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meat across the grass. When they needed samples
for their debut trade show, they packaged their frst
batch of bars in their guest kitchen—only to fnd out
two days before the show that not all the bars
were sealed properly, which created “the most
disgusting mold I’ve ever seen,” Collins says.
Despite the setback, the trade show was a
success, and they returned with $100,000
worth of order commitments from retailers.
Forrest and Collins had hit on a powerful
formula for new food brands. It was a novel
product concept that fused two hot categories, protein bars and meat snacks like jerky.
There was their mission for a larger purpose—sustainable sourcing—and, of course,
the couple’s own compelling story. It all
added up to exactly the kind of authenticity
that legacy companies only wish they could
create on their own.
The frst time Forrest real- ized General Mills was nifng around was only a few months into the busi- ness. She noticed that someone in Minneapolis kept ordering multiple boxes of bars on a daily
basis. Assuming it was a General Mills
product-development person trying to copy
their concept, she started canceling the orders
as they came through online. Eventually a woman from General
Mills contacted Epic and explained that she was actually from
the company’s VC arm, 301 Inc (see “Destination: Minneapolis,”
page 27). Forrest agreed to stop canceling the orders. Soon,
General Mills went quiet.
Two years after that, in late 2015, the food giant surfaced
again, and Forrest and Collins accepted an invitation to visit
its headquarters. “We went there as a joke, to see the inside
of this mega-corporation and understand what we were up
against,” remembers Collins. The experience ended up being
revelatory. Other large food companies had reached out to
Epic over the previous three years, and every conversation felt
like the start of a transaction, not a relationship.
General Mills seemed diferent. Rather than sitting down
with a bunch of suits pumping them for fnancial informa-
tion, “we spent the whole afternoon talking about values and
mission and founding principles,” says Collins. The difer-
ence was even more striking when an executive named John
Foraker stepped in to become Epic’s main contact. Rather
than being rolled up into the giant’s snack division—the
home of such brands as Bugles and Chex Mix—Epic would
align with other natural and organic brands inside the con-
glomerate. Foraker, 55, had been the CEO of Annie’s Home-
grown for a decade when that brand was acquired by General
Mills in 2014, for $820 million. Foraker, who was supposed
to stick around only a year after the acquisition, had instead
settled in for what looked to be much longer-term involve-
ment at General Mills. And Annie’s was thriving, launching
new products and becoming the fagship of a growing family
of natural brands at General Mills that included Cascadian
Farm, Muir Glen, and Lärabar.
Collins and Forrest couldn’t have invented a better mentor
and protector. “If we do this deal, you will report up to me and
never have to talk to anyone else in Minneapolis,” they remember Foraker telling them. “We do this right.” It was everything
the Epic founders wanted to hear. Foraker, who has a degree
in agricultural economics, also felt strongly about GMOs and
organics—one of Forrest and Collins’s highest priorities when
they thought about how General Mills could help them muscle
suppliers to adopt more regenerative practices.
When Epic agreed to a deal in January 2016, the three-year-old company had a dozen employees and had brought in
a reported $20 million in revenue the prior year. Things started
out promisingly. Epic had long exhausted the meager North
American supply of meat from grass-fed, grass-fnished bison
for making its most popular bar, and the company lacked the
leverage to get ranchers to change. Forrest and Collins had
started selling two versions of the bison bar—one of which
contained grain-supplemented bison, a move that neither
founder felt particularly good about.
A year after the acquisition, though, Epic’s CFO and COO,
Robby Sansom, traveled to Wisconsin with General Mills’
head of natural and organic ingredient sourcing to visit
NorthStar Bison, a well-respected family-run farm. As they
ANATOM Y OF A PACKAGE
epic broke the frst rule of meat-industry package design: Don’t show the animal.
“We were like, ‘Let’s give it to them straight,’ ” says Forrest. “This needs to be an
Once, when they were
anatomically correct animal in its natural setting. I think one of the bulls has a
penis.” Concurs Collins: “yeah, big ol’ balls hanging out.”
experimenting with an
extruder in their backyard,
nuts clogged the system
and caused an explosion
that sprayed 10 pounds of
raw meat across the grass.