Steven Van Middelem, founder and CEO of the 15-year-old global drinks and snacks distribution firm D-drinks, says the launch of ‘Fhirst’ is the realisation of two years of research and development.
Fhirst Living Sodas, are canned beverages combining 2 billion micro-encapsulated active cultures of the probiotic lactobacillus rhamnosus plus 5g of prebiotics from corn fibre and chicory root inulin, and the addition of zinc (for immune and cognitive health).
The three strong sugar-free line-up includes fruity flavours: Cherry Vanilla, Passion Fruit and Ginger Mandarin.
Van Middelem, who has founded a number of food and drink brands all sold via D-drinks distribution, based in Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg, says this will be his first company to live outside of the D-drinks brand.
With gut health and transparency front-of-mind, Van Middelem says they will be conducting studies to see how the drinks benefit immune and cognitive health markers.
He explains that the product has taken a long time to create due to the many challenges involved in ensuring stabilisation of the active ingredients.
As such, they add around 2.7 bn active cultures to each can to ensure the product provides the promised amount by the end of its 12-month shelf life.
"We learned by testing over and over again, and with the support and feedback of experienced people and scientists in the field of development and chemistry, that chicory root fibre can convert to sugar within the product. That's why we use a mix of prebiotic ingredients, with corn fibre to provide a stabiliser.
“As well as carrying out RCTs on the health benefits of these sodas, we will be continuing to test the products every three months to ensure there is no change in quantity of pro- or prebiotics, or sugars.
“For us, it’s really important to have the studies and the studies to prove to consumers what they are consuming. We really want to be the brand that not only created a category of living drinks, but also leads the category."
Speaking about the commercial opportunity, Van Middelem adds: “The global pandemic encouraged us all to think again about our immunity. 70% of our immune system lies in our gut, and gut health has been linked to the health of many other organs, including the heart and the brain. This has created huge demand for pro- and prebiotic products."
Despite having many connections in the Netherlands, the brand is launching first in the UK.
"Generally health trends originate in the US before coming over to the UK, then spreading across mainland Europe. That is why we have chosen to focus on the UK market first, where consumers understand the benefits of pro and prebiotics already.
"But we have also secured distribution agreements with leading partners in Benelux and the Nordic countries."
The business is also working to benefit the environmental microbiome with its PlanetFhirst campaign, pledging 1% of turnover to biodiversity and green infrastructure projects via a partnership with rewilding project SUGi.