Rickaroons is a San Diego brand that’s all about healthy and active living. To adapt with the times, these organic energy bars might look different in the future, but coconut magic is still coconut magic
Meet Rick LeBeau, founder of Rickaroons, one of our favorite locally made snack bars. In this Q&A, LeBeau sheds light on challenges they’ve faced as a San Diego small business—before and since the pandemic—and what he’s doing to keep the Rickaroons dream alive.
Prior to 2020, we were on a nice, steady pace, seeing increased sales year over year as we built the company despite dealing with adversities related to production and packaging.
For a startup making the type of products we make, we need what is called a co-packer or co-manufacturer. We provide all the ingredients, packaging materials, etc., and the co-packer makes the products, packages them, and makes them available for pickup at their loading dock. Unfortunately for us, the co-packer we chose locally in San Diego was unprofessional. They were able to start us out with the small quantities we made at the beginning, but as we grew in sales, they couldn’t consistently deliver on the quality of the product that we needed.
Sometimes the product would be over-baked, and virtually all the time there was a failure in adequately sealing the packaging properly with the flow-wrap machinery. This led to the finished product having a much shorter shelf life than it should have. As I reflect on it now, if we had made changes five years earlier, we could have been a household name before the pandemic ever hit.
We started 2020 with a lot of promise. Prior to COVID, our roadshows at Costco were getting the word out steadily, which was helping grow our online sales. More and more local juice bars and cafes were bringing us in.
In early 2020, we moved to a new bakery and were poised to reap the benefits of upgraded packaging, production methods, ingredients, and economy of scale—all the things you work so hard to develop over time. The switch to a new bakery was underway prior to the pandemic and went into effect at about the exact same time the pandemic was starting to ripple through life in the US.
It seemed as if all the work we’d put in during the first seven years was finally paying off.
Then, literally on Day One when it looked like the pandemic was real, Costco and all other entities shut down every kind of in-person sampling. Simultaneously, of course, juice bars and cafes had to make drastic adjustments, usually meaning customers couldn’t enter the premises to even see a product on a shelf. So our product line went from being in front of people on a frequent, regular basis to being invisible. Even with the significant upgrades to product and packaging and presentation we had worked so hard to make, our sales fell through the floor.
Whereas in early 2020, Costco was forecasting that they would bring us on before year-end, all of that was put on hold and now seems like we will never get picked up again. Who knows?
So, it’s been really tough. The pandemic has not been kind to our company. Although we now have the best product we’ve ever made, we are under-capitalized and drained of the resources we had built up prior to the pandemic. We had to reduce our awesome staff of 10–12 to just a couple of people.
Fortunately, we were approached to create bars for another local company, and that ultimately led to the production of those products starting in July of 2021.
Also known as a ‘white label’, we create bars for other companies who lack the expertise to make their own. Think of Trader Joe’s (if only…) — they don’t make a single product. All the items that have TJs on the label are made in a private label partnership with other companies that do make those products.
We have started this pivot with a local company called Açai Roots. They want to be ordering truckloads of bars a year from now. If they continue to order and sell those products, with their distribution network already intact and developed, it will keep Rickaroons alive.
We are also looking at a possible rebranding. While I've always thought that Rickaroons is a cute name, I’m constantly thinking of potential new names for the company that would keep the same great products but make it more immediately clear that they are energy bars.
Since Rickaroons came into existence as an extension of my healthy, active way of life, they’ve embodied the sentiments of the San Diego lifestyle for many. I’ve been plant-based since 1978 and fully vegan since 2008. People in this region seem more naturally predisposed to want to eat healthily and live an active, outdoor lifestyle. People who live that way don’t always know how to prepare foods that are portable, healthy, and accessible. So, Rickaroons fit that need by being something to grab and take-along for any activity.
If I had it to do over again, I would have accepted seed capital back at the beginning and the expertise that would have come with it. We of course didn’t know what we didn’t know, and I had built a couple of companies without accepting investor funding previously. I really wanted for my son and me to fully own the company. All along, our two greatest strengths have been our work ethic and the excellence of our products.
Had we taken investment money upfront, I believe we would have been able to scale up much more quickly, and we would have been guided in the direction of finding a better co-packer early on.
I really do love being an entrepreneur. It feels like what I was born to do. Getting to work with my son for 8 years has been the privilege of a lifetime. Even though we haven’t gotten monetarily rich together, we have built an incredible bond from enduring the trials and tribulation—and the rewards—of starting and running a business together.