Like mountain climbing, starting a business can be an uphill battle.
Fortunately, Zach Heine has experience with both.
Hein, a Camas High School graduate, is the founder and owner of Range Meal Bars, which he launched in 2020. Hein designed Range Meal Bars to be an alternative to the sugary protein bars often found on store shelves.
Range Meal Bars are currently available at 30 different hiking and outdoor stores throughout the Vancouver-Portland area, and that number is expected to rise to more than 100 by the end of next summer.
“In the end, I started this company because I like to be creative, and I like to solve problems,” Hein said.
The problem Hein encountered occurred when he was an engineering student at Montana State University. Between the long days on campus and fun weekend adventures in the mountains, Hein found it difficult to pack enough quality calories to keep him going all day.
Unable to find anything he needed in the market, Hein took matters into his own hands by moving into the kitchen to create his own solution.
He started by trying a recipe without brownie bread. Instead of using quick-fix protein powder and other sugary ingredients typically found in snack bars, Hein added calorie-dense whole ingredients to create something more like a meal than dessert.
The creation, called “Zach Bars”, was a hit with his classmates and friends. After graduating from Montana State in 2017, Hein began thinking about taking his project to a large audience.
In 2019, Hein took courses at Oregon State University’s Center for Food Innovation in Portland, where he learned the skills he needed to hone and improve his product.
After securing space in a local commercial kitchen in Vancouver, sourcing wholesale suppliers and creating all necessary brands, the new and improved “Zach Bars” was renamed Range Meal Bars and began operating in stores in June 2020.
Launching his product during the pandemic has proven challenging. Retailers have been reluctant to partner with a fledgling company. But online marketing and sales proved more successful, as they constituted a larger portion of the business than would normally be expected from a fledgling brand.
Despite his struggles, Heine is optimistic.
“Personally, I love this process because it’s a creative outlet for me, and I’m very proud of the product,” Hein said. “I also really enjoy all the people I’ve finished talking to, and all the new skills and industries I’ve been exposed to.”
Hein works on a wide range of responsibilities throughout the company, such as increasing sales, managing social media, expanding operations, and developing new products. But as a native of Clark County, he has received plenty of local support.
“I can’t put a price on all the help and support I’ve received from friends and family,” he said.
It also credits the local culture of outdoor recreation as an added bonus of working outside of Vancouver.
While the business is still a part-time operation for Hein, he is keen to see what new heights Range Meal Bars can reach.
“To me, Ring seemed like a good way to dip my toes in the waters of entrepreneurship,” he said. “I still work a 9-5 hour job as an engineer. But this has been a very rewarding experience so far, and I look forward to seeing where you go next.”