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Archive for September, 2009

Alternative energy: SCV man finds success with granola bars

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Alternative energy: SCV man finds success with granola bars

Stevenson Ranch resident Jeff Cohen sells his Granola Gourmet product in Whole Foods stores. Cohen created a snack specially for diabetics, but enjoyed by all types of people.

By Josh Premako
Signal Senior Writer

Jeff Cohen didn’t intend to go into the business of producing granola bars. He was simply looking for something to snack on.

But in nearly three years, Cohen has gone from whipping up snacks to helming Granola Gourmet, a company that produces low-glycemic energy bars.

Cohen, 47, was diagnosed with diabetes about 15 years ago.

One of the biggest feathers in the cap of the Stevenson Ranch resident has been having 24 Whole Foods Markets in Southern California carry his bars.

“My goal is to make Granola Gourmet a national brand that’s widely accepted by everybody, and just happens to be good for you,” Cohen said.

Tonight, ABC is airing a rerun of “Shark Tank” featuring Cohen. The “sharks” of the show turned down Cohen’s idea, but since the episode originally aired last week he said he’s received hundreds of positive e-mails.

Cohen’s is a story with simple beginnings – he got the idea while his wife was baking muffins.

It was late 2006 and, Cohen said, “I was looking for a snack that tasted good but wouldn’t cause my blood sugar to spike.”

One of his sons got the ball rolling, he said, by urging Cohen to come up with something he’d like that his father could eat.

“I’m not a cook. I don’t know the first thing about food,” Cohen said.

As he researched the glycemic index, Cohen said, he eventually settled on trying out granola bars.

He started preparing more and more batches, as he found his sons were frequently taking them to school to share with friends.

In spring 2008, he began selling his energy bars at the weekly farmers’ market held in downtown Newhall.

“One thing led to another,” he said Monday, standing next to shelves full of colorfully packaged energy bars in Valencia’s Whole Foods store. “It’s been a pretty interesting ride.”

When Cohen started setting up shop at the farmers’ market, he was making about 1,000 bars a month.

Now, he said, Granola Gourmet is producing about 20,000 bars monthly.

The bars are available in four flavors: Spiced orange cranberry, very berry, brownie and chocolate espresso.

The base ingredients in each bar are organic oats, blue agave, flax and sunflower seeds, almonds and honey.

A key to success, Cohen said, has been maintaining a broad appeal, reflected in his motto: “Energy bars for athletes, diabetics and you.”

Gaining the support of Whole Foods was a matter of finding someone interested in the product, which Cohen said was hard work.

The first store to start carrying Granola Gourmet bars was the Whole Foods on Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena. Within two weeks, 10 more stores added the bars, with another 10 over the following month.

Now, Cohen is selling Granola Gourmet bars in 24 Whole Foods markets, through and at, and he said he is negotiating a deal with a major California grocery store chain.

In a year, Cohen said he’d like to be on track to becoming a million-dollar-a-year business.

With Granola Gourmet, Cohen came up with more than a solution for snack-time cravings.

“These are the granola bars that saved my life,” he said.

Cohen spent six years heading up a successful information technology company, which he said he started and saw jump to $3 million in revenue within two years.

Everything came crashing down about a year ago, he said, when the economy went south.

“I was left holding the bag on a lot of personally guaranteed loans I was not in a position to settle,” he said. That led to a bankruptcy filing. “People have financial problems,” he said. “You either give in to them or you fight like hell to get out.

“Having (Granola Gourmet) has given me the ability to stay positive.”