Bunch Bars creator saw a need for quality and portability to fight food insecurity – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Fork. Spoon. Life. Carol Christensen’
| Special to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Feeding people has always been at the center of Carol Christensen’s career. She believes everyone should have access to good food.
Her career began with food innovation and cheese at Sargento, followed by Johnsonville Sausage. She loved her work, but something was missing.
She began volunteering and cooking meals for the Salvation Army. That head-on look at food insecurity also inspired her to work with Nourish Farms, connecting families with the farm-to-table movement.
A decade later, she found herself playing with recipes in her kitchen, looking for a way to create an on-the-go solution to food insecurity. In October, she officially launched Bunch Bars. The plant-based protein bars, available online only, come in two flavors: peanut butter dark chocolate crunch and chocolate almond crunch. Every box of Bunch Bars purchased includes a donation of two bars to community organizations in the Milwaukee and Chicago areas, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, Sarah’s Circle, and the Center on Halsted.
Christensen is a Chicago native who attended UW-Madison and now lives in Sheboygan.
I have been in food my whole career. I started at Sargento Cheese, fresh out of undergrad from UW-Madison. I learned a lot there working on sliced cheese, other cheese. Then I learned a lot about Italian cheeses and innovation and new products, snack items.
I went from there to Johnsonville. At the time they were focused on Johnsonville brats. I was brought in again for food innovation. Brats had reached the West Coast, and they wanted to launch into new areas. … That’s my big company background.
When I was at Johnsonville, I was traveling across the country and didn’t have much time to give back or volunteer. My schedule was so chaotic. I was in grad school for my MBA and I had two kids. … Volunteering was a big void. My parents had always volunteered in the community, it was part of who we were as a family.
I started volunteering cooking at the Salvation Army in 2008. That was when the recession hit, and I saw firsthand what happened with the lines at the food pantry getting longer … the food situation was just shocking. I had been in the food world and I had no idea about this other world for people who might be down on their luck. That’s where the idea for my nonprofit Nourish Farms came from (in 2009). That was a big change for me to go from the big corporate world to quitting my job and starting a nonprofit. … Now it is actually on a 13-acre urban farm area up here in Sheboygan.
The root of an idea
When I was at Nourish, one of the things we did was farm-to-table meals for people. But there was a void. People’s lives are 24/7 and the need for good food is 24/7. I saw kids going home to empty cupboards. The homeless on the street really needed something they could take with them and eat anywhere at any time. That’s where the idea for a snack, something really great and good for people but that could go anywhere and serve them at any time, came to be.
The idea for Bunch Bars I’d say started and was rooted in my experience with Nourish. I stepped away from the board a couple years ago. … I tend to be at my best at the start of things, then I usually find someone who is really great at growing things and scaling things.
Bunch Bar beginnings
We decided in November 2019 that the way we were going to solve this problem of getting good food to good people was through bars.
We wanted it to be a clean-ingredient statement, whole foods, natural foods and importantly no added sugar. Not only are those things we knew people were looking for in the way they think about food today, but with the background especially of Boys & Girls Clubs, where I was boots-on-the-ground for two years with Nourish. Diabetes and health issues among kids is a very real thing. That was the other driver of why we did protein and nut bars and so forth. It tastes great, and with dates in there you don’t have to add any sugar, which is great for people’s health, especially kids.
Building a bar
The recipe for Bunch Bars started in my kitchen. We had at least 100 batches and months in the kitchen developing recipes. We actually blew out the motor of my Kitchen Aid mixer making bars over and over and over again to get the texture to be delightful, which is a problem with many protein bars.
What sets them apart
The crispy profile, the crisps in the bar… a friend came over and she picked up my big stone rolling pin and just started pounding them into the bar. We were like, this is amazing. Let’s make these again! That’s how the recipe started. The crisps, that was the pivotal moment, those bars were phenomenally better with the crisps.
We finally moved out of my kitchen just a few months ago and made the trip down to Chicago, a bigger kitchen. That’s where we’re making bars now. We had to because of the growing momentum behind the brand.
You won’t find Bunch Bars on grocery store shelves. There are so many bars there, it is pretty crowded. We decided to launch direct to consumer. Especially now, that proved to be a wise choice, because people are buying online more than they ever have before.
We’re really proud to launch this during a pandemic. At a time when many people may have hit the brakes, we hit the gas pedal. The need is there.
Fork. Spoon. Life. explores the everyday relationship that local notables (within the food community and without) have with food. To suggest future personalities to profile, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Published at Fri, 18 Dec 2020 16:00:20 +0000