Editor's Spotlight: Startup Focus
Functional syrup startup creates supplements with staying power
26-year-old Marcus Mollinga says he has been an entrepreneur at heart from as far back as he can remember.
”During my time in school I had two passions – sports and business. I always seemed to have a number of different business ideas on-the-go. Whether that was selling sweets in the playground, operating an online shop selling phone cases, running my own events business or even buying and selling cars and property.
“I was never very passionate about academia and ended up dropping out of my AS-levels. On the other hand, my best-friend and future business co-founder Jack Morrison, was always very academic as well as sharing my entrepreneurial spirit.”
Mollinga’s interest in supplements emerged when he suffered a serious rugby injury which led to a number of knee ligament operations.
“The doctor recommended I take omega-3 to reduce the swelling and pain. I found they worked really well but the experience of taking these huge capsules was not nice - especially with the fishy burps.”
This led Marcus and Jack, who were 22 at the time, on their first joint venture into health and nutrition.
“I thought there must be a way of getting this ingredient into a drinkable format and after spending nearly 12 months speaking to food scientists from across the globe, we found a way of using technology to encapsulate the ingredient so it could be suspended in water. That led us to developing the first tasty liquid form of omega-3 which we sold under the brand Omegawater.
“Unfortunately that was just too expensive to produce so it wasn’t a viable business in the long term but it set us on this path of creating other higher concentration emulsions using mirco-encapsulation technology, but this time with more of a syrupy texture.
"It made complete sense to me because not only did it provide a better experience for the consumer, but it was also much more bioavailable.”
In 2017, the co-founders launched their peach and mango flavoured Omega-3 syrup under the brand YourZooki. After a year of back-to-back trade shows and exhibitions, the pair got their big break when they were invited onto the shopping channel QVC.
“In January 2018, we did our first airing and we really didn’t expect much to come from it but we figured if nothing else it would provide us with a good video for our website. We did the seven minute show and it completely blew our mind how successful it was – we sold out within five minutes.
“It turned out that QVC’s average shopper – women aged 30 to 70 – were the ideal market to target. We did six more airings with QVC and every time we sold out. After doing a special deal with them we sold 10,000 bundles of the product within 24 hours.”
With their confidence firmly boosted, the duo began showing their QVC videos to retailers and international distributors. This got them their second big break as they were listed in the John Bell & Croydon pharmacy in Marylebone, London – aka the Queen’s pharmacy. After performing well there, the product was soon picked up by Selfridges, Harrods and Planet Organic, and eventually Holland & Barrett and Boots. In 2020 they
were even taken on by GNC in the USA and Canada.
The global pandemic has boosted sales even further – revenue in 2020 tripled compared to 2019 - and the lads have launched a series of new products over the last 12 months so the portfolio now includes collagen, glutathione, vitamin C, vitamin D, and Omega-3, with a turmeric Zooki launching today (April 19th). They also have a pipeline NPD for this year, including magnesium, probiotic, and energy zookis.
“Our brand concentrates on offering health ingredients in the most enjoyable and bioavailable format possible and it’s because of this that we have such a high repeat purchase rate and such great word of mouth.
“When you take a capsule or pill every day you perhaps don’t notice the tangible health benefits, plus it’s a pain to remember to take, so it’s easy to get out of the habit. Whereas if you are taking a product that you enjoy drinking, or that you have added into your daily ritual – such as by pouring on top of porridge or into your morning smoothie – then you are much more likely to keep taking it.
“Our products also create more conversation than a pill does. The mum in the family might start taking it every day and comment on how tasty it is, or her children might ask what she’s adding to her protein shake, and then the rest of the family might start taking the product too.
“I would say the majority of our customers drink the product on its own but some mix it with food and drink. I personally mix a Vit C sachet with a pint of water and have that first thing in the morning.”
Mollinga says the best sellers in the range are the vitamin C, D, and collagen which he puts down to interest in immunity and skin health.
“There’s a lot of competition for all of these supplements but often a consumer will walk into a health store and ask for the most bioavailable version of whatever supplement they’re after and the store will point them towards our product.”
Now the brand is selling to 26 countries worldwide and the team is concentrating on increasing D2C sales online. They have just opened an office in London for the newly recruited talent to drive online sales growth over the coming years.