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The Clever Cousin Duo Behind Sports-Inspired Byte Bars

The youngbloods behind Byte Bars are crafty, cool and connected. The East Coast cousins re-synced while both attended the University of Colorado Boulder. “As female athletes, we knew how much putting the right fuel in our bodies affected our energy,” says Sabina Rizzo, 28, a former collegiate skier who founded the company with Casey Nunnelly, 25, CU’s ice hockey captain.

The hard-charging athletes weren’t getting optimal nutrients from traditional energy bars. “It was either the macho or the skinny bar. Nothing really spoke to us,” Nunnelly says. So they started experimenting with simple ingredients, keeping each concoction raw, vegan and real.

The untapped angle? Halving the bar  —  perfect to pocket for a healthy late-night bite or to share with a buddy. “We’re big skiers, so we started chairlift sampling,” Rizzo says. “With the bar cut in half, you could easily give it to someone next to you.”

Byte Bars have heavy competition, even against local inspirations like LARABAR, which also came out of a kitchen in Boulder. But the women, new to Colorado, say they weren’t familiar with that brand. They were just dreaming, tinkering, and finally taking a semester off to master the ultimate trio: taste, texture and size.

Entrepreneurism runs deep in the family, especially among their mothers’ nine sisters in all. “There’s a lot of female power,” Rizzo says. The cousins grew up with a ski-industry pioneer for a grandfather and several family businesses. It’s what they knew — a resourceful approach to getting what they wanted.

Knowing they were in the epicenter of the natural foods industry, Nunnelly and Rizzo made regular withdraws from the area’s knowledge bank. Pros like Denver food scientist Kelly Connelly offered advice. And the duo followed it.

Byte Bars officially launched in 2019 with three products. Based on consumer feedback, updates included allergy-friendly recipes, clearer flavor names and bright brand identity and packaging updates. A pitch at the King Soopers Local Natural and Organic Summit led to the first big break. “We were one of 50 brands to apply,” Nunnelly says. “We were first to pitch and super nervous.” But they were a standout.

Grocery giant Kroger, high-end Erewhon, and Whole Foods have all taken on Byte Bars. “We were introduced to the local Whole Foods buyer, and we started harassing him until he put us in the store,” Nunnelly laughs.

Plus, online sales are surprisingly high, especially for the Swaggy Sampler. “We’ve found a niche. Our bars are better portioned, and better tasting, with extra ingredients like MCT oil. The Choco Chip bar tastes like a no-bake cookie that you would eat as a late-night snack,” Rizzo says. “And long-distance runners say our bar is perfect for portioning. One ‘byte’ checks all the boxes.”

To be clear, Byte Bars are not made in Colorado. Rizzo explains they’re too small for many manufacturers. So they went with a co-packer in Chicago. “We want to look local at someone like Claremont Foods in Niwot, but they’re too big for us right now,” Nunnelly says. Albeit, if Byte Bars maintains its pandemic-persevering pace with the engine of two 20-somethings, too big might too soon be a misnomer.