S.D. The Tanka Bar may not be a universally recognized brand
name, but its well on its way to becoming one.
barely a year-and-a-quarter on the market, the Tanka Bar has been
named Editors Choice by Gourmet Retailer, the premier gourmet
and specialty food trade magazine.
believe Tanka Bars are destined to become the next great energy
bar/snack food, Gourmet Retailer Editor James Mellgren wrote
in the Jan. 1, 2008 edition.
selected as Editors Choice in the 20-year-old magazine that
is distributed nationally to almost all of the gourmet and specialty
foods retailers in the country will likely help fulfill that prediction.
a new food company, its great to get this kind of recognition
from the food industry, said Mark Tilsen, president and co-founder
with CEO Karlene Hunter of Native American Natural Foods, a Native-owned
company based in Kyle, S.D. on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Tanka Bar is an all natural buffalo and cranberry energy bar that
was launched in October 2007.
year, the company sold half a million Tanka Bars. It expects to
double that amount this year and extend its line of healthy, traditional
food products, Tilsen said.
whose children are enrolled members of the tribe, and Hunter, a
member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, have been business partners for
years, and in 1996 co-founded Lakota Express, a direct marketing
and customer care management company focused primarily on fund raising
business partners the two provided more than $1 million a year for
projects on Pine Ridge for 20 years according to them, but the partners
were looking for
employed people for a long time. We have a 7,000-square-foot call
and distribution center but there was a lot of ebb and flow in our
business. We worked with government, major corporations and those
projects always come and go and we started studying how we could
develop a brand or product where the raw materials were coming from
the community and the community itself was really marketing it,
to really look at how wealth is created in a modern environment
and how we could build a company that was sort of along the lines
of a Ben and Jerrys, a highly environmentally responsible
company that would really impact society in a positive way,
and Hunter spent years researching and probing ideas across the
country and by engaging young people on MySpace.
you look at Pine Ridge, like a lot of Indian communities, there
are some really serious health problems and along with economic
problems, this really outrageous diabetes rate that impacts over
50 percent of the adult population. So, we thought, what if we try
to take the concept of traditional food but repackage it in a healthy
way but also make it a consumer level product to try to impact young
peoples eating habits, Tilsen said.
are few things more traditional than wasna, the product of the ancient
indigenous method of preserving meat by pounding it into a paste
and mixing it with berries whose acidic content served as a preservative.
The Lakota people used buffalo meat and packed their wasna in kidney
fat, the richest fat on the buffalo.
was actually one of the first foods ever exported from this country.
Indian people sold wasna to the Hudson Bay Company in the 1800s
and it was sold to the cavalry in some places. It gave warriors
or hunters the ability to carry enough food for long periods of
time that was very healthy, packed in buffalo kidney fat.
we looked at producing the Tanka Bar we looked at the same process,
but we removed the fat, of course, added the modern packaging that
fits with USDA and FDA and is in compliance. Our goal was not to
preserve as many calories as possible but provide a healthy, sustainable,
great tasting product, Tilsen said.
said it was important to engage the community at every level from
purchasing the raw ingredients locally to hiring employees and providing
of the first investments into the new company came from the Lakota
Fund, a program of the federal Community Development Financial Institute.
was the first Native American-based CDFI in the country, so the
community actually owns five percent of this company, Tilsen
Tanka Bar has five ingredients. The one-ounce Tanka which
means outstanding or great has 1.5
grams of fat, 7 grams of carbohydrates, and packs an impressive
seven grams of protein all in 70 calories. The bars have
an engaging slightly chewy texture and a unique combination of meaty,
sweet and salty taste.
Bar is a new nutrition bar built on our ancestors knowledge
of the ideal portable energy for endurance and top performance helping
us run far, work hard or dance all night with joy and appreciation,
the product information packet says.
Tanka Bar has been remarkably successful in its short time in the
market. The bar is now in more than 2,000 locations and about 20
tribes have incorporated it into their diabetes prevention programs.
try to work with as many tribes as possible as we try to grow our
company, and get more tribes to look at our company as a source
of high quality, healthy, great tasting products that represent
the very best of what Indian country has to offer to incorporate
into their health programs in schools, and business enterprises
and even into their gaming establishments, Tilsen said.
company will soon be launching Tanka Bites, a smaller version of
the Tanka bar, and Tanka Wild, a summer sausage made of buffalo,
cranberry and wild rice.
company is also engaged in efforts to market the Tanka Bar to the
trendy Whole Foods chain of supermarkets.
made progress there. I would safely predict if
you were to interview me in a year, well be in Whole Foods,