An Epic Success Story

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Katie Forrest and Taylor Collins hit it big with their meaty protein bars. Now they’re determined to improve the lives of farm animals and the lands they graze

Author: Kimya Kavehkar | Published: October 10, 2017

One July morning, blessedly before the excruciating heat of summer descends, I’m hiking the Barton Creek Greenbelt with a couple of fit thirtysomethings and Lakota, their 8-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever. A thin haze drapes the sun, and the bone-dry creek bed we cross—in more verdant times a spot where people wade through rushing waters with beer cans in hand—is mostly dust.

Katie Forrest, a mountain biker and Ironman triathlete, and Taylor Collins, also a triathlete and a marathon runner, gracefully navigate slippery rocks and fallen branches along the trail with impressive speed. My short legs and not-at-all-athletic frame make it a struggle to keep up, as I try not to pant too heavily, even though I’m asking a lot of questions. The only other sounds are the jangling of Lakota’s collar, as she leads our pack confidently, and the crunching of the forest detritus beneath our feet.

The conversation turns to Forrest and Collins’ infant daughter, Scout.

“I think about the way she eats versus the way that I was raised to eat, and it’s so fundamentally different,” Forrest says, a baseball cap pulled low over her eyes. “Last night she had a grass-fed ribeye. She was just sucking the fatty part. I think her first solid food was pastured egg yolk, and the second was bone marrow. My first food was rice cereal and then mashed peas.”

Maybe Scout’s next solid meal will be the bison-bacon-cranberry bars her parents sell through their line of gourmet, grain-free, soy-free, dairy-free, gluten-free jerky products, Epic Provisions.

A few hours later I’m at Epic’s South Congress Avenue headquarters. Forrest and Collins had invited me to a lunchtime potluck during which they’re showing their staff a PowerPoint presentation about regenerative farming. The design of their offices can best be described as Anthropologie-meets-your-uncle’s-ranch-cabin. I head to the basement where about 20 employees are filling their plates in the kitchen and cracking open icy Topo Chicos before settling into their seats. I notice that one person is barefoot.

Forrest, 31, and Collins, 34, are at the front of the room fidgeting with the projector remote and a stack of notes in nearly the same outfits that they’d gone hiking in that morning; Collins has switched out his tennis shoes for flip-flops.

Epic looks, feels, and acts every bit an Austin born-and-bred company. The lack of pretention of its husband-and-wife founders is matched by their quiet determination to succeed and devotion to their mission to build much more than merely a thriving business.

Ever since Epic was purchased by packaged food titan General Mills in January 2016, Forrest and Collins have been able to step away from the day-to-day slog of running a profitable company and put themselves in the position of thought leaders hell-bent on altering the prevailing relationship between farm animals and grazing lands. Terms of the General Mills deal were not disclosed, but with Epic boasting annual revenue of about $20 million, one source told financial news site TheStreet that the purchase price was about $100 million.

That’s why they’ve gathered their staff here, to view slides depicting grasslands in various states of growth and to learn what words like “ruminants” mean. (The term refers to animals like goats and cows that must regurgitate their partially digested food to be chewed more than once.) “Once people start to learn about regenerative agriculture, it starts to change everything for them,” Collins says.

Long before they became evangelists for rotational grazing, they were students who first crossed paths in an Austin High School hallway in 2001. “It was the most intense emotional experience of my life, like earth-shaking,” Collins remembers of seeing Forrest for the first time. She felt much the same, but because they were a few years apart in age they had few opportunities to interact during that single year they overlapped at AHS.

They didn’t reconnect until three years later as students at Texas State University. They kept seeing each other when they walked through the same park every day to get to class. Then Forrest, a women’s studies major, called Collins, a physical therapy student, and asked if they could carpool. For their first date, they went to a modern dance performance as extra credit for one of her classes and grabbed a bite afterward at Magnolia Cafe. After dating for just three months, they moved in together, much to the chagrin of her parents.

Among the things that bonded them was their competitive spirits and shared pleasure in pushing their bodies to their physical limits. They didn’t fit the lazy college kid stereotype. For fun they’d take 10-hour bike rides together and participated in marathons and triathlons.

“Anything that gives us a little resistance that we can push into that helps us work towards accomplishing something is very, very rewarding in our lives,” Collins says.

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