When life gives you lemons, the saying goes, make lemonade. For Ryan Lee, the turnaround response to life’s gift of lemons was something significantly different than a pitcher of lemonade: the Wilton-based entrepreneur created a vegan, gluten-free nutrition bar.
“I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder a couple of years ago,” he said. “I used to be a fitness professional, and now all of a sudden I was 30 pounds overweight. I had four kids and I wanted to turn around my health. I figured that if I can get something easy in the morning, that would help me get momentum that would last through the day.”
But Lee’s quest for therapeutic dietary needs hit a snag. “I couldn’t find a good nutrition bar,” he said. “Most of the protein bars have artificial sweeteners and the green bars taste like grass. And the fruit bars have too much sugar, no protein and not enough fiber.”
Since Lee could not find the nutrition bar that he desired, he chose to create his own. “We took the best of the best and put it all in one bar,” he stated. “Instead of just a fruit bar or just a protein bar, it’s everything. We’re calling it a super bar.”
Or, more precisely, the Rewind Superbar, which features 7 grams of fiber, 7 grams of protein and 140 calories. After about nine months of experimenting with ingredients, Lee hit upon a 15-item recipe that featured a mix of greens, superfoods and natural protein sources. Lee laughed in recalling the many errors of his trial-and-error phase of product testing.
“One version tasted really good, but it had too much sugar,” he said. “One version wasn’t good enough and needed more protein. One was too crunch. One was too chewy. We didn’t want anything that causes inflammation, so it’s vegan and gluten-free. And there’s no dairy added, no soy, non-GMO.”
However, the Rewind Superbar is not ideal for people with nut allergies: it includes almond butter and cashew butter. Lee initially considered relying solely on pea protein for the product’s protein source, but the taste of this source was unsatisfying, hence the nutty additions to the mix.
As for the Rewind name, Lee pleaded nostalgia. “I’m a child of the ‘80s and I am now back to the same weight and pants size that I was in high school,” he said. “Rewind has the double meaning: rewinding the years and rewinding the cassette tapes that we used to listen to back then.”
The Rewind Superbar was officially launched in the spring, with the product being manufactured at a plant in the Midwest — Lee declined to identify the location, citing proprietary protective considerations — in monthly runs of 50,000 bars. He said that he is shipping “a few thousand a week” from his Wilton office, with marketing and sales being handled entirely online. Lee estimated that 90 percent of his requests come from the U.S., but he is also receiving a number of British requests that he is unable to process at this time.
“It is difficult to ship the bars overseas to the U.K.,” he said. “We have a lot of customers who want the bars in the U.K., but that will be down the road.”
One unpleasant aspect of the product’s launch for Lee has been some harsh comments left on social media about the product. “There are so many negative people,” Lee said. “People say things like, ‘Why do you have strawberries? I’m allergic to strawberries’ or ‘It’s not keto’ or ‘It has too many carbs’ or ‘It looks awful.’ I reply to every single comment and we usually win them over eventually.”
Looking to 2019, Lee is planning to expand into additional products under the Rewind brand, including a supplement combining 27 vegetables and fruits plus a powder mix featuring collagen and turmeric that can be added into coffees, smoothies and drinks. Within his community, he is exploring having school groups use the Rewind Superbars as a fund-raising product for teams and events. But Lee insisted that he does not have any revenue goals for Rewind.
“I’m just having fun with it,” he said. “I don’t have any big plans — I’m just enjoying every day.”