Behind the Brand: Matt n' Mike's on making a superfood bar for kids

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

Launched in Chicago earlier this year, Matt n' Mikes is aiming to add a natural retailer (either Whole Foods or Fresh Thyme) account to its distribution by the end of 2019.
Launched in Chicago earlier this year, Matt n' Mikes is aiming to add a natural retailer (either Whole Foods or Fresh Thyme) account to its distribution by the end of 2019.

Related tags: Food for kids, Snack bars

Within the adults snack bar category consumers can find everything from cold-pressed chilled bars made with whole fruits and vegetables to a myriad of clean label alternatives of protein bars. But when it came to snack bars for kids, the options were fewer and further between, shared the co-founders of Chicago-based kids snack bar brand Matt n’ Mike's.

“The category for adults was growing and the kids category just wasn’t doing the same thing; it hadn’t caught up to that good food movement,”​ Matthew Mulroe told FoodNavigator-USA.

"At the onset we wanted this to be a superfood for kids." 

Matt n’ Mike's​ launched earlier this year with three SKUs – blueberry, chocolate, and raspberry – sold online through the company’s website and in various Chicago area retail stores. 

Demand for single-serve bars continues to be a mainstay within the $33bn (November 2017) individual snacking category especially among families.  According to Nielsen sales data, snack bars saw the strongest absolute dollar growth between 2013 and 2016 with busy households purchasing these items twice monthly.

Families with five or more members over-index out of all US households, purchasing 16% more individually packaged snacks than the average family, Nielsen data showed.

Brothers Matthew and Michael Mulroe, who have full-time careers in law and investment banking respectively, got the idea to start a kids snack food brand after seeing how much their sister was struggling to find nutritious, minimally processed, clean label packaged food for her young kids.

Matthew and Michael studied the current kids snack category to see where they could offer a product that not only met their sister’s needs but many other busy and health-conscious parents' pain points as well.

“The first thing we did was go to Whole Foods and look in the kids category for healthier convenient snacks,”​ Matthew told FoodNavigator-USA.

“To us it really looked like the landscape of healthy convenient kids foods hadn’t changed in 20 years. The items that are on the shelf now are many of the same items that were on the shelf when I was in grade school.” 

Matt n' Mike's was selected as a runner-up for FoodNavigator-USA's FOOD FOR KIDS Trailblazers ​competition held in Chicago last month. 

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What makes Matt n’ Mike's a superfood?

According to Matthew and Michael, when formulating Matt n’ Mikes bars they worked backwards by establishing what they did not want in the final product in terms of ingredients.

“We knew we needed a shelf stable product and with that you can only use so many things,”​ Matthew said.

“To this day, it’s a struggle to find the right balance because kids are so picky, and because of the options available on the market right now they do crave these very carbohydrate heavy, sugar heavy foods. So it was really hard to figure out how to make something that was good, but that kids are still going to enjoy,”​ Matthew said.

“To us, almonds were an obvious ingredient to use because it’s going to provide a lot of good fats and protein.”

The bar’s core ingredients include almonds, dates, honey, chia seeds, spinach, cinnamon, and sea salt.

“We didn’t include any fillers in our product. It seems like when you walk down the snacks aisle the first every product is an oat-based product,” added Michael Mulroe. 

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What really makes Matt n' Mike bars a hit with kids is its soft and chewy texture, according to the brand.

“Some of the top competitors use four different types of sugar or syrups throughout the ingredient list and we only use the one through honey.”

While the bars do a have a small amount of added sugar (2g) due to the addition of honey, Matthew explained the added sugar content was part of the brand’s balance between nutrition and formulating a kid-friendly taste profile.

“We knew if it was just a raw food bar with almonds, spinach, and dates, kids weren’t going to eat it and so we needed to sweeten it up at least a little bit to make it more palatable,”​ he said.

Addressing allergies

While including one of the ‘big eight’ allergens ​– almonds –  in its products means Matt n’ Mike's bars can not enter many schools due to strict no-nut policies, the company believes it was important to launch something that was going to differentiate its product offerings.

There are also many more opportunities for kids snacking occasions outside of school hours, remarked Michael.

“We do know that not being able to enter schools is not ideal for us but there’s also different opportunities for snacks throughout the day. It is a problem, but there’s still a bunch of different opportunities in snacking.”

However, Matt n’ Mike's will be launching nut-free products next year in order to expand its reach.

‘The big picture is for Matt n’ Mike's to be a family brand’

After completing its test launch in 10 Mariano’s locations, the brand is aiming to expand distribution to all Mariano’s stores and sign on at least one more large natural channel account.

“[By the end of 2019] we’re hoping to double our account list,”​ Matthew said.

“The big picture for Matt n’ Mike's is to be a family brand and to be a source of good food for all families.”

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