Editor's spotlight: Startup Focus

Finnish cyclist puts his spin on sports nutrition with 'smart' gut-health brand

By Nikki Cutler

- Last updated on GMT

A Finnish cyclist has put the wheels in motion for his own sports nutrition brand as he hopes to offer all-natural, low FODMAP, sports foods designed to enhance the gut.

Petteri Kankkunen, a serial entrepreneur and who has founded businesses within IT, turned his innovative eye to his passion when he created the nutrition startup company Potential Foods last summer.

This soon led to the creation of the sports nutrition brand Nosht which is currently being tested by athletes and is due for commercial launch in May this year.

The keen entrepreneur says, as well as being all-natural, plant-based and low FODMAP (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols), a big USP of the brand is the use of flavours which have been suggested as being able to trick the brain.

“We take advantage of the way the brain can be influenced by disruptions in the nervous system through ingredients with specific taste profiles," 

Petteri Kankkunen

he told NutraIngredients.

“For example, it has been documented that you can alleviate cramps with certain tastes such as bitter flavours like vinegar.

“Hot spices are the most studied flavours. So we use things like turmeric, chilli and cinnamon which are used in a lot of other health products.

“Then you have the cooling herbs such as eucalyptus which can tell your body it’s not as hot as it really is which allows you to go on for longer stretches.

“These smart ways of using taste allow the products to influence the consumer's perception of effort and trick the body into being able to do more.”

This also helps with the aim is to reduce the amount of food and calories consumed during endurance exercise therefore helping to avoid stomach cramps.

Why low FODMAP?

The low FODMAP diet requires the consumer to avoid short chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. 

Kankkunen says the idea of creating products based around this diet came about as he and his partner enjoy regular cycles through the Alps but they both suffer with stomach issues and struggle to know what to eat to maintain energy.

“We kept finding that stomach issues would halt our rides and we were trying different ingredients and probiotics and finding no solution. Then we eventually discovered the low FODMAP diet and found if we leave certain things out of our diet, it really helps.

“The low FODMAP diet can really help to train your gut to work more efficiently in sports and if you think about the field of sports, gut issues are very common – Seventy per cent of ultra-marathon runners experience gut problems and I think if my products can help extreme athletes then they can help anyone.”

The trail mix, energy chews and tea-infused energy gel

Something for everyone

One of the first product ranges Kankkunen plans to launch will be energy chews which he believes will perfectly replace energy gels.

They have been created to taste and feel ‘candy like’ but they  provide the consumer with 'smart flavours' to influence energy levels and control cramps.

The range includes three flavours - seabuckthorn and orange, bilberry and eucalyptus, and ginger and lemon.

The Nosht brand also includes Salted Protein Bites which are nutritionally dense vegan snacks for before and after exercise. They are high in electrolytes, salts, fats and protein which Kankkunen believes fills a clear gap in the market.

“A lot of people will eat salami snacks or perhaps cheese. So f​or sports people, it’s hard to find anything really salty and tasty if you are not eating animal products.”

This range includes a black pepper and turmeric hot flavour,  a walnut and gooseberry sweet flavour and a kiwi and lime sour flavour.

Not stopping there, the innovator has also created a range of tea infused 'isogels' which have been created to release energy steadily, rather than providing energy spikes and lows that standard energy gels provide.

“We want to provide a small steady energy source that doesn’t disturb your stomach. They are also delicious enough to be poured on top of yogurt.”

The gel is sold in a bottle that has five servings, allowing the consumer to pour as much as they need into soft packs. Flavours due for release are: bilberry and eucalyptus, ginger and lemon with green tea and chai with black tea.

Kankkunen has also created a gut-friendly trail mix with fermented veg pieces which he can see will be mass-market appropriate and therefore might come under a different brand name.

He says: “It’s quite a unique thing which I haven’t seen anywhere else. It’s kind of sweet tasting sour pieces of veg such as beets and carrots and parsnip but with added spices  such as cinnamon and ginger.”

“There are no factories that do this kind of thing at the moment so I’m looking at how I can product it on a large scale.

“We are currently talking with a large Nordic food company about doing this as a joint venture as there’s a lot involved with this idea.”

Dream team

Helping peddle Kankunnen's creativity are some formidable co-founders including food scientist Anna K Häkämies who specialises in plant-based foods and helped create the very popular Nordic protein meat replacement brand called Pulled Oats.

Also jumping on the saddle, is Heikki Liekola, a seasoned Michelin star restaurant chef and an avid runner bringing haute cuisine knowledge to sports nutrition.

Acting as guinea pig and bringing insight into what pro-athletes want and need, is world top triathlete and nutritionist Kaisa Sali.

The audience

So far Kankkunen has been surprised to find that his business’ social media activity is gaining a lot of attention from Italy, followed by the UK and then France.

He says the countries most aware of the low FODMAP diet are generally Australia and the USA but he expects the trend will grow in Europe in the coming years as people become more and more wary of how diet effects their gut health.

His social media followers also suggests that his products appeal most to women. He assumes this is due to females being more aware of their gut health and more interested in talking about it.  

He puts this female interest down to the fact the products are all-natural, which seems to be a big draw-factor for that gender.

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