The Untold Story of Quest Nutrition: How She Created A Billion Dollar Empire

I want to start this article out by saying that Quest Nutrition founders Shannan and Ron Penna are amazing people. They have made a significant impact on me in the short time I’ve known them. Shannan and Ron have made me want to better myself. They are the type of people I want to emulate and be like. Success doesn’t always breed humility, but with these two…it does. Thank you both for the significant impact you have had in the health-food industry, you guys changed the market. But even more, thank you for being good people…that changes lives! 

The Key Ingredient Behind Quest Nutrition

I’ve been eating Quest bars and recommending them to my clients since their inception a little over eight years ago. I enjoyed their products then, but I have a much more profound appreciation and respect for Quest Nutrition after learning the story of how this company was founded and became the empire they are today.  

Like so many innovative companies, Quest had humble beginnings. A quick google search will credit Quest founders Ron Penna, Mike Osborn, and Tom Bilyeu as the entrepreneurial faces responsible for the company’s success. The innovation and leadership provided by these three men helped take the company to a level never imagined, but that’ only half of the story. 

The health food and supplement industry is a TOUGH market. It’s challenging to make it in this industry due to the stiff competition. You need a unique product, something different. A set of key ingredients that separate your products from all the other products out there on the market. Quest Nutrition had that unique ingredient, and her name is Shannan Penna. Let me tell you how one person’s desire to help her clients created the billion-dollar company known today as Quest Nutrition.

A Story of Conviction

In 1975, Chet Yorton took the mic at the very first bodybuilding competition to perform testing for steroids. Addressing the crowd, Yorton said…

“See friends, these are the real champions.”

Chester Yorton is Shannan’s father. He is considered one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time. Often referred to as the “Father of Natural Bodybuilding,” Chester Yorton is known for his advocacy of steroid-free bodybuilding. Two things set him apart from the rest – in 1966 he became one of three men to ever defeat Arnold Schwarzenegger in bodybuilding at the NABBA Mr. Universe held in London. But what he is most known for is his advocacy of steroid-free bodybuilding. 

In 1964, two years before defeating Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chet Yorton became aware that bodybuilders were starting to use illegal steroids for muscle growth. Knowing nothing about steroids, he sought out medical advice from doctors where he learned about the adverse side effects associated with drug use.

The sport of bodybuilding was changing. To compete, you had to take steroids. Chet no longer recognized his first love. Now faced with a choice, Chet Yorton chose his moral convictions over his dreams and quit the sport of bodybuilding. Leaving everything behind, he sold his gym in Las Vegas and moved his family to Los Angeles for new beginnings.

New Beginnings

In Los Angeles, Shannan’s parents lived hectic lives trying to make ends meet. Self-employed, they worked two jobs at a time. Shannan’s childhood quickly became defined by independence and self-reliance at a young age.

Living with a father who defeated the man we all know as ‘Terminator,’ Shannan didn’t grow up with what most of us would consider a ‘normal’ childhood. Walking around next to a mom with a ‘Barbie-doll’ haircut and a father who looked like the Hulk and only wore tank tops with crazy bodybuilder pants found in underground gyms…Shannan and her family didn’t exactly blend in! Like any teen, she felt a little embarrassed by her parents.

In high school, things started to change as Shannan fell in love with sports. Realizing her need to develop upper body strength, she decided to begin weight training to improve her sports performance. At this point in her life, she didn’t realize that training was an inescapable part of her DNA.

Shannan’s Passion for Fitness

Shannan became obsessed with training. Her love of fitness was born. She became interested in bodybuilding, something that wasn’t largely-embraced by women at the time, and even got some pushback from her father, who didn’t understand her interest in the sport. While her allowance was previously spent on Vogue and Elle, she started spending her money on fitness magazines.

Her role models were no longer supermodels; they were fitness legends like Sharon Bruneau, Monica Brant, and Mary Yockey.

By 16 years old, she had her first training certification with IFPA. The same moms she was once babysitting for, became her first personal training clients. It didn’t take long before training was all she wanted to do. She loved training people for their goals, for events, for marathons, whatever the goal was, Shannan tried to help them knowing and believing that through exercise she could be an integral part of their journey. Her passion for her clients made her an exceptional trainer, her love for fitness was in her blood, and fitness training was now her heart and soul.

Creating a New Kind of Protein Bar

Shannan noticed that most of her training clients were eating protein bars as quick snack options or meal replacements. Upon further investigation, she observed most of these bars were full of sugar, carbs, and low-quality protein sources.

She decided to take matters into her own hands. Shannan went to work in the kitchen and began experimenting with various ingredients. She turned her kitchen into a science lab where she would mix and match multiple combinations of various ingredients until she found the perfect mixture. After hours of frustration, hard work, and experimentation..she finally had it. Shannan created a protein bar with minimal effect on blood sugar, low in carbohydrate, that tasted great!

She put the bars to the test and began selling them to her clients. Who would have thought that ordinary Chinese food, pizza-eating, candy gobbling people would love the taste of a protein bar? But they did! Shanna’s protein bars were an instant hit.

Ron’s Crazy Idea Turns Into A Vision

Shannan’s clients weren’t the only ones obsessed with her new creation. Her husband Ron loved them as well! Tired of eating “chicken, chicken, and more chicken,” Shannan began making them for Ron to take with him to work. It wasn’t long before Ron’s co-workers noticed he had a new tasty treat. Each day Ron would have someone new ask him for a bite….and before he knew it he was bringing them for everyone in the office!

One evening Ron came home from work as Shannan was finishing her last batch of bars for the night. With a crazy look in his eye, he looked at her and said,

“It’s time to go big….it’s time to take your protein bars to the next level.”

Ron Penna had a vision. He knew his wife Shannan had created something unique. Something different than anything else on the market. The concept of Quest was born, and the rest…is history.

Quest Nutrition Is Born

In 2010, Ron, Shannan, and their business partners founded Quest Nutrition. The company experienced remarkable growth over the course of just a few years. It was a challenging market; they had to convince the fitness world that they were much more than just another protein bar company. Quest needed a unique strategy, and they found one. Their marketing strategy didn’t cost the company a dime. It was brilliantly simple.

Quest created a dominating online presence using social media and the web to sell their products. By 2012, Quest generated close to $10 million in e-commerce revenue. As the company grew in popularity, it was only a matter of time before they were moving from a leased, shared kitchen into their own space.

By 2013, Quest was named the third fastest-growing private company in the United States. The company had grown by more than 2,960% with only 180 employees. In 2015, VMG invested in Quest Nutrition, acquiring a minority stake in a deal that valued the company at around $1.2 billion based on revenue of roughly $300 million.

Quest Nutrition didn’t begin with Tom Bilyeu. It began with a woman who discovered a void in the market and decided to take matters into her own hands. Protein bars once created in a small kitchen and sold in her backyard to training clients…can now be found strolling down any grocery store aisle in America. No amount of savvy marketing skills or entrepreneurial vision can create a successful company without a great product. A woman whose father transformed the sport of bodybuilding took it one step further by creating a protein bar that revolutionized the entire health food industry. This is the untold story of Quest, a story that began with Shannan Penna, and to this day her protein bars still top all other brands in total sales.