The plethora of protein-packed nutrition bars you see in grocery stores today started in Berkeley. Both PowerBar and Clif Bar were products originally developed by Berkeley residents who engaged in endurance sports. (We have learned that Tiger’s Milk bars date back to the 1960s, but the big trend didn’t start until the 1980s.)
PowerBar was founded by Brian Maxwell, a former UC Berkeley track star and coach who saw in 1982 the need for a snack that would better sustain marathon runners. He and his future wife, Jennifer, gradually developed a successful recipe. They initially made and sold PowerBars out of their home kitchen. It’s been said that their postman suspected that they were dealing drugs, so numerous were the shipments from their apartment.
The late 1980s found them producing their bars in a facility in Berkeley before another ten years would have them expanding into Idaho. The administrative headquarters was a mainstay in Berkeley for some time, as evidenced by the iconic “PowerBar” sign on the tall building at Shattuck and Center. In 2000 the company was bought by Nestlé.
Clif Bar began, the often-told story goes, while its co-founder, Gary Erickson, was on a 175-mile bike ride back in 1990. The Berkeley local had eaten his way through several energy bars (probably PowerBars) on the ride and, dissatisfied, thought he could create a better and more nutritious alternative bar. He was already running a “side gig” selling Greek pastries he’d learned to make from his mother, so after he called her the next day asking if they could do an energy bar, they eventually gave it try. Again, there was much home-kitchen experimentation to develop the right recipe.
Launched in 1992, the company is named after his father, Clifford, who Erickson credits with his introduction and enthusiasm for outdoor adventures. The company introduced LUNA bars for women in 1999 and Zbars for kids in 2004. Gary Erickson and his wife Kit Crawford have kept Clif Bar local, refusing to be bought out. Since 2003 they have been using organic ingredients. In 2010, the company moved to Emeryville and implemented an employee stock-ownership plan, under which employees bought 20% of the company. In 2020 Erickson and Crawford stepped down as co-CEOs but remained on the company board.
By Pamela Rouse and Ann Harlow