Australian accredited practising dietitian Kara Landau, aka The Prebiotic Dietitian, has been based in New York for the past seven years, making a name for herself as a trustworthy source of information on gut health.
In 2013, while working as a media rep for the Dietitians Association of Australia and an independent nutrition spokesperson and innovation consultant for FMCG brands, Landau wrote a book about psychobiotics and good mood food named "The Clean Separation". The positive feedback she received made it clear to her that this was a big gap in the food and drink market.
After many attempts to encourage brands to tap into this clear emerging opportunity, Landau decided to take innovation into her own hands.
“I had tried to suggest to several companies to create products or brands based around gut health nutrients and the connection with mood but no one was willing to do it, I guess just because it was such a new area of health and there were worries about what health claims they were allowed to make.
“I felt it was my duty to launch Uplift Food and be a leader in this space - to provide food and drink that’s easy to incorporate in the diet that really fulfils a purpose and a gap in the market.”
She moved back to Australia and launched her brand Uplift Food in March 2018 with its debut product the Daily Uplifter – a plant-based prebiotic filled protein powder.
The product includes ingredients shown to support digestive health and positively impact mood, including: Green banana flour, Jerusalem artichoke, probiotics, plus protein from golden pea, sacha inchi seed, and pumpkin seed.
Things were going well in Australia but the fledgling entrepreneur found herself bringing the brand over to the US much sooner than expected.
“My intention was to drive it in Australia for six months, then come back to New York. I had applied for an accelerator programme in the US thinking I was applying for the next round, starting in about six months.
“But just two weeks after I launched I had a call from them, they told me they had a spot open for the next cohort, starting on Monday.
“So I packed two bags – one with my clothes, the other full of Uplifter – and came back to New York.”
It was there that Landau met members of Mondelez International’s innovation department – many members of which became the company’s SnackFutures startup investment venture which launched at the end of 2018.
“I shared my idea with them and there was about 15 of them all nodding their heads and smiling and about one hour after the meeting I received a text from them saying they were very excited about what we could do together.”
Landau gained the company’s initial seed stage financing in March 2019 as the first ever investment made by the SnackFutures new venture arm.
“For people looking at the brand it looks like I’ve moved really quickly, to go from launch, to this link with Mondelez, to the launch of the cookies in such a short space of time, but to me, it feels like the culmination of nearly a decade of work so it doesn’t feel so quick!”
With the help of Mondelez, Landau plans to disrupt the market and create a new category for the health conscious consumer.
“The Uplifter powder has always been marketed as an ingredient to be mixed with other healthy ingredients to make tasty meals and snacks as opposed to a protein powder to just be mixed with water or milk. I want to create products that can be incorporated into a healthy diet and boost overall nutrition.
“But my aim was always to build a functional snack. I’d been playing in my kitchen with healthy snack balls but then products like that sort of exploded and I didn’t just want to create another product like everything else on the market.
“I decided to go after a category that hadn’t been disrupted in quite some time – cookies, or biscuits if you’re in the UK – there are lots
of breakfast biscuits and protein cookies on the market but I find that a lot of brands will remove the ‘bad’ ingredients such as processed sugar, gluten or grains, but they’ll replace these with empty ingredients like potato starch or artificial sweeteners.
“I’ve spent most of this year in R&D trying to perfect the cookies.”
Hoped to launch in March next year, Landau’s Gut Happy Cookies include four different types of prebiotics with 40-50% of each cookie being lupin flour, tapioca fiber resistant starch, plus polyphenolic kiwi fruit flour, Tigernut flour, and probiotics.
Landau has a key piece of advice for other healthy
“Trying to turn my kitchen creations into commercial products that can run through the machines, pop out the mould, hold their shape, and pop out the other end in tact, has not been easy.snack startup founders who plan to scale up their business.
“A lot of founders will start small and find their product is really popular and then they’ll need to scale-up and then they find their recipe doesn’t work on a mass production scale and they have to change their product and they risk upsetting their loyal customers.
"So it was important to me to get the recipe right from the start and avoid having to make changes further down the line."
Landau will join NutraIngredients and other experts in the space of microbiome modulation at Probiota 2020 in Dublin in February where she will present her story and more of her secrets to success.
“I will talk about how startup founders can protect their values and ensure their brand doesn’t get tarnished as they start commercialising their company.
“I had to put my foot down many times during development of the cookies to ensure these cookies are genuinely, not just better for you, but good for you!”