With flavors like chocolate chip cherry torte, coconut cream pie, and tropical fruit tart, it’s no wonder that we’re slightly addicted to Lärabars. The Denver-based snack bar company produces millions of bars a year, staying true to the simple, wholesome, energy-packed ingredients that make them staples on backpacking trips, training rides, alpine hikes, and even morning snack breaks.
On August 18, Lärabar is launching its inaugural Up & Running Half Marathon Series in Denver. Proceeds will help Denver Urban Gardens fund the creation of four new local school gardens. We caught up with Lärabar founder and Denver native Lara Merriken for an inside look at cultivating one of the top brands in energy bars.
Bonus: Click here to register for the Lärabar Up & Running Half Marathon, 5K, or Kids’ 1K on August 18.
5280: Tell us about the days before you were a health nut.
Merriken: "Especially in high school, anything that was bad that we could eat, we would. Taco Bell was our favorite place to go. But I ended up playing volleyball at USC as a walk-on and my coach was very into healthy eating (no sugar and no red meat) for performance-playing. Sugar is a big thing to give up at 18 years old. But I realized that besides performance, I felt so much better when I ate better food. I started taking nutrition, exercise, and physiology classes. College was the beginning of the shift for me."
5280: Sometimes it’s not hard to know what you should be putting into your body; it’s just hard to execute it.
Merriken: "Everybody wants to feel like they indulge. Everybody wants a treat. It’s a matter of what you’re going to choose. Some days you are going to choose the cookie. It’s just broadening your awareness. When I got the inspiration to make Lärabar, I was hiking in the Colorado mountains. Out of nowhere this idea came to me: Why hasn’t somebody made a portable food product that tastes delicious, is indulgent (because I have this kind of junk food background), but has very simple—and few—ingredients. I was so excited, I ran down the mountain and started writing down ideas."
5280: How do you come up with your flavors?
Merriken: "I got my flavor ideas by combing grocery stores for pies, cookies, ice cream, cake. I knew people wanted that. It’s much more fun to eat something called ‘apple pie’ than ‘apple nut bar.’ I did a lot of experimenting. I’d go to people’s offices during lunch hour and ask their coworkers to try my creations and give me feedback. We have a much bigger team than we did many years ago when it was just me, but we continue to use the Cuisinart [food processer] in the test kitchen. I remember getting that thing as a gift years ago and thinking: How do you even use this? What do you even do with this thing? I created a company with it."
5280: Lärabar’s inaugural Up & Running Half Marathon happens next month in Denver. What’s your connection to your beneficiary, Denver Urban Gardens?
Merriken: "It’s a perfect fit. Our commitments to health and sustainability match. I worked for the city of Lakewood many years ago as a social worker, and I ran a youth program there called the Community Involvement Program. The city donated a piece of land to me and I started a community garden. D.U.G. and I worked together to help bring it to life. I believe it’s still going on today. I think about how I grew up. My parents weren’t huge into gardening—processed foods and convenience were the focus. It’s really nice to let kids have that experience. I’m just really thrilled that we can do something to give back to D.U.G."
—Image courtesy of Lärabar.