Gac fruit (Momordica cochinchinensis) is little known–in North America, that is. It is common in Vietnam, the primary growing region for the plant, and forms the basis for a high-selling SKU for one of East Asia’s most active network marketing companies, NuSkin.
That company sold more that $222 million worth of products in China in the fourth quarter of its fiscal 2017 alone, a 60% year-over-year increase. The company also did $103 million in business in South Korea and sold $68 worth of products in Japan during the same period.
Despite the popularity of the fruit in that market, it is not ubiqutious. Entrepreneur Yin Zou, who founded GacLife and is launching the beverages under the same name, said she had never heard of it even though she grew up in Shenzhen, in southern China on the border with Hong Kong. It took a business trip to Vietnam as part of a previous career to introduce her to the botanical.
“You could say I was a nerd,” Zou told NutraIngredients-USA. “I had two different masters degrees from two different universities, one in international relations from Johns Hopkins and another in environmental policy from American University.”
“It was after all of that, when I was on a business trip to Vietnam to launch a mobile app, that I became aware of Gac,” she said.
Like other promoters of the fruit, Zou was intrigued by the fruit’s nutritional characteristics. Gac fruit is high in naturally occurring carotenoids, antioxidants, and other nutrients.
The fruit is also rich in vitamins A, E, and C, which Zou said, when combined with the carotenoids, can help protect the collagen protein that strengthens the skin. Carotenoids are also concentrated in the macula, which supports the vision care claims, Zou said. Gac fruit containes beta carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin.
“I started thinking about a product using this fruit in 2017,” Zou said. “I looked a the beverage industry in general and saw that more and more consumers are becoming aware of the negative effects on their health of drinking sugary beverages.
“NuSkin’s product is called G3, and they actually have been very successful with it in Asia. But it is only available through their network. And I didn’t like that the product has a lot of sugar, and comes in a big bottle from which you pour two ounce servings,” she said.
Zou said after making the decision to take the product development plunge, she did some research on sources of the fruit in Vietnam. She finally found a grower in the north of the country whose crop, because of the climatic conditions there, offered the best nutritional profile.
“We use frozen gac puree directly imported from northern Vietnam. We compared products from different suppliers and found the northern source has a higher concentration of carotenoids. In the south the weather is hotter, more humid with more rain,” she said.
Packing nutrition, not calories
GacLife, the beverage, is formulated as a light sparking water. Zou said few consumers in this market are familiar with the fruit’s taste (a light flavor, said to be along the cucumber line), so she didn’t want that to be a hurdle. The beverage, which is being sold direct to consumers, is offered in lemon, pineapple, peach, sparkling mango, sparkling lemon, and sparkling passion fruit flavors.
Zou said 12 oz. serving of GacLife flavored water includes 20mg of carotenoids. She claims that per bottle, GacLife has the lowest amount of sugar (2 gm), the highest amount of antioxidant carotenoids (20 mg), and the second lowest calorie count (15 cal) compared to other mainstream sport and wellness beverage products.
Going direct to consumers to tell beauty from within message
Zou recently completed an oversubscribed Indiegogo campaign to raise money for a special machine to put caps on the aluminum bottles she had specified with her contract manufacturer in Southern California.
With the current public attention focused on plastic waste washing into the world’s oceans, Zou said she wanted the brand to have an environmental sensitivity, which the aluminum bottles would provide.
Beauty-from-within products have struggled in the US market, even though the category is booming in Asia and does will in Europe. Zou said she thinks the social media component of her brand’s direct to consumer positioning will help turn that tide in the North American market.
“In the past when we’ve talked about beauty-from-within, if you are trying to grow the business through brick and mortar retail with limited budgets, it is very difficult to build awareness and excitement,” she said.
“But if your product actually works, you can drive a very successful campaign with user-generated content,” Zou said.