On a rainy afternoon some years ago, Beryl Stafford’s daughter opened a cookbook and made somegooey oat treats. They were delicious, but loaded with sugar and fat. Stafford tweaked the recipe to make it healthier, using non-GMO and vegan ingredients. She thought her oat cakes tasted even better.
At the time, Stafford was “at the lowest point of the low.” She was recently divorced and needed an income. But she couldn’t shake the sense she was on to something. “My lawyer said I had to get a job,” she says. “But I thought if other people could do this, and if the stuff out there didn’t taste as good as what I made, why wouldn’t people buy it?”
Her instincts were right. Fifteen years later, Bobo’s Oat Bars are available nationwide in stores from natural food chains to Kroger’s and Wegmans, as well as online. The bars come in 15 flavors, and last year Bobo’s added four stuffed bars in combinations including peanut butter and coconut almond butter. The 100-employee company grew about 60% last year, Stafford says.
Snack and protein bars are now big business, but that wasn’t the case when Bobo’s launched. Stafford says growing slowly—she bootstrapped the company until recently—prevented her from making big mistakes and losing touch with her customers. “I always tell people to follow their gut,” she says. “I look back, and see that the times I didn’t do that it wasn’t right. I do ruminate and ask a lot of questions, but at the end of the day I go back to my gut.”
Once Stafford had her recipe down, she named her nascent company after her daughter, whose childhood nickname was Bobo. conventional grocers followed. “We are unique among bars in that we have brought the periphery of a grocery store to the center—freshly baked, with ingredients you have in your own kitchen,” she says. “Our bars are still made by hand, and I’ve insisted on keeping them homemade-looking, what I call perfectly imperfect.” For those looking for more protein, though, Bobo’s added a line of bars stuffed with peanut and almond butter that have sold well.
Stafford describes how Bobo’s mission as “bringing people home and treating them like family.” In keeping with the importance of home, the entire staff volunteers quarterly with Habitat for Humanity, and Bobo’s contributes to a local organization that supports people with cancer and their families.