women’s studies.
Their scholastic pursuits differed, but Taylor and Katie shared several things – a passion for physical fitness, a keen interest in environmental issues, and an undeniable attraction to each other. And while neither studied business, both had the heart of an entrepreneur. So, of course, they started a business together – a commercial recycling company. The business was successful for five years – making enough money to help with college expenses and fund their mutual interest in outdoor sports.
After graduating, Katie was working as a counselor in Dallas while Taylor was in Austin doing physical therapy. They soon realized they were miserable in those jobs. Katie quit and moved to be with Taylor in Austin. Taylor followed suit and quit his therapy job.
Taylor and Katie were passionate competitors in triathlons and endurance cycling races. The two were also longtime vegetarians and raw food vegans. The combination of those passions led to the couple’s second startup. Thunderbird Energetica, launched in 2010, made organic, vegan, raw energy bars. The bars were picked up by Whole Foods the next year, a key factor in the company’s success.
Katie had begun to suffer from intense gastrointestinal pain – a myriad of tests and doctors couldn’t find a cause. The couple made a drastic decision – one that would alter their lives in ways they couldn’t imagine. They decided that they needed to change their diet – they began eating meat. Within two weeks of beginning a paleo diet, Katie’s pain ceased. Not only that, both she and Taylor both had more energy, increased strength, and recovered more quickly after exercise.
Their Thunderbird bar business continued to grow, but now the bars didn’t fit the couple’s diet. That led to what many would consider a wacky idea – meat bars. Taylor and Katie, however, knew the idea was not only viable – but presented a huge opportunity. First, to their knowledge, no one had marketed a meat-based protein bar. Importantly, the idea created instant product differentiation. Trying to explain the difference between a Thunderbird bar and a Luna Bar was a challenge. Meat bar needed no such explanation.
EPIC Provisions launched in 2013. The products were created based on two essential elements. The EPIC bar would be a 100% grass fed animal based protein bar designed as nature intended, and EPIC foods will always be humane, pasture centered, and most importantly, delicious. EPIC’s products were a modern-day pemmican – the food made with meat, fat and berries by American Indians decades ago.
The couple’s belief that a meat bar would be successful proved to be correct. Whole Foods agreed to carry the EPIC products from the very beginning. Not only did the EPIC business begin to grow in sales and distribution – they began to see competitors enter the market.
Taylor, Katie, and their thirteen employees – known as the wolf pack – were passionately committed to the company’s vision and the product’s quality. They also knew that to expand and grow the business exponentially, they would need a major investor – perhaps a buyer. EPIC reviewed several funding options and vetted countless potential buyers before they found the ideal buyer. General Mills was a company with the financial and distribution resources EPIC Bars needed. More importantly, Katie and Taylor were convinced General Mills had a solid commitment to maintain EPIC’s standards. General Mills purchased EPIC in January, 2017.
The success of EPIC Bars is the direct result of the efforts made by Taylor Collins and Katie Forrest to build a fearless brand.
Fearless Brands are born of purpose and fueled by passion
The marriage of EPIC Bars and General Mills has been everything Taylor and Katie had hoped it would be. The company is still based in Austin, Texas, run by the couple and the wolf pack, and completely in sync with the original vision and standards which launched the business. For its part, General Mills understands that to remain relevant to today’s consumer, they have to do business differently. It’s a wonderful example of a huge, established corporation learning from a younger and more nimble company.
There’s much to learn from the success of EPIC Provisions and the efforts of Katie and Taylor.
Embrace your passion – Yes, regular readers have heard this mantra time and time again. There’s a reason for that – it’s an essential ingredient to a successful business and a fearless brand. Katie and Taylor were miserable in their early careers. Instead, they listened to their hearts – their passion – and chose a different path. The journey would be high risk. The learning curve would be enormous. The mistakes would be many. The satisfaction and fulfillment Katie and Taylor would realize would be priceless. Embrace your passion!
Listen to your gut – For these two, the phrase “listen to your gut” was taken literally and led to the concept of EPIC Provisions. The two listened to their gut – followed their instincts – throughout their lives. Starting a business in college, quitting jobs they found stifling, creating Thunderbird bars and finally, EPIC Bars. All too often, we are quick to turn our backs on our instincts – it’s easier to find reasons things won’t work. Our instincts are always going to be spot on, but they won’t always be wrong either. Listen to your gut.
Selling is not ‘selling out’ – There was a great deal of outrage by loyal EPIC Bars customers when the General Mills deal was announced. The perceptions that big is bad, corporations will sacrifice principle for profit, and the founders would be phased out were rampant. Each of those fears has proven to be untrue. Substantial capital and resources are necessary for a small company to scale quickly – both in sales and its environmental impact. The marriage of EPIC and General Mills is the perfect example of selling without selling out.
An entire food category has been disrupted by EPIC Provisions and the EPIC meat bars. Every one of us can replicate this success by embracing our passion, taking risks, finding the right partners, and building a fearless brand.