The rise of ready-to-drink protein products was market confirmation for entrepreneurs Joe and Megan Johnson that their inventive dissolvable ‘protein scoops’ idea may have legs.
“What we’ve really focused on doing was bringing a similar level of convenience [that RTD brings] while still being cost-competitive compared to powdered supplements,” Joe Johnson told us.
Founded around three years ago, he added that this year has been a ‘crazy year’ for the family-owned, nutrition start-up which they named Vade Nutrition.
“Things started to snowball” in terms of brand awareness and new accounts, Johnson said, attributing it to new exposure via social media or at fitness expos like the Arnold Classic Worldwide in Ohio.
“We’ve increased our distribution in ways that has continued to shape our business projection,” he said, adding that the company is scaling up on Amazon Prime, started selling on GNC.com, and established a partnership with health and wellness subscription box company BuluBox in January.
Vade protein scoops are single servings of protein powder encased in a film that dissolves when in contact with water. The concept is not unlike dissolvable pods used in the household cleaning products industry, think Tide Pods for laundry or Cascade pods for dishes.
The main difference being, of course, that the film is food grade. It’s made out of binding materials usually found in supplements, Johnson said.
In fact, Vade is patenting the technology, currently patent-pending. To be specific, the patent is for “any consumable powder that is entirely contained by a dissolvable film, both of which are meant to be dissolved simultaneously and consumed together in a water-based beverage,” Johnson explained.
Right now, Vade is one of two top results when searching for ‘protein pod’ on Google. The other is a company called Podz, which Johnson declined to comment on.
What he did share was that he wants the convenience of this format to extend to other supplements. “The end goal is really for our customers to be able to go on a trip or workout and have no issues with portability or scooping any of their powders. That’s really where we see our company going to,” he said.
“We’re already working on different concepts, and we’re working on licensing agreements with larger companies to share the love—we don’t want to hog the technology.”
Reinvigorating the protein space
Consumers aren’t quite yet tired of protein and protein call-outs. Both categories continue to experience growth in sales, though it has tapered in the past few years.
According to data from market research firm Euromonitor International, protein powder sales in the US grew 11% in 2018, down from the 12% growth in 2017 and 14% in 2016. The ready-to-drink (RTD) segment, though it saw many new brands and products launch in the past few years, also tapered in growth with 8.3% in 2018, down from 8.8% in 2017 and 9.7% in 2016.
“I grew up as an athlete, and I traveled a lot for sports,” Vade Nutrition co-founder Joe Johnson said. “I was always carrying around tubs of protein or other nutritional supplements we took with us to tournaments.”
The numbers reflect trends noted by other players in the protein space.
Take Glanbia Performance Nutrition, the parent company of brands like Isopure and Optimum Nutrition for example—sales of the powders have been flat or in decline compared to its rising RTD protein segment, COO David Strickland told us.
Hence, the company is betting on a countertop appliance made by tech start-up Güdpod to create recyclable single-serve pods of its sports nutrition products, similar to the delivery systems used by Keurig and Nespresso for coffee.
There’s a market for more portable versions of protein powder
Vade was designed as a solution to a persisting problem Johnson said many school athletes like himself have (he is a former wrestler for Michigan State).
“I grew up as an athlete, and I traveled a lot for sports,” he said. “I was always carrying around tubs of protein or other nutritional supplements we took with us to tournaments.”
Tubs of protein aren’t the most convenient thing to carry around, so Johnson resorted to what many frequent travelers who supplement daily with protein do—scoop out portions into resealable bags.
The idea for dissolvable coops first came three years ago when Megan was delivering the couple’s first child. Splitting his time between the hospital and home, they came up with the idea of portioning protein powder into dissolvable pod-shaped scoops “so that there was no measuring, no mess, no hassle, you can just throw it in water, shake it up, and enjoy a protein shake.”