Those of us who have diabetes clearly have special dietary needs. Because of our compromised immune systems, we've got to get better nutrition than most people. Besides that, each of us have different strategies for meeting our needs. Some of us choose to eat low-carb, some low-glycemic, some low-calorie, some organic.
What hasn't been clear until now is how we can meet those needs when we buy prepared food. Nowhere is this a bigger challenge than that mainstay of both between-meal snacks and trail food known as nutrition bars.
Sometimes known as energy bars, almost all of the nutrition bars that we can buy in stores are simply candy bars by a more marketable name. Most are loaded with the worst kind of sweetener, high-fructose corn syrup.
Several years ago I got fed up with all the unhealthy choices. Years ago when I followed a low-glycemic diet, I was happy enough with Solo Bars. While I still eat low glycemic, those bars no longer meet my current low-carb needs.
So, imagine my surprise when the clear answer to this conundrum appeared on my computer monitor in an email message from Anthony Flynn, the founder and president of You Bar. The solution is something made possible by the Internet -- customization.
"You Bar allows you to design your own nutrition bars so you can have exactly what you want and need," Anthony wrote me. "As you design the bar, the website constantly updates the nutrition facts so it is easy to design a bar that fits certain nutritional needs as well as fit your personal tastes."
That made my day. So, I decided to see if I could design my own low-carb nutrition bar. But since I wasn't sure which ingredients would work for me, I called Anthony.
As the base of the bar he suggested that I pick peanut butter, soynut butter, and/or almond butter. For protein he suggested whey or soy, and recommended that I click on "extra protein." I could pick any type of nuts, any infusion, any type of seasoning except chocolate chips, any sweetener, but click on "not too sweet." No fruit, no grains.
That was all I needed to create the very first "MendosaBar." That's the label on every wrapper of my YouBars (you may want to call yours something else). The post office delivered a baker's dozen of a case of them to me just four or five days later. The MendosaBar has become my snack of choice.
Front and Back of a "MendosaBar"
My creation has 4 grams of available carbohydrate (total carbohydrate of 9 grams, fiber of 5 grams). It has 13 grams of protein, and 10 grams of fat, only 1 gram of which is saturated and none of which is transfat. Since they don't use any preservatives, it has a short expiration date of February 2, 2009.
Almost all of the ingredients are organic: the soynut butter, the flaxseeds, and the bit of honey which binds the ingredients together. I don't like food that is too sweet and the MendosaBar is just right for me. While it's a bit on the dry side and I know from talking with Anthony that it would be moister if I had them add more honey, I prefer it just as it is.
While Anthony himself helped me create my perfect You Bar, he also has a staff of experts who have created hundreds of thousands of made-to-order nutrition bars and are available to provide phone or email support. "We get requests for all sorts of ingredients. If we don't have them already, we will try to get them and then formulate the You Bar to exactly their specifications."
When I called Anthony, he told me that as a marathon runner, nutrition has always been one of his passions. He was in his senior year at the University of Southern California when he and his mother, Ava Bise, a snowboarding instructor, started the company two years ago.
"I was a finance major and am especially happy now that I didn't go into that," he told me. "All of my classmates are unemployed now."
The genius of Anthony's creation was combining his love of good nutrition with customization. "Originally we thought that it would be just people who were finicky eaters like my mom and myself," he told me. "And then we found that people who had various allergies and various diets -- like low-carb diets -- started loving it."
Later, as people requested the newest ingredients, like goji berries, they added them. The newest development is gifts. "We never expected that," he says, "but because you can place somebody's name on it, You Bars become a personalized gift, and people give them all sorts of clever names."
Starting a food company was a natural for Anthony because of his personal passion for good nutrition. But how did he pair that interest with customization?
"I got the idea of customization from the Dell computer website," he says. "I had just bought a Dell computer and customized it."
I told Anthony that his using the Internet to customize nutrition bars reminded me of Chris Anderson's book, The Long Tail. "I'm reading that book right now!" he replied. "The future of business is selling more of less, and that is what the Internet makes possible."
Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine, coined the phrase "The Long Tail" to describe niche strategies, such as those of Amazon or Netflix, that sell a lot of items in quantities far too small for any brick-and-mortar store to carry. I am a big fan of both of those sites -- Amazon especially for my unusual taste in books and Netflix for my offbeat taste in movies.
With food customization Anthony sees the sky as the limit. He has already expanded beyond nutrition bars to customizable protein shakes. If people want them, he will include vegetables into the bars and shakes.
As his company grows Anthony's goal is to becoming price-competitive with the Clif Bar. "Even now we can make a fresh product, exactly tailored to the person, with their name on it, delivered to their house for almost the same price as a bar that has been on the shelf for six months."