An Edmonton chocolate company that makes endurance bars for athletes has been named a semifinalist for this year's Startup Global Pitch Competition.
7 Summits Snacks is hoping that access to business development, mentorship, and potential prize money will help the company grow its consumer base so it can become a sports nutrition option known around the world.
Kristyn Carriere, a marathon runner, and her sister Liana, a triathlete, came up with the idea to create a chocolate bar designed for function about two years ago. "We were both tired of eating carbohydrate gels and Clif bars," she told Taproot's innovation podcast, Bloom.
She knew from studying nutrition and food science at the University of Alberta that chocolate has a good nutrition profile for endurance sports, where you're burning energy slowly and need a snack that can fuel a longer period of activity. Carriere's decade of experience in Europe working for some of the biggest chocolate companies in the world also helped the duo determine that there wasn't a similar product on the market.
The sisters set out to develop a bar that was more easily digestible, using ingredients that people know and understand. "A lot of endurance sport athletes have had ... upset tummies while they're doing their activities because they're eating so many of these carbohydrate gels and their body just doesn't know what to do with them," Carriere explained. That's why they decided to use ingredients like chocolate, honey, and coconut butter — food that the body already knows how to process.
Launching just before the pandemic began proved challenging because they weren't able to attend races and hand out demo bars for feedback. But with Carriere's background in consumer packaged goods, she knew they needed data to determine how to move forward. "Instead of having a focus group, we created bars and mailed them out to over 100 people," Carriere said.
The Edmonton running community made up about 75% of the 7 Summits Snacks consumer tests, and the company was able to iterate based on their feedback. The community took on the task of tasting the company's chocolate again in early 2021 to help decide on future flavours. Mountain bikers are another key demographic: 7 Summits Snacks is working with Shred Sisters out of Canmore and has plans to support Cassette Collective in Edmonton this year as well.
As the company continues to grow, its biggest challenge is manufacturing. "There's not really a chocolate industry in Edmonton," Carriere said, pointing out that the players are boutique chocolatiers like Jacek Chocolate Couture and Sweet Lollapalooza Confections, which have a different approach from 7 Summits Snacks.
"So I have to create my own path."
7 Summits Snacks is currently working with a manufacturing partner in Calgary, and Carriere expects that she'll have to find another one in Vancouver or out East. That's one of the reasons she applied to the Startup Global Pitch Competition.
Eventually, Carriere would like to see a manufacturing facility and automation available in Edmonton. "Chocolate is a very hands-on craft and science. It can be very time-consuming without any sort of automated equipment. So to be able to find something local that you can go in and not have to commit to ordering 100,000 chocolate bars would be a huge benefit," she said.
Carriere is also hoping to build brand awareness across Canada and into the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., an area laced with trail systems for runners and bikers. The company has fielded interest from importers in Japan as well.
If 7 Summits Snacks wins a portion of the $75,000 in prize money available through Startup Canada, it would help to fuel the expansion, including obtaining packaging that is U.S.-compliant and paying for the related manufacturing costs.
The pitch to Startup Canada is in October. Until then, Carriere will be working alongside her sister and general manager Jason Britton to further develop the business model and refine the pitch. They'll also be busy selling endurance bars and superfood bars, which are similar to classic chocolate bars but follow the same approach of using minimal ingredients.
"I don't have a business background, so I'm learning on the fly," Carriere said. "Startup life is hard, and any little bit you can convince people to share with you is going to be helpful."