LODI — For distance runners, it’s an all-too-common problem: energy bars or nutrition that either doesn’t taste good or leaves them feeling heavy mid-run. One local company is slowly conquering that problem.
Vicia (pronounced Vee-cee-ay) Energy Bars is the brain child of Gabe DeAnda, Nathan Flood and Jerry Patterson. The name is derived from the Latin saying, “Vini, Vidi, Vici,” meaning, “I came, I saw, I conquered.”
Patterson and Flood co-founded the company, later bringing DeAnda aboard. Both Patterson and Flood were ultra-marathon runners who found most sports nutrition products lacked what they needed.
“When we started [Vicia] we were training for the American River 50-mile run, and we were making bars for ourselves just because we didn’t really like what was on the market at the time,” Patterson said. “We were vegan at the time, and all the vegan bars either tasted like cardboard, or they tasted good, but they were too high in calories. We wanted to create something for ourselves.”
After consuming only the bars they had made for themselves and water while competing in the American River 50 and the Lake Tahoe 72-mile race, Flood and Patterson decided to market their concoction.
Originally, Vicia bars were made entirely by hand, beginning in March of 2013, and the energy entrepreneurs sold them at the Downtown Lodi Farmers Market. In August of 2016, they went into full-scale production.
When they began, Patterson said they would produce the bars in Napa, then return to Lodi to apply the topping and package them. It was a three-day process that added to their already full-time schedules.
“We thought, ‘there has to be a better way,’” Patterson said.
They began to research companies they could employ to mass produce the bars. What they found were places on the East Coast and one in California that was booked for a year and a half.
“When we started looking into packaging, one of the packaging companies kind of snuck us in the back door [of Oakland-based Creative Energy Foods],” Patterson said. “It was really serendipitous that way.”
Vicia initially began producing one flavor, Almond Noir. But the recipe wasn’t finalized, Patterson said. It took a lot of trial and error to find the right balance and to have a product that wouldn’t have an extremely short shelf life.
“Our main goal was to find the perfect balance of fats, carbohydrates and proteins,” Patterson said. “I want to say we probably did 500 recipes. Each week we would try something different.”
As they’ve developed their recipes, Vicia has added two flavors in addition to the Almond Noir. Patterson said they’ve developed a Coconutty Dark Chocolate bar and a Café Mocha bar. The three flavors will help Vicia move beyond their web-based and local sales to larger retail outlets.
“When you’re trying to get into retailers like Sprouts and Whole Foods and places like that, they want you to have three SKUs, three different flavors,” Patterson, a full-time Realtor, said. He went on to say that the additional flavors will be produced, packaged and ready for distribution by the beginning of the year, which will allow Vicia to start expanding.
“We thought for sure cross-fit [enthusiasts] would eat them up, and coffee shops would kind of like them,” Patterson said. “But it’s funny because the cross-fit community, some have been accepting, but some haven’t because [Vicia energy bars are] not 100-percent Paleo. Other markets, like coffee shops, we didn’t see those coming. [They] were going through more than anyone else.”
Patterson said their initial target audience have been appreciative of their efforts.
“Runners have really liked it because of the flavor and the texture,” Patterson said. The food scientist they’ve worked with have kept the bars from being to dry, so that runners and other endurance athletes don’t have to drink a lot of water to choke down dry food. “Across the board, the moisture needs to be there without having to swallow a whole bottle of water.”
Having Creative Energy Foods produce and package the product allows Patterson, Flood and DeAnda to work at their day jobs, taking funds they earn from Vicia sales and putting it back into the company. It also allows them to market the product more freely.
For now, the Vicia crew is using targeted Facebook and Instagram ads to tell their story.
“One of our biggest pushes, being in Wine Country and seeing all the different wine clubs where you’ll get a box of wine every other month, we wanted to bring that to bars, so we started a bar club,” Patterson said. “When we get the two new flavors out, we’ll take that to the masses, make it as convenient as possible and make sure people are always stocked up on their bars.”
To learn more about Vicia Energy Bars, visit viciaenergybar.com.