“Made from oat and pea protein, Oat Chocolate & Protein is the cleanest and most natural plant-based protein drink on the market today,” Lumme told FoodNavigator-USA.
She explained that the top selling protein drinks in the US often have upwards of 15 ingredients, “most of which are chemicals” or unnecessary fillers. Lumme says most people put up with the chemical-sounding ingredients and unnecessary fillers in protein and sports drinks because there are very few clean alternatives available.
Many of the top selling protein shakes in the US also include whey or other animal products, Lumme said.
Hoping to fill these two holes in the market, Lumme and partner Mika Manninen selected pea protein as a base ingredient for their beverage because it is packed with amino acids that people need, is easy to recognize and understand by consumers and has a better taste and texture than some competing plant-based proteins.
“We also talked to a lot of people through four different focus group studies, and pea protein was overwhelmingly the favorite choice,” Lumme said.
The downside to pea protein, however, is that most consumers do not like that the majority of pea protein available in the US is sourced or packaged in China, which has a history of less stringent quality control, Lumme said.
“So, we sourced our pea protein from France, which the cleanest option we could find,” and it has less of a bitter aftertaste commonly associated with protein powders, she said.
The company further enhanced the pea protein by pulverizing it rather than grinding it, Lumme said.
“Pea protein is very hard to grind, so that it is difficult to make fine enough to create a milky consistency, like you need in a drink like ours. Sometimes it tastes sandy, which is a turn off for consumers,” she said. Pulverizing it, on the other hand, results in a smoother mouth feel.
Oats ease digestion
The duo uses oat fiber to help up the total protein content, while also counterbalancing any potential digestion issues that can arise from too much protein at once, Lumme said.
In addition to the benefits of the fiber, the oats also are low in acid. This helps bring down the overall pH of the beverage to 7, which is the same as water. This can help ease acid reflux and makes the beverage gentle on the stomach, Lumme said.
She added that very few other shakes use oat fiber, despite its health benefits, because it can be difficult to use in a liquid form, but that she and her partner have experience having previously created and marketed a popular oat shake in the US.
Ditching processed ingredients
Oat Chocolate & Protein also is free from other common processed ingredients, including processed sugar, Lumme said.
“After a lot of testing, we ended up with using agave syrup because of the low glycemic index – because you don’t want a sugar high – and pure maple syrup from Vermont,” for a slight sweetness to offset the bitterness of the cocoa, Lumme said.
Stabilizers and emulsifiers, such a carrageenan, gelatin, gums and other binders, also fell by the wayside when the company decided to create a clean drink, Lumme said. However, she acknowledged this means the cocoa can sift to the bottom of the beverage – requiring consumers to shake the bottle before they drink it.
The company also skipped fortifying their beverage with vitamins because it concluded that most consumers who buy its product likely already take a multivitamin or specific vitamins to optimize their health.
“People who take a multivitamin or eat vitamins often choose their vitamins very carefully so that they consume the highest quality of vitamin they can find and afford,” Lumme said. But, she added, most competing shakes that include vitamins use “industrial vitamin mixes that are very cheap to buy, so they can keep the price down,” but which also means the quality suffers.
High price offset by my discerning consumers
Even though Oat Chocolate & Protein saves on production costs by excluding vitamins, the higher quality ingredients it does use demand a higher price point of $3.99 to $4.59 per shake.
While this likely will alienate some daily protein drink consumers who control their budget by spending less than $2.99 for a protein drink, Lumme said “we believe that there are consumers out there who are willing to pay to get a higher quality protein drink.”
In particular, she says Millennials, young mothers and athletes geared more towards yoga than bodybuilding are the beverage’s target demographic. This group, even those who do not make as much money, are more willing to pay more for a higher quality protein shake as long as it also doubles as a snack or a mini-meal and they can be sure it is high quality, she said.
In addition to wanting different ingredients, this group also responds better to different messaging. They are less interested in the images and words used by the first generation of protein powders and drinks to convey power and muscle-building. Rather, they want something that will satisfy them and help them meet their daily needs in a way that results in a more natural outcome and body shape, Lumme said.
“We were a bit surprised when we found this out, but you have to believe it when 50 people tell you something. So, we didn’t end up calling the beverage Power Oats, like we originally contemplated,” Lumme added.
Natural protein will continue to grow
Looking forward, Lumme predicts this emerging trend towards cleaner, more natural protein to support balanced lifestyles rather than bodybuilding will continue to grow.
“This beverage, and our brand came out of the realization that nothing unreal is a message that resonates well now and in the future. Everything takes time for the consumer to learn, but once they do they won’t go back. And they are starting to notice all these chemicals and binders and fillers in their nondairy beverages,” and they won’t stand for it much longer, Lumme said.
“This non-chemical trends is something that will continue to be big with people increasingly looking at the ingredients and caring even more, which is one reason why we make it easier for them by printing our ingredients in a large font” and keeping the list short, Lumme said.
Once the shake is up and running, Lumme said the company, Nothing But Real, likely will expand into other food and beverage spaces, including snacks – all with the same basic concept of all natural, simple ingredient profiles for a well-balanced lifestyle.