Virun CEO Philip Bromley tells Ben Bouckley about the firm’s evolution from drug delivery technology into the beverage sphere, and explains that DHA and EPA Omega-3 oils dominate functional demands from clients.
Speaking to BeverageDaily.com early this month – where he also discussed the Californian firm’s partnership with VPX Sports that claims to redefine the energy drinks category – Bromley also explained how important beverages were within the context of biotech firm Virun’s business.
“We were at the forefront of drug delivery technology in around 2003, but when we started pre-clinical work and pre-clinical studies for our insulin drug, the economy took a dive,” he said.
“So Kaneka came to us and asked if we could apply our nanotechnology research on drugs to foods and beverages. The excipient [ingredient that allows the oil to dissolve into water] we used for drugs didn’t dissolve in the bloodstream, which was actually a bad thing for drugs.
“However, working with foods and beverages it turned out to be a good thing. We were able to deliver CoQ10 [co-enzyme Q10] and Omega-3 into beverages because the excipient did not absorb, which made the profile much less toxic.”
Standing out in the market
Discussing Virun’s beverage work, Bromley said: “Most of the beverages we work on are functional beverages (we actually have a beer we’re working on). There are a lot of different applications that we’re working on – incorporating Omega-3s, CoQ10, lutein, lycopene, stuff like that.
“A lot of the companies are looking at ways to differentiate their brand from the others, but it’s so difficult competing for shelf space with the big guys.
“When they put your product up there, the prices of the competition risk pricing you out of the market. So you really need something that stands out – and because of the science behind it, you might be able to get, say, a dime more on the shelf versus your competitor.
Given that Virun worked to encapsulate a range of bioactives, was there any particular strand of the business that predominated?
Clear, shelf-stable Omega-3
“A lot of people are interested in the Omega-3 portion of it. It can be somewhat scary at times. We say ‘everyone wants Omega-3, how can we create a business around Omega-3?” Bromley said.
In June, Virun claimed to have developed the world's “premier and only” patented technologies able to deliver (for instance) clear, shelf stable Omega-3 DHA and EPA fatty acids into beverages.
“In the past few years we’ve developed stable relationships with newer brands coming into the market, and have found that Omega-3, though you think it’s saturated as a market, you then understand the complete array of applications, Bromley said.
For instance, a cola brand was being launched in Q1 2013, Bromley said, with the same calorie count as regular count as regular cola, excellent source Omega-3 and a natural preservative system.
Potential distribution for the brand was “very interesting”, Bromley said, and “schools are being receptive to cola once again”.
“You then realize that there’s, say, a beer with Omega-3, a sports drink, protein drink with Omega-3. So then it’s not just an ingredient anymore, since it’s formulated within all these different beverages," he added.