Editor's spotlight: Startup Focus

Baobab brand reveals all-natural rival to ultra-sweet energy gels

By Nikki Hancocks

- Last updated on GMT

Tribal smoothies
Tribal smoothies

Related tags Startup company Energy Sports nutrition

A former Environmental Scientist and photographer has taken inspiration from African communities to create an active nutrition baobab brand with ‘naturalness’ and sustainability at its heart.

UK based entrepreneur Chris Martin became inspired to develop his own nutrition brand named Tribal Sports Nutrition after working as a corporate social responsibility photographer in Africa.

He explains how this career and time spent in remote communities, as well as his history as an Environmental Scientist, led him to launch his own range of products just over 12 months ago.

“Working as a CSR photographer meant I went to lots of communities where people were eating baobab fruit from the tree. They were using it as an energy source as part of their nutrition as well as for its medicinal properties as it is said to be high in vitamin C, macronutrients, electrolytes and fibre.

“I could see it was a naturally energising product and I used to do a lot of sport so I knew that most energy gels on the market weren’t natural as they usually contain maltodextrin as the main glucose source. So this ingredient offered a great opportunity to create a more natural product that would have a global market.”

Tribal has created two organic energy pouches which include baobab for energy, as well as brown rice syrup, sea salt, apple puree and morello cherry or pineapple for flavour.

Chris points out the products are a competitor to energy gels but they are double the size with approximately half the concentration of ingredients and they are much less sweet. As a result, they are easier on the stomach and potentially better for many athletes during competition because the potential for digestive stress is reduced.

“It’s kind on the stomach which is an important element for a lot of athletes who struggle with gels that are very concentrated and strong. But athletes have told us it’s on a par with the hit of energy they get from the maltodextrin gels.”

Company ethos

Chris explains that creating a truly sustainable footprint for Tribal and its ingredient supply chain is key to the development of the brand and he hopes the brand will achieve B Corp status within five years.

“I was impressed to see how things are managed at village level and how much control women in the cooperatives that harvest our Baobab have in their communities in Africa and what the people can get back from a relatively high value export crop like organic Baobab. These 'fair partnerships' that we are supporting we think go beyond Fairtrade status.

“We are now trying to develop a footprint whereby we source our ingredients from communities in our own supply chain with worker-controlled co-operatives which ensures they have cash-flow to pay school and medical fees.

“The process also gives Baobab more value which means the beautiful baobab trees, which have always had a cultural value in Africa also become protected resources so no one is going to cut them down which has a benefit to the landscape to ecology and to the community.”

Speaking about future opportunities, Chris says he wants his brand to be ‘as disruptive as it can be’.

“For me, there’s an awful lot of average products out there following the same growth template with the same cheap processed ingredients, and with a bit of thought the NPD process can evolve and be shaken up and that’s what Tribal is here to do.

“I’m interested in exploring insect protein as well as the current trend towards plant-based proteins like jack fruit and algae protein sources. We also plan on having the first fully recyclable 100 and 250 gm pouch packaging in 2020. I expect most EU based pouch makers will be offering a recyclable and possibly biodegradable pouch within the next two to three years but we want to be the first brand in the UK to introduce something that's seen as being innovative and responsible.

“I think this is an increasingly important issue to consumers and retail buyers in Europe and it’s important to me. At the moment UK is lagging behind Germany and the Netherlands in responding for domestic recycling initiatives to echo public opinion and recycle certain materials like polypropylene pouches. We are two to three years behind mainland EU in creating channels for new more sustainable materials and ideas - this needs to change."

Although the brand’s initial target market was athletes, Chris says he sees see huge potential to retail Energy and Protein products containing Baobab and other sustainably sourced natural nutrition products to ‘active lifestylers’ and on the go ethically minded consumers too.

Currently available online on Amazon and in some sports retailers in Southern England, he plans to expand into Holland and Barrett, Ocado and many more retailers soon.

The range will also be extended with two yogurt and whey protein-based pouches to aid recovery, in January.

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