Ashley Marie, a serial snacker since birth, is the Founder & Chief Snack Officer of B.T.R. Bar. Ashley started the company in honor of her parents, determined to pass on their legacy and inspire the world to be BOLD, TENACIOUS & RESILIENT. Over five years ago, both of Ashley’s parents were diagnosed with rare forms of cancer. As their caretaker and working full-time, Ashley was constantly on-the-go, inhaling so-called “better-for-you” bars and bites high in sugar with ingredients she couldn’t pronounce. With a background in nutrition & food studies, Ashley craved a snack with a “BTR” ingredient profile that also served a functional purpose. And that’s how B.T.R. Bar was born.
As a former marathon runner and NASM personal trainer, Ashley, in her spare time, enjoys running, strength training, and going for long walks with her husband and dog, Bubba, along the San Francisco Bay.
Check out our interview below to read more about Ashley’s story and what she’s planning for the future!
KN: Ashley, so great to have you as a part of this series! Can you share a bit about your story and how you got to be where you are today in your career and with B.T.R.?
Ashley Marie: B.T.R. Bar started as a simple idea in a hospital cafeteria over 5 years ago. When both of my parents were diagnosed with rare forms of cancer, our lives changed forever. I became their primary caretaker, working full-time and was constantly on-the-move. I had been a serial snacker all my life, but this was different. I began eating all the protein bars, bites, and snacks that came out of a vending machine. They were sugar-laden, with ingredients I could barely recognize, and no functional benefit, basically just a candy bar in disguise. My energy levels were shot, my stress was through the roof, and my brain fog was bad, as a result of consuming so much sugar and artificial ingredients. I just felt bad all the time. I craved a truly better-for-you snack that also served a functional purpose.
I did my undergrad work in biochemistry and public health nutrition. I was fascinated with food studies, the supply chain, superfoods, and these new things starting to pop up called adaptogens. I became obsessed with adaptogens because these plants & herbs have been used for centuries to help reduce stress in the body. And I was REALLY stressed. Reishi, my favorite adaptogen to this day, still helps me chill out. After consuming reishi for so many years, the best way to describe what reishi does for my body is the complete opposite of what coffee does to my body. When I’m drinking coffee, I can feel myself high strung, shaky, and my brain moving a million miles a minute. When drinking or eating reishi, I feel balanced, calm, and simply put – zen. I knew that if I ever started a company, I needed to incorporate adaptogens and functional mushrooms in my products. So I started writing down ideas for recipes, I made a few energy balls and bites in my kitchen, but I was focused on my parents’ declining health and their care was my priority.
When my parents passed away, I knew I needed to do something to honor their legacy. At the time, I craved stability, so I tabled all my ideas and I focused my energy on my job as the Director of Sales & Marketing at a supplement start-up. It wasn’t until I began growing restless and the pandemic hit, that I realized I needed to make a change. I’ve always had this super clear vision of what B.T.R. would look like, and there’s no better time than a pandemic to try something new. In business, you’re always taking risks, but to dedicate the company to my parents and to share their legacy, there was nothing more important than that. And here we are today! B.T.R. Bar launched a few months ago. We make the first protein bar with a purpose. Protein bars each boosted with 7+ purpose-driven superfoods and adaptogens, with 90% less sugar than the average protein bar, and no junk ever, truly.
KN: I don’t even know where to begin. That is absolutely incredible. I can’t imagine how hard that was to lose both of your parents but I think it’s so admirable you took a painful experience and built something beautiful out of it. How have you gone about building B.T.R and ensuring what you wanted to do with it was successful? What rewards and challenges has it brought you?
AM: Such a great question. Although I never wrote a traditional business plan, I spent a lot of time writing ALL the things down. I went beyond our mission and vision and product recipes. I wrote down things like where I saw customers finding B.T.R. Bars in store and I thought about when customers would eat B.T.R. Bars. I really tried to put myself in the target consumers’ shoes. I thought about the voice of the brand, the community I wanted to build, I envisioned it all and started writing down strategies to achieve what I was envisioning. Since I had such a clear vision of the packaging, the website, and the brand voice, I’m especially proud of the brand ethos. I want the B.T.R. Bar customer to know that there’s a person behind the brand, a best friend that’s cheering them on, supporting them, and empowering them to live their best lives.
Our target consumer really gets it. A protein bar reimagined. A snack with a functional purpose, no added sugar, and 100% clean label. It’s so rewarding to see our customers enjoying the bars, sharing about their experiences on social media, sharing the bars with their families and friends, resonating with our mission. It’s the most rewarding part of the job! With any business, there are challenges. And one of the challenges we’re dealing with now is inventory and inventory forecasting. We’re almost out of stock with 2 out of our 3 products, so we have to handle producing more inventory, balancing new flavors, and keeping our customers excited. It’s a never-ending balancing act, but that’s what makes it fun.
KN: I can definitely tell you put so much thought into the brand. I always appreciate quality and intentional branding! On that note, can you expand on the purpose behind B.T.R. and why you decided to incorporate social responsibility into your business?
AM: For most Founders, their company is their baby. Building something from the ground up – it’s so special. To me, B.T.R. is just that and even more. B.T.R. Bar is especially personal to me since the company is a tribute to my parents. I have this added drive and passion to ensure the business is something my parents would be proud of, while also ensuring that I pass on my parents’ legacy. My parents always knew I had this entrepreneurial drive.
Before my father passed away, he actually incorporated B.T.R. Bar (as BETTER BROWNIE BITES, LLC). And he said to me, “You’re going to do great things. Do something with this.” I tabled the idea for B.T.R. Bar for several years, but I always kept the idea close to my heart and ready for the day it made sense to introduce it to the world. There’s never a perfect time to start a business, and although 2020 has been far from ideal, the pandemic has shown me that life is so precious and there’s no time like the present to take the leap.
At B.T.R. Bar, social responsibility is a core pillar of our business. Our ultimate goal is to help everyone snack BTR to feel BTR and be their BEST selves. We understand that wellness is a holistic lifelong journey and impacts every aspect of our being. As a company on a mission to do BTR, to be BTR, we donate a portion of our profits each year to the American Cancer Society, an organization that is very close to our roots. In addition, as a 100% women-owned company, we do everything possible to empower women and to lift women up throughout their wellness journeys.
KN: My CEO’s perspective is that business is the biggest platform for change and I think your company is a great example of that. I think many people appreciate companies that incorporate social responsibility into their business model. Changing subjects a bit, how do you balance your work and your well-being, especially while growing a company during a pandemic?
AM: I’m super transparent, and as much as I’d like to think I’ve got this all figured out, balance is still something I’m working on. I spend close to 15 hours in front of a screen every day and for the most part on weekends too, but I always make sure to do the following every day without fail:
- Spend quality time with my puppy and my husband each morning for 15-20 minutes uninterrupted.
- Go for a walk. This could be 10 minutes to the post office to drop off orders or an hour along the Bay here in San Francisco. On my long walks, I like to listen to business podcasts or talk out my ideas to myself or my husband. I’m usually most creative when I’m in a peaceful headspace.
- Give myself time to just be. I like to allocate times for myself to free my mind to fuel my energy without feeling guilty. This could be anything from watching a mindless TV show on Food Network or enjoying a glass of wine and ZEN B.T.R. Bar with my favorite movie.
By doing all of these things, it helps keep me refreshed and on my game.
KN: I definitely can relate to most of those. This year especially taught me the importance of slowing down, getting out in nature, and just being. What gets you excited to wake up in the morning? What keeps you motivated?
AM: The potential. What I love the most about start-up life is that every day is never the same. Although I like routine, I love knowing that when I wake up, anything is possible, literally. I might have an email from someone about an exciting new partnership or a new 5-star review from a customer. All of these things excite me and motivate me.
KN: Love it! And what would you credit your success to?
AM: 100% my parents. My parents were the most generous, caring people I’ve ever known. I get my relationship-building skills from them. Having empathy and showing genuine care for our customers, partners, and staff – that’s not something you learn in school. That’s something that comes from years of practice and being in the presence of people who value relationships and networking. I also think a big part of my passion for relationship-building comes from my background in education. I actually have a Master’s in Higher Education and Counseling. As I mentioned, I worked in college and university life, and I managed a team of students and professional staff, and the main part of my job was listening to students and helping empower them to achieve their goals. I acquired a ton of transferable skills that I use in my role as a Founder every day, and skills I’ll use even more as the B.T.R. Bar team grows and we have a full team!
KN: Your parents, I’m sure, are so proud of what you’ve been able to build! So, the *Shine On* series features women who are inspiring and blazing their own trail in their career and life. Who inspires you and why?
AM: Wow, this is a tough one. I have a long list of women who inspire me to be BTR every day. At my core, my mom has always been my inspiration. My mom’s primary goal in life was to make sure I was comfortable, safe, and happy. As a stay-at-home mom for many years, my mom helped me transform into the woman I am today. Then she went back to school so she could teach and be in the classroom with students empowering them to be their best selves. She was such an inspiration, and I continue to be inspired by her today.
Within the food & beverage industry, I’m so inspired by women entrepreneurs who are changing the game. One, in particular, Kara Goldin, CEO of Hint Water, is such an inspiration. Her entrepreneurial spirit, rooted in innovation and constant learning is so motivational to me. I’m a big fan of Kara’s podcast; I love how she takes what she’s learned from the industry and interviews entrepreneurs who are changing the game in their respective industries and pushing boundaries every day. And that’s what B.T.R. strives to do with every decision I make for the company.
KN: That’s amazing. As you know, this year brought to light the topic of racial inequality. I’m curious, what actions would you recommend for women who want to get involved in this cause? What actions have you personally taken?
AM: Do something, start somewhere, and write down your commitment. I think we live in a society that’s very much all or nothing, and I think it’s really important to think of taking action in steps. Involvement looks different for everyone as well, so I think it’s important to not judge and to create space to listen and learn from others. Since my time in Higher Education, each year I would write down a few strategies on how I want to personally and professionally get involved in fighting against racial and gender equality.
This year, my focus was on supporting BIPOC businesses, personally and professionally, by buying from BIPOC businesses and by promoting BIPOC businesses on social media. In 2021, I plan to go beyond this commitment, and not only promote BIPOC businesses, but partner with BIPOC businesses in various ways, (for example, source ingredients from BIPOC businesses, collaborate on giveaways/product swaps, etc.). I think our actions build on each other, and it’s important to note that consistency is key. We need to always be coming from the lens of being a lifelong learner.
KN: Could not agree more. I did a lot of what you mentioned myself. If you had one piece of advice for fellow career women, what would it be?
AM: Don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress. I tell myself this EVERY DAY. As a chronic perfectionist, I think it’s important for me to do my part to help other women realize that perfection isn’t reality. And it’s important to just start anywhere. It’s OK if the font color isn’t perfect. It’s OK if you didn’t complete your entire to-do list today. It’s more important to keep a positive mindset and to understand your WHY, to avoid burnout, and to have fun with it!
And KEEP LEARNING. Read something new every day. Subscribe to podcasts, take courses, teach yourself. Always be willing to learn, to question, to satisfy your curiosity.
KN: Yes!! All so true. Such great advice. Lipstick & Ink is all about encouraging women to make their mark on their lives, the lives of others and on the world. What does “making your mark” mean to you?
AM: “Making my mark” has always been about leaving my mark on others and the world. I’ve always thought about how I impact those around me and inspire them to be their best selves. However, I’ve also begun to think about how I’m making a mark on myself. I can serve as my own source of inspiration and I hope to serve as an inspiration to my family one day as well.
KN: I’m sure you will, Ashley, if you’re not already! Do you have any parting thoughts or advice?
AM: Find what makes you BOLD, TENACIOUS & RESILIENT and do more of it. Make it happen. Because YOU GOT THIS.
KN: Wooo! Thank you, Ashley! To learn more about B.T.R. Bar or to connect with Ashley, you can find ways below!
- Learn more about B.T.R. Bar: https://www.eatbtrbar.com
- Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @btr.bar
Kelly Nash is a Chicago-based writer, career coach, speaker and founder of Lipstick & Ink®. She also works full-time in technology as a Role Strategy and Employee Engagement Manager at Salesforce and has over 12 years of digital marketing experience. Kelly has been featured in Thrive Global, Chicago Tribune, International Association of Women, General Assembly, Salesforce, and SheFactor. She’s fueled by black coffee, sunshine, a good ink pen, and a bold lip.