Edmonds man gets back to basics with Umchu bar
In 2005, Edmonds resident Steve Lunde stumbled upon a new product while attempting to make a healthy oatmeal cookie that wouldn’t become stale in one week. At the time, he was renting and working out of the kitchen of an organic farm in Poulsbo, but living in Edmonds. Then, two years ago, Lunde moved the production of the Umchu Bar, his original healthy “primitive nutrition” bars, into downtown Edmonds.
“I was already in the [fitness] industry making sugar-free chocolate bars back when the low-carb craze was really popular,” Lunde explained of his creation of the Umchu bar, also known as the Cave Man bar until March 2013. He started the company Complete Life Potential in 2001 with his chocolate bars, but did not make the original Cinnamon Pecan Umchu bar until four years later.
“[When] I made this bar, it was before the gluten-free craze, and I didn’t eat much wheat or grains – it gave me heartburn. The whole idea behind [the bar] was trying to minimize as many ingredients as possible,” Lunde explained. “When I created it, I didn’t use any grains or wheat. I used rice for the sweetener, and then I took out the dairy… At the end result, my first product only had four ingredients, and the ones that came after only had three.”
At any given time, Lunde carries about nine bars in which the only grain is rice, four or five of which are staples. The other bars are seasonal options due to their high production costs. For example, the Almond Cherry is made of Oregon cherries dried with no sugar, sunflower oil and California almonds. “So pressing those together is incredibly expensive because there’s no filler,” Lunde explained. “So we put those out in small batches, and if somebody orders quite a few, we have to minimize how many they can order.”
As the bars are handmade in small portions, Lunde can produce two batches of up to 500 bars each per day. “We just heat up syrup, and… we don’t bake our products, so everything is hand-formed. We have a big slab table and we mix up our ingredients and then we go to work. 90-percent of our production [is] hands-on forming the product.”
Umchu Bars are now carried by 61 companies across Washington and Oregon, as well as on Amazon.com. However, this expansion did not develop over night. “I would just drive around Oregon, anywhere around the Pacific Northwest and talk to the grocery managers, store owners and slowly pick up an account by account,” Lunde recalled. “A lot of what I’ve noticed is people will visit the Northwest… and they’ll buy the bar, and they’ll go back home, and there’s obviously no place to get it where they live, so then they use Amazon [to order the bars].”
“I really like the product, but I like making my own schedule. I haven’t done any farmers markets for a while, but I enjoyed that. It’s fun… but I really like creating new flavors.” Lunde says his personal favorite flavors are the Cinnamon Pecan bar and the Primitive PB&J bar. Check out Umchu bars in local grocery stores like PCC or online.
— By Caitlin Plummer
An inspired name for a bar…umm chew! UMCHU Bars are tasty, hand made bars, or as they say, “hand forged”. Containing limited ingredients (at most 5) but loads of flavor, these bars are just right for a snack on the trail, nosh on the slopes, or pick-me-up in the afternoon. Free of wheat, corn, soy, dairy, eggs, and fillers, they are wholesome nutrition containing 170-250 calories per bar. Appetizing flavors include Peanut Sea Salt, Almond Coconut (our favorite!), Coconut Cocoa Nibs, Coconut Flax, Cinnamon Pecan, Primitive PB&J, Honey Coconut & Nuts, and Seeds & Seeds. Looking for a healthy snack, try UMCHU!
Beyond the Label:
-- Maggie Hastings Clifford, Port Townsend Food Co-op Owner
Stacked on the shelves in their simple clear wrapping, Caveman Bars might even appeal to a Luddite. Each bar contains no more than five ingredients and the business operates by a minimalist approach to nutrition. “Our objective is to stay small, hand-crafting quality natural food bars for farmers markets and fine local northwest businesses. Our bars are made in very small batches on a weekly basis and delivered fresh to our customers within just days of production,” says the Caveman Bar website.
Keeping it simple is what founder of Caveman Bar, Steve Lunde, intends to do. Each Caveman Bar uses “no refined sugars, dairy, preservatives, soy or wheat flours,” said Lunde. He crafts them at the commercial kitchen in Poulsbo called Farm Kitchen.
The business started about 9 years ago when Lunde was experimenting at home with an old oatmeal cookie recipe he’d gotten from his mom. His goal was to make a similarly delicious treat without the flour, milk, or eggs. The result of this first experiment was a,“simple chewy cinnamon oatmeal cookie containing only four ingredients,” said Lunde.
And so it began.
Lunde took his new recipe to the Farm Kitchen and made a few small batches. After sharing the treats at some local farmers markets, he learned that his efforts had been a success – soon he was developing four additional recipes for Caveman Bar.
I asked Steve to tell me where he sources the ingredients for his bars. I had examined the coconut flax variety at the Co-op and decided to buy because it said it was from Poulsbo. Having assessed the availability of the food sources, however, I knew that all the ingredients could not have come from Poulsbo. He gets some of his ingredients from Oregon, pecans from the southwest and cinnamon from California.
As a consumer of Caveman Bars, I can tell you that they’re delicious and their minimalist business model and approach to nutrition amidst the economics of perpetual growth appeals greatly to me. Caveman Bars are sold at Port Townsend Food Co-op on aisle one with other healthy candy bar alternatives.
Minimalist food bars have local flavor
By Philip Pirwitz Enterprise reporter
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There are fewer ingredients in a Caveman Bar then there are food groups, and that’s exactly the way creator Steve Lunde wants it.
Now five flavors in all, Caveman Bars are made of little more than nuts and fruit held together by brown rice syrup. There are no preservatives, no dairy products, and no flour. All but one flavor are gluten-free.
Lunde, from Edmonds, can testify to the nutritional value of the bars because each is made by hand and by him.
“There’s no dairy, no flour,” said Lunde last week. “The end product is extremely minimal. They’re like a cookie that will never go stale.”
A personal trainer in his 20s and former employee of QFC, Lunde first entered the nutritional health field making a sugar-free chocolate bar with his own company during the low carbohydrate craze of 2001.
“Every job I’ve had I’ve struggled,” Lunde admitted. “I wanted to start my own company and get into nutrition.”
Calling his operation a company may be a bit strong, however, considering the number of his employees is equal the number of his ingredients. Lunde develops the recipes and makes the bars while his brother Lars packages them Both originally worked out of their kitchen, but they now rent a commercial facility. Only one extra member aids with distribution outside of Washington.
Unfortunately, the chocolate bars didn’t last long.
“The craze lost popularity and so did the bar,” he said, “although I’m kind of glad it went down because it was hard to make. It was a great learning experience, though.”
While Lunde always had the idea for the Caveman Bar, it wasn’t until four years ago that his company actually put them into production. The goal was a nutritional bar with “no flour and no filler – just real basic ingredients.”
“A lot of other bars use a lot of products,” he said. “That’s great if it’s what you’re looking for, but it’s not what I was looking for.”
Lunde made an effort to create bars anyone could enjoy. Soy-free bars are available for anyone with allergies, as are bars made with Agave syrup cactus syrup) for diabetic customers. Lunde even claims his pecan oat and raisin bar is a no-flour version of his grandmother’s oatmeal cookie.
After months of development, including plenty of trial and error, Lunde began taking his completed bars to nearby farmers markets, including markets in the U-Village, Ballard, and Edmonds, where he lives.
“Edmonds has been great,” Lunde said. “My first accounts were in Edmonds, and the farmer’s market was a great way to promote the product.”
Lunde also met with many of the local store owners he’d known through life in Edmonds and work at QFC. The first local shop to stock his chocolate bars was the Sub Shop in the Westgate neighborhood, and now they are among the many Edmonds retailers to stock Caveman Bars.
“Most stores I sell to are independently owned,” said Lunde of his new role as vendor. “They don’t need to talk to a distributor and are allowed to control accounts. Managers call when the stock is out, saying ‘Hey, Steve, give me some bars!’”
Stores in Port Townsend, Seattle, Whidbey Island and even California now stock the bars.
Lunde is thrilled by the response to his Caveman Bars, but is unsure how large a company he wishes to maintain, and doesn’t wish to become “just another Clif bar.”
“There are not too many handmade products out there,” he said “From beginning to end, to packing and delivering, the whole process is hands-on, the kind of process that comes with a quality bar.”
Umchu bars are:
- Wheat free
- Soy free
- Corn Free
- Dairy free
- Gluten free
- Made with minimal ingredients and no additives or preservatives
Complete Life Potential Inc.
Address: P.O. Box 484 Edmonds Wa 98020