In a 1,400-square-foot commercial kitchen on East North Street, thousands of protein bars are handmade, baked, and then shipped across the country every week.
Called Avalanche Protein Bars, the business began a decade ago as a mother’s response to her athlete son’s extreme nut and legume allergy. Made and packaged in a completely nut-free environment, the bars come in six flavors: apple cinnamon, blueberry vanilla, caramel espresso, cherry chocolate, cinnamon raisin, and cranberry pineapple.
The base ingredients are rolled oats, toasted sunflower kernels, flaxseed, dried fruit, whey protein, and honey. A single Avalanche Protein Bar weighs about 82 grams compared with other less-hefty bars on the market, such as a Clif Bar Builder’s Protein bar at 68 grams. The key difference, however, is the nut-free component. When Anita Hagerty started baking the bars, she couldn’t find a single protein bar on the market that was guaranteed nut-free.
Hagerty didn’t set out to feed thousands – just one, her oldest son, who needed high levels of protein and energy in a safe form. But after friends and family tasted her creations, Hagerty’s baking venture turned into a full-blown business she and her husband, Tom, ran until this summer.
New owners and newlyweds George Buell and Megan Kelly took over the business in early July when the Hagertys needed to step away from operations. Buell is the listing agent with National Restaurant Properties Greenville for the former Strossner’s Bakery property at 1626 E. North St. where the kitchen is located, and he met Tom Hagerty there last year.
At the time, both Buell and Kelly also worked at restaurant Fork & Plough across the street from the kitchen, and they live in the adjacent Issaqueena Park neighborhood. When the Hagertys needed help with running the business while they were on vacation in February, it was convenient for Kelly to step in.
That two-week stint led to further discussions and eventually buying Avalanche Protein Bars on July 1. Kelly is the majority owner of the company and will be the primary operator, with Buell helping as needed.
“There’s a lot of emotional value to owning a business,” Buell says.
GROWING THE BUSINESS
They have plans to grow the business, increasing sales approximately 10 times the current revenue in the next three years, and propose to do so by targeted digital marketing to increase demand. Avalanche Protein Bars are currently sold only online, and likely will remain that way to avoid the hassles of a retail location, Kelly says.
Bars ship to individual buyers around the country as well as institutions running sports camps that need to keep nut-free options on hand. Kelly says they have a large number of Canadian hockey camps as customers.
To create the supply to meet the demand, Kelly says she’ll hire employees as necessary, using a nonstandard approach to recruitment.
They are working with the South Carolina Autism Society to identify those with autism spectrum disorder who might be looking for employment geared toward their specific needs and strengths. Buell says the repetitive nature of the work and the quiet environment could be a good fit for someone with ASD.