Atmabala’s Husband-And-Wife Duo Break Into Nutrition Bar Scene From Chapel Hill

One of Atmabala's Btein protein bar offerings

Atmabala, a Chapel Hill-based nutritional product startup, started right before the pandemic hit. A month after setting up shop, the founders recognized there was an even greater market desire to be healthy and establish immunity to combat Covid.

But long before that—for some 15 years—Co-Founder Saran Shanmugam was passionate about researching protein supplements for his weight training. He regularly turned to protein bars as eat-on-the-go options during his day-to-day job visiting customers.

While there was a wide range of options, most bars still contained sugar alcohols, which could hurt fat loss. After diving head-first into research, Shanmugam had his eyes opened to studies that fat loss had to do with more than just calories in and calories out.

Hormone management was especially important. If your sugar levels are spiking, the body sends signals to store fat as opposed to burning it, he said. This leads to a sugar crash, impacting stress levels as well.

“It’s not just the body that we need to address,” Shanmugam said. “It’s also the mind.”

Hema Saran (left) and her husband Saran Shanmugam are the founders of Atmabala

It was then he and his Co-Founder and wife Hema Saran realized the potential to bring natural Indian herbs to nutrition bars. Both grew up with their Indian parents embracing both Western medicine and natural supplements and remedies. In more recent years, they witnessed an American acceptance of herbs like ashwagandha and turmeric in grocery stores.

Soon, Atmabala—a Sanskrit word for inner strength—became Shanmugam and Saran’s business innovation. They offer “Btein” protein bars that incorporate both the body and mind, while increasing immunity against illness. Atmabala is one of nine startups currently participating in Launch Chapel Hill’s accelerator.

Their bars are vegetarian, offer 20 grams of protein, and incorporate ashwagandha as an ingredient. Ashwagandha has been linked in studies to lower anxiety and improved immune function over time.

The bars were designed with Western nutritional science expertise as well, utilizing only low-glycemic sugars like coconut to prevent the well-known sugar crash. Atmabala will have its first two products—an almond and coconut protein bar and a chocolate and almond protein bar—available in Amazon and Walmart in the coming months. They also want to get their product in local groceries stores.

In any startup journey, obstacles will come up. Manufacturing delays have stalled Atmabala’s launch by a few weeks. The ashwagandha ingredient is imported as well, making production even more complicated. But in the end, these ingredients are vital to making the Btein bars what they are.

“It’s harder to work with the difficult ingredients,” Saran said, “but ashwagandha was an important ingredient and we did not want to leave it out.”

After all, ashwagandha is the secret ingredient, especially appreciated now given that Covid has sparked greater concerns over stress and health across the country.

“The ashwagandha inherently will help you busting the stress and very importantly, it builds immunity,” Saran said. “It will build immunity over time into your body to fight off diseases like Covid.”

Variety of target customers

There are a few different types of target customers who might be drawn to Atmabala’s bars, including the fitness-minded weight trainer or the parent wanting healthy snacks in the house. But the bars are designed with everyone’s health in mind.

Says Saran, “Everybody can benefit from the bars, in fact even children who go play soccer and they need something to quickly eat.”

In the future, Atmabala plans to unveil a vegan line of nutrition bars that provide the same wholesome nutrition as well as a group of immunity shots for better mental well-being and health. These products will continue upon Atmabala’s mission of providing healthy foods to enrich the body and mind.

“All our products will be designed to provide nourishment to people,” Saran said. “That is our mission statement—for everybody to enjoy the nourishment that they deserve and they want.”

About Suzanne Blake 362 Articles
Suzanne profiles startups and innovation for GrepBeat. Before working at GrepBeat, Suzanne attended UNC Chapel Hill, obtaining a degree in journalism and political science. Previously, she wrote for CNBC, QSR Magazine, FSR Magazine and The Daily Tar Heel.