By Isaac Bonnell
Move over energy bars — the new rave in Bellingham is “survival bars.”
Known as Belly Timber, these hefty snacks certainly look and feel different from other energy bars. In fact, they weren’t even designed to be energy bars in the first place, said owner and creator Mary Goit.
“We were just looking for a bar that everyone in our family could eat,” she said. “It wasn’t right away that we realized that we had an energy bar.”
Goit isn’t a mountaineer or a backcountry skier, just an active mom who cares about good food. The Belly Timber bar first took shape six years ago when Goit decided to launch her own business selling granola made from a recipe that her mother developed in the 1960s.
“I made a few changes to the recipe, but the whole company is basically based off of my mom’s recipe,” Goit said.
The granola quickly built a name for itself and bulk sales grew, prompting Goit to develop a handheld version of the granola. Using simple ingredients like peanut butter and date puree, she experimented with several recipes until she got the right taste and texture — something akin to a brownie with granola in it, she said.
Goit originally imagined the bar as just a grab-and-go snack for people on the move, but when the nutritional information came back from the testing facility, she knew she had created something more. The original square bar had 600 calories and was actually considered two servings.
“We have more calories than any bar on the market,” she said proudly. “We’re also high in protein and dietary fiber.”
“I’d love to just be in the recipe development department, but I also do the baking and the shipping and the billing and the marketing. Being a small business owner really stretches you and makes you grow.” — Mary Goit, owner of Belly Timber
Thus Goit began marketing Belly Timber Bars as survival bars. She was concerned at first that calorie-conscious eaters would scorn her product, but she soon found a strong following among adventure seekers — who generally want as many calories as they can get and will study the nutritional facts.
“When you have to carry your food, every ounce counts,” she said. “And chances are if you’re picking this up, you’re already the type of person who looks at the back label.”
That ‘squishable’ quality
Mo Trainor is that type of person. As a competitive triathlete and owner of Train-Or-Tri, she is strict about what she eats while training. And she’s tried enough energy bars to know which ones don’t agree with her stomach.
“I’m not one to readily eat solid foods when I race, particularly long races like Ironmans,” Trainor said, adding that prefers energy gels, shakes and fruit. “But these go down easily with me.”
Trainor said she likes the “squishable” quality about the bars because that makes it easier to digest on the race course without feeling like a rock in her gut.
The consistency is also a key factor that attracted the American Alpine Institute. The Bellingham-based mountain guiding company orders several hundred bars every year for its trips to Mount McKinley, also known as Denali, because the bar stays edible in extreme weather.
“It doesn’t really freeze, and when it’s hot, it doesn’t really melt,” said senior mountain guide Richard Riquelme. “On Denali, it can be really hot or cold in the same trip.”
Belly Timber Bars are a regular part of the lunch menu during the three-week trip, Riquelme said. Lunches are usually on-the-go and the bar fits nicely into backpacks and coat pockets. It’s also still tasty at high elevations, he said.
“With altitude, flavors change. Something you may like down here, you may hate it up there and it could make you sick,” Riquelme said.
Being a small business
Once Goit found her niche among adventure seekers, her small, one-person business grew exponentially.
She used to borrow kitchen space from Ciao Thyme Catering and Old Town Cafe. Now she has her own commercial kitchen just 100 feet from her house and a full-time employee to help with production and packaging, which is all done by hand. And she sells about 25,000 bars a year, mostly in the Pacific Northwest.
Sales are a bit slower this year compared to last year and profit margins have shrunk due to the rising cost of ingredients, but Goit said she isn’t too concerned. The business has made it this far and developed a loyal customer base.
But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have things to worry about.
“I’d love to just be in the recipe development department, but I also do the baking and the shipping and the billing and the marketing,” she said. “Being a small business owner really stretches you and makes you grow.”
No matter how stressful business gets, though, Goit still takes time to sit down and enjoy a Belly Timber Bar at her favorite time: “Late morning when I haven’t had my breakfast but I don’t want lunch yet.”