“The Power that Made you has the power to Heal you“
Steve Crites here. Co-founder of Gut Bar and husband to the “Gut Momma” – Shirley Crites.
So how did we get here? Well, it’s been quite the journey.
Originally Shirley and I started out looking to purchase some property, mostly as a bug out place or a family retreat away from Denver. We looked in the Colorado mountains, then in Texas to no avail. But then a voice came to me one day while driving, saying to look in Shirley’s home town of Paxton, Nebraska.
We had always needed a place to lay our heads when visiting family and really wanted something of our own for our stuff. Comfortable yet convenient. We looked for a small house in town but there wasn’t much inventory. Then we discovered a small farm property for sale in Sarben, just north of Paxton. It was on the North Platte River with about 11 total acres. It had four acres of plantable land which usually housed horses. Also had a two story farmhouse, some outbuildings, a chicken coop and its own well. Perfect! But it needed a lot of fixing up. So we set about redoing the house and buildings to make them comfortable and usable.
We also had a draw to plant something in the fields and create a hobby farm. We weren’t sure what we wanted to plant on the property but a farmer in Paxton had planted about 25 acres (or around 25,000 plants) of Aronia Berries, also called Black Choke Berries. She was selling products made from these berries in her little shop in town and online. We were intrigued so we asked what they were and if they were relatively easy to grow. We found out that they actually only needed a small amount of regular water and were relatively pest free. Could even grow them organically. We looked at the possibility of selling our future berry production to the supplement industry, along with combining our berries, after harvesting with the larger farm in Paxton.
We later discovered that actually the Aronia berries were very high in antioxidants, and were starting to catch on in the health food industry not only as a supplement, but also for juices and powders.
Around the same time, Shirley was starting to get her certification in functional medicine/integrative health with a nutrition emphasis. When she completed it, she weighed going to work as a health coach in physician’s practices.
In 2019 we started selling frozen Aronia Berries at a local Denver farmers market along with said jellies and syrups – all made in Nebraska. They were interesting to people but no one knew what Aronia was much less the outstanding health benefits. And we didn’t really either. We didn’t sell a lot but continued to be intrigued. Then came the COVID Pandemic of 2020 and the world shut down. I was put on hiatus at my medical sales job and Shirley wasn’t able to move forward as a full time health and wellness coach. We were stuck at home with our brains either operating on too much coffee or fidgeting for something else to do besides just walking our dogs every day and too much Netflix.
We were sitting on a bunch of frozen Aronia Berries when it came to us. We could make products out of them that were really good for you and could be even more delicious than those currently on the market. Shirley discovered in her training that all health tends to lead back to the gut. So gut health became an overriding theme for us as we began to investigate the role of antioxidants in the human body. We found in numerous articles and studies that high antioxidants actually reduce overall inflammation. So all of a sudden it became clear that if we were going to make products out of the Aronia berries, they should be targeted towards gut health, especially if there were such great benefits of the Aronia berry when implemented with the right food sources.
What we discovered in that first year at the farmers market was most people were turned off by the astringent properties of the Aronia Berry and that they just couldn’t stomach them by themselves (sucked the moisture right out of your mouth) and would only use them if putting into a protein shake or in baking. We also found that while some people bought the jelly and the syrup because of the flavor profile, they were loaded with sugar which would ultimately not be good for the gut. So we were in a bit of a dilemma in that the products we had were really not that good for overall health, and definitely would not be consumed by the customers to get the full benefit. So we came to the conclusion we needed to do something different.
It came to us that perhaps, an Aronia-based nutrition bar would be an ideal source for people to get the benefits of the berry, but in a whole food, that could be sugar and preservative free, gluten free and vegan, which would be incredibly gut healthy and desirable. And Gut Bar was born. We got the idea for the name while we were one afternoon up on the farm with some friends, and it came to us that if we created a nutrition bar that was healthy for the gut, we had to brand something around the gut health message. And “gut bar” hadn’t been used by anybody in any way here in America. And there definitely was not an Aronia berry based nutrition bar on the market that we could find.
So we moved forward with taking the frozen berries and putting them in a home based dehydrator so that they could be ground up and put into the bars. We experimented tirelessly with trying to figure out how long to dry the berries, especially if it was the whole berry with the juice inside. Or if we should just use a crushed pumice , which would take less time to dry. We came to the conclusion that using the whole berry was much easier, but also better for the products as it was incorporating, both the skin and the juice of the berry which had different beneficial properties. Also, we discovered that using a date based binder for the bars was going to be tricky because it can either be too sticky or we would have product, that would fall apart if we didn’t have enough binder. We also wanted to incorporate things like whole raw nuts, dried fruits, coconut, cinnamon and other fun nutritious ingredients. By chance we were reading an article on the benefits of chicory root inulin fiber, and Shirley made the decision to see if we could incorporate this powder into our bars. We ended up adding it into the dried Aronia powder, and then blended it into the bars and discovered that actually was a huge benefit for the gut as well. It’s a very good prebiotic fiber that actually boost the ability of our products to be even more beneficial to the entire gut track. Then we decided to go ahead and look at doing a packaged powder with Aronia and the chicory root inulin fiber combined. We decided to call it Gut Bar Powder because it would truly be a beneficial additive product that you could blend into smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal, applesauce – anything along those lines.
Ultimately after much work in the kitchen, we enlisted the help of a food scientist to perfect the recipes and get us the shelf stability we needed. We were able to find a copacker locally who could make the bars for us after we perfected the recipes for our four total bars – in coconut cashew, cacao coconut almond, lemon cashew almond, and apple walnut cinnamon. We also were able to get a packaging company here locally to print us our shrink wrap, and then we were off and running at the next farmers market in 2021. We also decided to package the powder in two forms. One with the inulin fiber added for gut health and another with added glucosamine for benefit to the joints. Once we introduced Gut Bar nutrition bars and Gut Bar Powders at that farmers market, our sales immediately took off because the gut health messaging seemed to be resonating with many people, especially those who were experiencing real gut problems, and that really became a game changer for us as we were now messaging around gut health instead of just the Aronia Berry.
We also came up with the idea to juice the Aronia berries, after visiting with a fellow farmer in England and discussing with him the benefits of Aronia juice. We discovered another Aronia farmer in North Colorado, who was making their juice into Aronia wine. We approached them with the prospects of having, the berries, crushed in their wine press, and then stored frozen until we could figure out the packaging which we then decided to do as a 2 ounce juice shot. We really didn’t want to have to handle large bottle cases as a means to bring a juice to the market, but thought a juice shot would be both more manageable and more of a “grab and go” product that people might really take to when needing an energy shot alternative but with the high antioxidant benefit. So Gut Bar Juice Shots were born.
We ultimately discovered along the way that Aronia also has tremendous immune benefits. So during COVID, people were looking for an alternative means to boost their immunity for added protection, especially in healthcare settings. so after I went back to work doing cases in the hospitals, I realized there wasn’t a lot of food that health care staff could actually get in the cafeteria at the time that was both satiating and healthy so as to provide additional benefit to their immune system. And again we found that immunity (70+%) does derive from overall gut health. So we began introducing our Gut Bars into the hospital cafeterias, so that there would be a better alternative for people needing to take food back up to the floors where they were working.
And this was a major breakthrough in our realizing that our products could provide even greater benefit. We were also approached to put our products into integrative pharmacy networks and practices around the country, because they were also trying to find alternative sources of nutrition and supplements for their customers who are patients looking for alternatives to prescription drugs and poor food choices. While we do a great web based business online and ship our products to the customers directly, there is a need for our products to be on the shelves, in specific types of stores where our ideal customer tends to shop for healthy products regularly.
We have found a production company in Southeast Denver that can now make our powder products and our juice shots so that we can have local control over the production. And we have various sources in England, Turkey and Poland that can supply us with unique products as well, should we decide to grow our portfolio.
So why do we consider Gut Bar to be divinely inspired? Because it came together like that “perfect storm”. Or as some would say, the “stars aligned” for us. What was originally a voice to purchase some property, leading to a hobby farm that then led us to a unique specialty berry with great health benefits. This eventually led us to making something out of those berries that was both delicious and nutritious. And then discovering overall that there was tremendous health benefits for specific gut related disease states, even in immunity, cardiovascular and brain health. We wouldn’t have discovered this if it hadn’t been for getting turned on to the Aronia Berry by our friend the farmer in Nebraska. Nor if Shirley hadn’t gone through the training to get her certification as a functional medicine trained health coach. Truly understanding that all health is derived from a healthy gut. And with my sales and marketing background, we may not have discovered the way to build the business and even implement it into the healthcare settings.
So Yes, we do consider Gut Bar to be divinely inspired because God made all of this come into focus for us. Usually at times along the way He kept nudging us towards our overall goals, presenting opportunities and enabling us to truly help a wide range of people who are suffering due to many gut related issues with our food and the pharmaceutical products in our society.
And for that, we are truly grateful to God for that inspiration and His divine guidance from Heaven above. Now we just have to see how high we can take it!