Like mountain climbing, starting a business can be an uphill battle.
Luckily, Zach Hein 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 in 30 different hiking and outdoor stores across the Vancouver-Portland area, and that number is expected to climb to more than 100 by the end of next summer.
“Ultimately, I started this company because I like to be creative, and I like to solve problems,” Hein said.
The problem Hein encountered came while he was an engineering student at Montana State University. Between long days on campus and fun weekend adventures in the mountains, Hein found it difficult to pack enough quality calories to keep him going throughout the day.
Unable to find anything he needed on the market, Hein took matters into his own hands by taking to the kitchen to create his own solution.
He started out by experimenting with a no-bake brownie recipe. Instead of using the quick-fix protein powder and other sugary ingredients typically found in snack bars, Hein added calorically dense whole ingredients until he had something that felt more like a meal than a dessert.
The creation, dubbed “Zach Bars,” was a hit with his classmates and friends. After graduating from Montana State in 2017, Hein began to consider taking his project to a large audience.
In 2019, Hein took courses at Oregon State University’s Food Innovation Center in Portland, learning the skills he needed to refine and improve his product.
After securing space in a local commercial kitchen in Vancouver, sourcing wholesale suppliers and creating all the necessary branding, the new and improved “Zach Bars” were rebranded into Range Meal Bars and hit stores in June 2020.
Launching his product during a pandemic proved challenging. Retailers were reluctant to partner with an upstart company. But online marketing and sales proved more successful, making up a larger chunk of business than would normally be expected of a fledgling brand.
Despite his struggles, Hein is optimistic.
“Personally, I love the process because it’s a creative outlet for me, and I take immense pride in the product,” Hein said. “I also really enjoy all the people I end up 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 growing sales, managing social media, scaling operations and developing new products. But as a Clark County native, he’s received a lot of local support.
“I can’t put a price on all of the help and support I’ve got from friends and family,” he said.
He also credits the local culture of outdoor recreation as an added bonus of operating out of Vancouver.
While the business is still a part-time operation for Hein, he is eager to see what new heights Range Meal Bars can reach.
“For me, Range seemed like a good way to dip my toes into the water of entrepreneurship,” he said. “I still work a 9-to-5 job as an engineer. But this has been an immensely rewarding experience so far, and I look forward to seeing where it goes next.”