Startup bets on whole food positioning to find niche in crowded multis field

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Startup bets on whole food positioning to find niche in crowded multis field
A functional food positioning will help drive compliance and avoid some of the pitfalls of traditional supplement delivery forms, according to the CEO of GEM, a company that makes bite-size whole food multivitamins.

Sara Cullen, who also founded the company, said the product was designed from the ground up as an alternative to more familiar supplement delivery modes.  In her view, this delivers the vitamin punch closer to how the body absorbs nutrients from foods.

Whole food ingredients

The bite sized products, similar to a mini brownie, are made from dates, coconut, pumpkin seed kernels and other whole food ingredients such as spirulina, chlorella and quinoa sprouts.  A number of B vitamins are added as well as astaxanthin, an ashwaganda extract and an extract of the leaves of the botanical Murraya koenigii ​(also known as curry tree).

“The bite-size delivery was very intentional.  . . . Given it’s made from real, whole food ingredients, we wanted to keep the nutrients in their most natural state and remain as something you eat. You can take GEM at anytime of day, with or without food prior. Since it is digested as food, it doesn’t cause nausea,”​ Cullen told NutraIngredients-USA.

Cullen said she believes pill fatigue is a real phenomenon, and leads to indifferent compliance.  

“Eight out of 10 people forget to take their vitamins every day. Swallowing a handful of large pills every morning is not a pleasant experience,”​ she said.

Supplements fail on quality

Cullen said she believes that the regulation of dietary supplements as it now stands is insufficient to ensure that quality products make their way to the shelves.  In that sense, she said she believes her company’s product can offer a quality difference as well as an organoleptic one.

“Sadly, even if regulations are in place, it is very easy for brands to deceive consumers with mislabeled supplement labels and claims. The FDA does not review dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed. Therefore, supplement fraud can occur. This means that supplements can contain more or less nutrients than stated on the label, or they may even contain substances not listed on the label,”​ Cullen said.

“Since GEM is only made from food, we use a nutrition label and abides by FDA regulations. Our label clearly states all ingredients included and where each nutrient is coming from. What you see is what you get,” ​she added.

Unlocking power of algae

The inclusion of algae powders was intended to unlock the nutrient power of this food source, Cullen said. Spirulina and chlorella have been on the market for a long time and have garnered a certain market share, but are not among the biggest selling supplement ingredients.  Cullen said incorporating these into a good tasting delivery mode (pleasant taste is not these ingredients’ long suit) means more consumers can benefit from their nutrient density.

“Spirulina is a complete protein (contains all essential amino acids) but it is also made up of 65-71% protein (reference: beef is 22%). Plus it is rich in iron, vitamins A, K, B complex and omegas. This helps with healthy stress response and gives you natural energy. Chlorella is a microalgae that is part of a 100% carbon neutral food system. It contains over 40 nutrients including potassium, all of the B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and iron, 18 amino acids, beta carotene, lutein and chlorophyll,”​ Cullen said.

“I think a majority of consumers don’t fully understand the power of algae. NASA and the UN consider algae to be one of the most sustainable plant resources, so it is not only good for you, but good for the planet too,”​ she added.

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