WASHINGTON – If it can give a welcome surge of energy to a U.S soldier in the Iraqi desert, then it should do the trick for a runner, a hiker, a third-shift worker or even an on-the-go mom.
The Army even calls it "warrior-tested."
The new HOOAH! Bar, an energy bar that has earned praise from soldiers, is now being distributed in U.S. commercial retail outlets and via the Internet.
"The soldiers love it. Its performance is off the hook," said Christian D'Andrea, who with his brother, Mark, licensed the federally registered trademark HOOAH! from the Army for commercial sales last year.
"But the other thing is, the war fighter simply liked it in terms of taste," he added.
The bar is scheduled to hit major retailers this summer, including Wal-Mart, CVS, 7-Eleven and GNC, and a portion of the proceeds are going back to the Army laboratories that create food products for troops in the field.
"They are pleased that the bar is getting out there — I think they are also proud of it," D'Andrea said of the Army. "The military origins aren't getting smothered."
What may appear like a simple energy bar — not much different than the seemingly endless variety of energy bars on the market today — was actually created in 1996 by the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate at the U.S Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., to cater to soldiers' interest in nutrition bars.
The bars are named "HOOAH!" for the Army's familiar battle cry, which reportedly means "heard, understood, acknowledged" — though the claimed origins of Hooah, or the equally recognizable "Ooo-Rah" preferred by the Marines, are as plentiful as energy bar brands.
In any case, the bars have been enjoyed by soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq who started receiving them as part of their daily MREs (search), or Meals Ready-to-Eat. Apparently, they were a big hit.
"The prevailing thought was that to be good, it must have to be bad," said Gerald Darsch, the Combat Feeding director, at the HOOAH! Bar's official debut to the commercial market in April. "In addition to the less than acceptable flavor, most energy bars didn’t have a shelf life. We wanted something to bring value to the warfighter."
Darsch will hear no complaints from Marines like Sgt. Larry Carlson, 40, who spent several months stationed in the Iraqi city of Fallujah over the last year.
"I love those things," said Carlson, who has been stationed in Montana since he returned two months ago. He plans to retire in January after a 24-year career.
"I think it’s really cool that the military helped to develop it," he said. "And, instead of just keeping it just for them, the civilian population has the chance to have them."
D'Andrea, a documentary film producer, was working on a project at the Army free fall school in Arizona when he came into contact with the HOOAH! Bar through one of the soldiers there.
"My response was, 'Man I got to get me one of those,' and he said, 'You can't have it, you're a civilian. … I said, 'We'll see about that.'"
D'Andrea said that many products on the shelf today first originated in military labs, but this is the first that has retained its roots for commercial packaging.
The D'Andrea brothers just changed the packaging from camouflage to red and blue, and are clearly marketing it to appeal to buyers' patriotic sensibilities and making use of its unique story.
"We're very patriotic. We're not blindly patriotic, but we are very pro-military and pro-soldier and we cared about the brand," said D'Andrea, who said sales are "doing really well."
The brothers plan to announce in the near future how much of the proceeds are actually going back to the Feeding Directorate, he added.
"If the Army can make a profit from it, that's great," said James Mayfield, 29, who after a five-year stint that took him to South Korea and Kuwait left the Army in 2003 and is now working for the Department of Defense in Missouri.
He personally prefers the raspberry flavored HOOAH! Bars, not yet available to civilians.
"It's keeping up the public awareness of what the soldiers eat over there," he said, noting he has seen the bars in local Army-Navy Surplus stores.
But it isn’t just for the military novelty that these bars are gaining some word-of-mouth notoriety, said Ray Scott, founder and former chairman of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society.
Outdoor enthusiasts have long been a fan of the energy bar, and this one hits all the right buttons.
"I think the American public is going to go crazy over this," said Scott, who is helping the D'Andrea brothers penetrate the outdoor enthusiast market.
Scott said he eats three to four bars per week — right now the commercial bars come in chocolate and apple-cinnamon — and he has lost close to 13 pounds in the last few months.
According to Shara Rutberg, a freelance writer for the Natural Grocery Buyer, energy bars are a $2 billion a year industry and one of the fastest growing commercial food categories in 2004.
Energy bars cater to athletes who need to sustain energy levels for long periods of time and to bulk up with certain nutrients. The bars are also enjoyed by hunters, campers and others who seek quick and easy alternatives to junk food.
They also appeal to dieters and the generally health conscious, said Greg Hind, owner of GH Sports in San Luis Obispo, Calif., a fitness clothing and accessory store that is now selling HOOAH! bars.
"We're pleased to have them on our Web site and in our store," he said, noting that, unlike the other energy bars sold here, he has HOOAH! placed at the cash register.
"It gives us the opportunity to talk about it," he said. "I have to admit, a lot of our motivation for selling them is what it does to support the troops."
Apparently, that appeal is shared by bigger retailers, too.
GNC, the national chain best known for its vitamin and nutritional supplements, will begin to carry HOOAH! bars this summer, said D'Andrea.
"We're always looking for the best and most innovative products to market to our customers," said Joe Weiss, vice president of diet and energy at GNC.
Of course, the fact that battle-hardened soldiers found this product energy sustaining, if not a treat, doesn't hurt the marketing for the typical GNC customer, Weiss added.
"Since this bar was developed with the demanding energy needs of the military in mind, we feel that it makes sense to make it available to our customers as well."