With her trailblazing organic nutrition bars, Chicago entrepreneur Kimberly Crupi Dobbins aims to change the nation’s snacking game.
“I love food,” says Kimberly Crupi Dobbins with a smile. “I usually eat everything on my plate.” As the founder of Simplified Foods, LLC and its flagship product, Simple Squares, the Chicagoan owes a lot to her taste buds. In 2008, Crupi Dobbins was preparing to graduate as a holistic health counselor from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition when she went on an elimination diet, cutting out wheat, gluten, dairy, soy, and refined sugars—a challenge that was further complicated by her demanding travel schedule as director of global recruiting at Morningstar. “I needed something that was going to fill me up,” explains Crupi Dobbins, who took matters into her own hands by crafting different protein-based concoctions in her food processor.
Divine intervention came in the form of five simple ingredients: nuts, honey, vanilla, sea salt, and herbs. “We started out as a confection, a little low in sugar but still like a sweet treat,” Crupi Dobbins says of launching Simple Squares in 2011. “When we realized we were moving into the [nutrition] bar space, we needed a way to differentiate ourselves, so we were the first square-shaped bar on the market. No one was doing savory at the time, but we wanted to make it a little more sophisticated, and that’s where the infusion of the herbs comes in.” Certified USDA organic, non-GMO verified, and glutenfree, Simple Squares now come in eight flavors: coconut, rosemary, sage, cinna-clove, ginger, coffee, and, the newest varieties, cho-coco and chili pep.
The on-trend bars recently became the first food product to be certified paleo; although the caveman lifestyle is not something Crupi Dobbins personally adheres to (“For me, it’s everything in moderation,” she says), she firmly believes in keeping things, well, simple. With the FDA making a recent example of Kind bars, Crupi Dobbins is adamant about having Simple Squares live up to their name. “Ingredient-wise, we have five in our bars—no preservatives, no fillers,” she says. “[The bars are] clean, simple, and you can understand every [ingredient listed] on the back.” Still she maintains that there’s room for everyone in the natural food space. “One of the really helpful people when I first launched was Lara Merriken, who started Lärabar. I reached out and had some questions, and she was very forthright and generous. People are very open, and I try to return the favor to new folks starting in the business.”
And since January, she has found herself surrounded by emerging entrepreneurs in Simple Squares’ new home in Merchandise Mart start-up hub 1871. In addition to seeking out investors and developing a new product line (“still very simple and related to the brand, but another snack item,” she says), Crupi Dobbins plans to focus on Simple Squares’ tech presence this year. “I feel very fortunate to be here,” she says of 1871. “And they put our nutrition bars in the vending machines,” she laughs. “That’s another sale!” Available at select Mariano’s.