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