Based in Cologne, the startup has already received backing from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the European Union as it looks to shake up the sports nutrition industry by bringing insect protein to the fore.
Co-founded by Charlotte Binder and Tim Dapprich less than a year ago, Isaac Nutrition already sells its sustainable blend of insect and plant protein to consumers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Speaking to NutraIngredients ahead of her presentation in the Trailblazers session at our upcoming Sports Nutrition Congress, Binder said she wants Isaac Nutrition, and the products it sells to become a gateway to establishing insects as food in Europe.
The company’s primary product - a vanilla flavoured bulk protein powder - was formulated in cooperation with the University of Applied Sciences in Muenster, and uses a bland of insect and plant-based proteins that have been ‘optimised’ to be “the closest to whey we can get.”
“We wanted to make sure we could provide functionality to athletes, and whey is recognised as the most functional,” said Binder. “We don’t use 100% insect for the protein powder,” she added. “We use a blend of insect and pea and hemp protein, which provides the right balance of amino acids.”
"It has to be as easy to use as other protein powders. People need to know how to use the product, and to not think about being an insect.”
Binder told NutraIngredients that she and co-founder Dapprich got the idea for the product and company after talking about insects as a great source of protein.
“We decided to use the functional advantages of insects - high protein, highly digestible, vitamins, fibre - to their benefit,” she said. “You can sell the advantages to people who are consumers of sports nutrition but looking for more sustainable solutions.”
The pair formed Isaac Nutrition in September 2017, and after changes to European legislation in January 2018 that made the sale of insect products for human consumption legal, were keen to be one of the first to market.
“We wanted to be on the market as soon as possible after January,” said the co-founder.
Binder told us that the company has a long term goal to establish insects as a staple food in Europe, and that Isaac Nutrition is already planning product development to expand its lines into new flavours and formats.
“We will potentially look at protein bars and snack bars, with the aim to become mainstream and normalise protein from insects.”
However, she noted that the opportunities in sports nutrition, and particularly bulk powders, are greater than those in bars right now - especially given existing competition in the insect bar space.
“That’s why we didn’t start with the bar,” she noted. “There is a lot of competition in that space already. Plus you have to sell so many bars to become profitable.”
“Next will be another protein powder,” added the co-founder - noting that chocolate was ‘probably’ the most likely.
The right message: Function first
Binder added that while the goal of the company is to increase the awareness and use of insects as a food in Europe, it is also important to get the marketing message right - so that people will purchase product.
“We use the functionality arguments, first and foremost,” she said. “To get people to buy our product.”
Indeed, in consumer interviews Binder and Dapprich soon realised that while people appreciate the sustainability aspect of a product, for the most part they are not willing to pay a lot more money for it, and will not base a purchase decision solely on sustainability.
“It’s nice for image reasons, and to show off to friends. But behind closed doors, people really care about functionality, taste, and price. That’s why they buy things,” commented Binder.
“Sustainability is nice, and people want to be more sustainable, but first and foremost people want the functionality and recovery. Plus the taste. Without functionality and taste, people won’t buy.”
Want to attend our Sports Nutrition Congress in September this year?
Organised by NutraIngredients and hosted in partnership with the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA), the SNC will offer a one stop shop for the latest must-have insights in the worlds of sports and active nutrition - including the use of ketones in sports.
Top levels speakers already confirmed to join us in Brussels include:
- Florina-Andreea Pantazi, European Commission
- Daniel Davy, Leinster Rugby
- Orla O’Sullivan, APC Microbiome Institute
- Robert Walker, SCI-MX Nutrition
- Professor Kieran Clarke, University of Oxford
- João Gonçalo Cunha, KickUP Sports Innovation
- Pia Ostermann, Euromonitor International
- Katia Merten-Lentz, Keller and Heckman LLP
- Adam Carey, ESSNA Chair
- Alex Zurita, London Sport
- Professor John Brewer, St Mary’s University
- Tom Morgan, Lumina Intelligence
- Luca Bucchini, Hylobates Consulting & ESSNA Vice-Chair
She noted that the ‘function first’ thinking was also used when designing the product - meaning that a blend of insect and plant protein sources were used - rather than solely protein from insects.
“If you use 100% insect the fat levels would be too high, and athletes don’t want that. It needs to be high protein,” said Binder. “We optimised the amino acid profile of the blend by combining three protein sources to create a blend that is the closest to whey we can get.”
Targeting functionality in this way also helps a product to be taken seriously and to target high-end consumers - with an an ingredient that has the potential to be seen somewhat as a novelty or a ‘joke’ if done in the wrong way, she added - noting that the increasing competition in the insect protein arena is also a good thing.
"Generally competition is a good thing, because people don’t then see insects as a joke or a novelty,” she said.
While there is an occasional leap to try and overcome ‘the yuck factor’ for some people, Binder also noted that many people are very enthusiastic about trying insects-based formulations.
“People are either really positive right away and grasp the idea, or people think it is disgusting,” the co-founder told us. “But when you speak to them and explain it they are willing to try it."
“It’s important to communicate the background and our idea, it makes people more willing to try it,” she added. “A lot of people have already heard of the idea of using insects as foods, so that’s quite helpful.”
Another way to increase acceptance of the use of insects is to make the product premium, she said.
“Insects are quite polarising. You can either get them in a 5* restaurant - where you pay a lot for it and will be willing to try it. Or you can pay very little money, find them in a kebab and be completely grossed out by it,” Binder said. “That is another reason to look at the premium end of the market.”
“With a premium product, generally people appreciate the higher quality,” she added. “It is also a much narrower market, so it is easier to characterise the users, and target them.”
Isaac Nutrition has made a point to primarily target people with busy and active lifestyles and who regularly attend the gym, personal training or crossfit sessions.
“People pay a lot for crossfit and PT [personal training],” she noted. “If you can convince the owners or trainers about your products then you have the recommendation.”
Targeting higher-end consumers is also a benefit when it comes to price expectations, and willingness to pay, Binder told us.
“In terms of price, it’s a better fit,” she said. “We are definitely in the upper price class in the market.”
“People have to be willing to pay a little more than the usual prices for a standard protein powder.”
The startup currently sells through online online shops - including Amazon - in addition to setting up ‘a few’ b2b deals with fitness studios - however the co-founders plan to approach larger retail chains including supermarkets and health food shops in the near future.
According to Binder, Isaac Nutrition is currently talking to potential investors in order to accelerate growth.
“We are going to try and develop new products and make them more accessible,” said Binder. “We are not trying to grow too quickly. We are looking to grow organically and take it one step at a time.”
Another possibility may be to product powders with higher protein content, said Binder - noting that the company’s Dutch supplier for its Buffalo Worm powder has recently increased capacity.
“So we are hoping we might be able to have an insect protein extract that would allow higher protein percentages in the final product,” she said - noting that the current products are not as high in protein as some of the other protein powders on the market.
“We have close to 70%,” said Binder. “It’s lower than some of the whey protein extract powders, but its still high.”
“For our target customer, it's definitely enough,” she added - noting that each 30 gram scoop of powder provides more than 20 grams of protein.
“But we are hoping we can increase that in the future.”
SNC 2018: Meet the Trailblazers
Isaac Nutrition will be taking part in the Trailblazers and Innovation sessions at the upcoming Sports Nutrition Congress 2018. The two day event, organised by NutraIngredients.com and hosted in partnership with the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA), aims to bridge the gaps between cutting edge science, business strategy and key regulatory developments – offering a one stop shop for the latest must have insights in the worlds of sports and active nutrition.
Don't miss out on your chance to attend SNC 2018 and to join your peers from branding, formulation, science, marketing, regulation or market strategy for a ticket to sports nutrition success.