Behind the brand are Bill and Eltiena Campbell, who moved to the medieval city of Utrecht in search of a new adventure after selling their financial planning company in Idaho, and consumer product branding expert and fellow U.S. transplant Mike Flynn.
Working with local organic farmers and refining the supply chain, the startup offers a collection of mushroom blends to support immunity, focus, mood and vitality that delivers whole fruiting body potency to “made in Europe” food safety and sustainability standards.
Here, Flynn discusses what went into building a brand that strives “to create the purest mushroom supplements on earth”.
NIU: What opportunity/need did Wholeshroome see in the market?
MF: Upon digging into the mushroom supplements category, we noticed a consumer concern that kept coming up over and over again in reviews: People were worried about the source of product ingredients – particularly the country of origin due to the risks of toxins like lead. This is particularly relevant with mushrooms since they not only absorb the good nutrients from soil, but the toxins in them as well.
One measure of this danger to consumers in the U.S. is California’s Prop 65 warning label requirement. As we looked deeper into the top-selling brands we found that, of those using whole fruit body mushrooms, about 90% were sourcing from China and were unable to pass the lead levels required by CA Prop 65 and, therefore, must post a warning label on their packaging.
Based on this, we believe there is an opportunity in the market for products that provide people with the reassurance of a safe, clean growing environment, which the Netherlands/EU is known to provide.
NIU: What went into building the brand and your path to market?
MF: Because of the Netherlands expertise in mushroom cultivation (#3 exporter of fresh mushrooms in the world) it was not difficult to find an organic farm with whom to partner.
However, to our surprise, the drying and processing of fresh functional mushrooms without additives or carriers was something that just wasn’t being done on a commercial scale in the EU (as far as we could find), so we needed to build the entire supply chain piece by piece. This involved many explorations of many different drying methods and tests with a host of partners.
NIU: Why grow in Europe and market in the U.S.?
MF: Ultimately, it comes down to market size. The US is by far the largest market for health supplements in the world and, therefore, provides us with the best opportunity to see if our proposition actually has relevance to consumers.
Furthermore, coming from the U.S., we know that our target audience is educated on the high standards that products produced in the EU must meet and are much more likely to understand the value that ‘wholesomely grown in Holland’ offers.
NIU: Where/how are the mushrooms grown? What makes them “the purest mushrooms on earth”?
MF: Most all of our mushrooms are grown on a small, organic farm in central part of the Netherlands. We know our farmer personally and are even part of the cultivation process – unusual in a category where most companies third-party source their mushrooms from China.
What makes the mushrooms so pure is the origin of our substrate. It is sourced from a specific German supplier and is made of fully organic materials. The importance of this can’t be overstated – due to mushrooms’ sponge-like qualities – if the substrate contains contaminants, so will the mushrooms. To ensure the highest level of purity possible, we test our fresh crop for heavy metals and toxins before moving on to hot water extraction and drying in GMP-certified facilities.
NIU: Who formulates the Wholeshroome products and where are they manufactured?
MF: We worked with a group of clinical nutritionists to develop the formulations of our products, combining our core mushroom blend with additional ingredients such as adaptogens, vitamins and minerals to further enhance the efficacy of the health benefits each provide. While our mushrooms were grown in Netherlands and Ireland, all the ingredients were mixed and packaged at a facility in the UK.
NIU: What is in your base functional mushroom blend and why were these mushrooms chosen? What other ingredients are in your blends, where do you source them and what need states do they target?
MF: Our base blend consists of Lion’s Mane, Shitake, Maitake and Agaricus blazei. These were chosen for their ability to balance the major systems within the body (i.e. nervous, immunity, muscular, etc.).
To enhance the efficacy of health benefits, we’ve added the following ingredients to our blends:
Defense: Our immunity support product has added Lynside Forte Zinc made with bioavailable, fortified yeast and sourced in the EU, and Vitamin D2 from white button mushrooms sourced from organic farms the Netherlands in Ireland. Most Vitamin D supplement ingredients are made from lanolin derived from sheep skin and, therefore, are not suitable for vegan consumers. Our plant-based Vitamin D2 is made with no animal byproducts of any kind.
Focus: Our cognitive support product has added Ashwagandha (KSM-66) sourced from organic farms in India and helps to manage stress in the body by managing the amount of cortisol (stress hormone) the body secretes. It also contains Bacopa extract (50% Bacosides) which is sourced from India, is free from GMOs and conforms with EU regulations. It helps to support the brain and nervous system function.
Balance: Our vitality/wellbeing product has added plant-based Vitamin D2 from white button mushrooms sourced from organic farms in the Netherlands and Ireland.
NIU: What do the third-party testing lab analysis results reveal?
MF: Every batch of mushroom extract powder is tested at three different times through the development process by a third-party lab (Eurofins) for heavy metals and standard microbiological analyses.
All Wholeshroome products test at toxin and metals amounts far below the already strict limits required by CA Prop 65 and the European Food Safety Authority. For example, the lead present in our products comes in at least 80% below the limits allowed by each of the above regulations.
NIU: Are your products only sold DTC in the U.S. market? Plans to expand to other markets?
MF: Our products are currently sold DTC in the U.S. only through our own ecommerce website and Amazon.com. The reason for this is that the U.S. is the largest health supplements market in the world and offers an opportunity to quickly evaluate the relevance of our proposition. That said, we are exploring partnerships to distribute in Europe in the future.
NIU: What sets Wholeshroome products apart from other mushroom supplements in the booming mushroom category?
MF: It comes down to two differentiating factors: European-grown purity and whole fruit potency. No one else is direct sourcing the potency of whole fruiting body mushrooms with added adaptogens and vitamins/minerals from a place where the purity standards are amongst the highest in the world: the Netherlands/EU.
NIU: How are your products resonating with consumers since launch?
MF: As we’ve only been on the market for less than six months, we are still learning which products are most relevant to our consumer (and learning who our target consumer actually is). However, we’ve seen an uptick in our Vitamin D2 product as the sun goes away during the winter months in the Northern Hemisphere and people look keep up their energy and immunity.
NIU: Could you tell us about how you chose to package your products?
MF: We see our mission as not only delivering purity in our products but also for the planet. When developing our packaging, we tried to stay true to that while at the same time creating something disruptive to the category. That ultimately led to us to an all plant-based reusable telescoping tube format that is made from 100% recyclable cardboard and interior capsule pouches that are home or industrial compostable.
NIU: What is next for Wholeshroome? New products of initiatives in the pipeline?
MF: Our first priority is to see if we have an overall proposition that resonates with people and which product offerings have the greatest uptake. If that is proven out, then there are many different benefits we can serve via formulations and formats we can create depending on the needs of our customers. Regardless of where we go in the future, our focus will remain on staying true to our mission of trying to create the purest mushroom supplements on earth.
NIU: What advice would you offer other startups in the dietary supplement space?
MF: First, really do your research to ensure you create something that won’t be a ‘me too’. It’s a very crowded space and your proposition will need to be strong to gain traction. Second, know what you’re getting into in terms of investment in both time and money. The reality of today’s landscape is that unless you have years of time at your disposal you will need to spend significantly to gain awareness. Third, be flexible enough to change directions completely if necessary. Take the feedback you gain from the marketplace and maintain flexibility, including your product offering, to meet the needs you identify.