Amsterdam born and England raised Sunna Van Kampen is founder of the startup company Tonic Health, selling immunity supporting health drinks with high doses of vitamin C, D and zinc alongside natural plant extracts which aim to boost illness recovery time.
Health innovation certainly didn’t seem an obvious destination for this business graduate who admits he always used to rebel against health and nutrition.
“Growing up in Totness, in South Devon, it was a funny little forward-thinking microcosm with its own currency, it aimed to be the first oil-free town, it was very health focused and everyone was really into organic foods.
“Naturally, as a boy I always wanted to rebel against my mum’s healthy food and when I went to uni I was eating all the Mars Bars and McDonald’s I could.”
But it didn’t take long for the downsides of junk food to manifest.
“I started my corporate career, working in banks in London and I was finding that I would come down with colds and flu three or four times every winter and it would always take me ages to recover.
“I became frustrated with the cold and flu products on offer, like Lemsip, which were mostly to cover up the symptoms rather than to help with recovery and I became really interested in what I could eat or drink to help my body avoid these bugs and fight them off more efficiently.
“I began experimenting with different ingredients like ginger, turmeric and garlic and I would take these potions, which were essentially shots of ground up pureed ingredients, four times a day from the first sign of a cold and I found this massively improved my recovery time.”
Realising he wanted to find a route into a career in health and nutrition he took on the role of brand development consultant for the baby food company Piccolo, in his spare time.
His hard work helped get the company from concept to launch and one and a half years later, when the company was thriving and expanding, they recruited him full time as head of sales. This allowed him to learn more about the FMCG market, all the while researching the science behind his own idea for a recovery-aid drink.
Around five years of research and plenty of input from health experts and nutritionists, he launched Tonic Health, selling two health drink sachets, in November 2019 and the company has experienced over 1000% growth over the course of the pandemic.
Innovation through dosage
Both products, which simply mix with water, hot or cold, have the same core three most scientifically studied ingredients shown to support the immune system: 1500mg vitamin C (1875% NRV), 30ug vitamin D (600%) and 25 mg zinc (250%).
“Usually, the dosage in supplements is based on RDA, but the RDA was created for preventing illness from vitamin deficiency rather than for optimal health. Science has shown that that’s great if you want to avoid getting ill, but if you are trying to help your body fight an illness you need much higher doses.
“Our aim is to be the highest dose vitamin on the market – we offer up to 10 times more vitamin C than most other supplements on the market, up to five times more zinc and a lot more vitamin D. Plus we have the added benefit of the natural plant extracts which have immune supporting polyphenols and they help the body to absorb the vitamins.”
The elderberry and blackcurrant SKU contains over a gram of elderberry and blackcurrant and the lemon and honey contains real lemon and ginger.
While Van Kampen notes that it was fortuitous that the global pandemic created a huge surge in interest in immunity just after launch, there were also a number of barriers that came with this.
“It’s been a bit of a double-edged sword. Some retailers have shut up shop in terms of looking for new products with range reviews being postponed until at least next year while they focus on availability and preparing for any possible second wave.”
The products are available through the Tonic Health website, as well as in Ocado and Boots online, as well as in over 750 independent pharmacies across the UK – an ideal starting place as this will allow pharmacists to help consumers understand the benefits of aiding recovery, over covering symptoms.
The company has a range of new products in development, with one looking to combat the issue of poor sleep launching in October – a key factor for immunity.
The future for health aisles
With his passion routed in helping people understand the importance of aiding recovery with nutraceuticals, Van Kampen says he’d like to see the UK catch up with the US in terms of its health category merchandising.
“If you go somewhere like a Walgreens, there’s a 50/50 split between immunity and recovery support versus pharma-based drug relief.
“You can go to the cold and flu section and decide whether you want something to help you fight it or something to help you cover the symptoms, or both.
“In the UK, those options aren’t so clear, the consumer has to go away from the cold and flu section and specifically look for an immunity supporting vitamin supplement which they’re less likely to think to do.”
Putting science centre-stage
The entrepreneur has conducted a plethora of consumer research - gaining insights from over 1500 consumers in the last two months - to ensure his products hit the mark and the latest findings have led to a total re-brand, with new packaging launching in October.
“We’ve found that the key drivers in the immunity category, are trust and efficacy. When we first launched, immunity wasn’t really a big concern, so we originally decided to communicate the ‘winter wellness’ message through our branding.
“But we are a brand routed in science – we work with nutritionists, doctors, immunologists and other health experts in order to create our products and that doesn’t currently come across in our branding. The new branding will make it clear we are science led and totally different to anything else currently on the market.
“We know that immunity is the number one health concern now and we want to own the immunity space.”