Jennifer Maxwell is returning to the energy bar world with one of the most impressive pedigrees in the market. She and her husband, Brian, founded PowerBar about 40 years ago, and later sold the company to Nestle in 2000.
Now she’s back with Jambar, which are organic, naturally sweetened energy bars that are inspired by her love of music. The new brand launched in September 2021.
The only problem: The market she helped pioneer is now a highly competitive and saturated field.
“There’s a lot of competition,” Maxwell said. “You have to decide, ‘what’s the brand identity?’ I know what I’m doing. I created the category.”
The Daily spoke with the San Rafael, California-based entrepreneur about the experience she’s bringing with her on this new endeavor, what’s different about today’s market, and where she sees the company going.
Maxwell began formulating recipes for Jambar in 2016 on the same KitchenAid mixer she used to start PowerBar.
“Thirty-eight years have gone by. The industry has changed quite a bit,” she said. “People ask me all the time. ‘Why did you get back into the energy bar industry that you and Brian created?’”
Maxwell’s answer is that she wanted a high-quality product made with real food.
“I’m a food scientist, a lifelong athlete and musician, and I thought I could combine my passions,” she said.
When asked if she would be taking a different approach to building her new brand and learning from her experience at PowerBar, Maxwell said, “we’ve learned that people matter, that relationships matter. But we also have to use our tools and resources efficiently so that we continue to grow and innovate with the industry.”
She noted that the speed of information and communication in today’s world is much quicker than in the 1980s and 1990s, and her company culture is to avoid relying too much on technology and instead focus on relationships.
“It’s really more about how we stay true to our roots,” Maxwell said. “We’re a very person-to-person oriented company. We like to speak to people rather than through machines if we can.”
As far as product formulation, nutrition and food science has evolved substantially since the early PowerBar days. Maxwell can get her hands on more ingredients that provide possibilities for innovation.
“The quality of ingredients we can use is really high compared to what we had available in the ‘80s,” she said.
In defining her approach to the business, Maxwell said the company is built on three pillars: authenticity, quality, and community.
“There are dozens and dozens of bars,” she said. “But what’s the purpose? No one can argue with these pillars.”
For authenticity, Maxwell leans on her backstory.
“We created this industry 38 years ago. I’ve been doing this a long time,” she said. “There’s a lot of credibility to that.”
For quality, Maxwell points to the ingredients, which don’t include manufactured sugars and use what she calls “real food.”
“The nutritional composition of Jambar is pretty high in terms of providing an athlete or active person with more nutrition,” she said.
For community and philanthropy, Jambar sponsors hundreds of events a year, about 25 events a month, according to Maxwell.
Maxwell sees Jambar as an energy bar for athletes, which she views as a specific category that’s less common in the market today.
The other part of the brand identity she’s highlighting is Jambar’s affiliation with sports and music.
Maxwell plays drums in a band, and she uses her own product to help provide the energy she needs to load her drum kit, unload it, play a set, then load everything again.
“An energy bar can come in really handy,” she said. “You’re not eating a sandwich behind the kit.”
Maxwell is distributing the bars in specialty running stores and outdoor specialty retailers as well as grocery stores. Jambars are also available on Amazon and on the company’s website.
Bart Schaneman can be reached at email@example.com.