My wife was the one who had this product idea. Yeah, she’s smart.
Here’s how it happened.
I do a 60 mile bike ride most Saturday mornings. One Saturday, post ride, we were having breakfast and I was whining about the candy sweet granola bars I’d had to chew my way through to fuel said ride, as well as the resulting stomach ache, and the mild allergic reaction I knew I’d continue to experience until everything passed through my system.
Side note - I’ve tried gels and chews but am not a fan. Too sweet and too hard on the stomach, hence the granola bars.
Anyway, she said “why don’t you make your own and put it in a baby food pouch?”.
And that was the spark.
I looked at baby food for my next ride, but it didn’t have the energy content I needed.
So I improvised.
I baked a sweet potato, pureed it, put it in a ziplock bag and cut the corner off. That worked just fine. And I felt better before, during and after the ride than I had with what I’d been using before. My energy levels were good too. I felt I had more “go”; more power and more endurance.
Next I tried potatoes. I boiled some fingerling potatoes and put them, whole, into a ziplock bag with apple sauce. Not as easy to eat on a bike as a squeezable puree, but as a fuel? Great. Same result as the sweet potato.
While the experiments continued, we saw enough promise in the initial, admittedly unscientific, results to start thinking about how it would look as a product.
We started by writing a list of what we wanted it to have.
- Natural ingredients only, organic if possible. Nothing synthetic or chemically processed. We wanted something more home made than lab made.
- It had to deliver the same nutrients, energy and performance for athletes as other products on the market.
- Amazing taste. Bring some of the foodie world into the sporting world, with flavors beyond “candy-sweet”, which was the only option at the time. We wanted savory, natural sweet…we just wanted our sports food to taste like food we’d eat at home or at a restaurant.
First, we checked to see if there was anything on the market that met those criteria.
We found a number of products that use the same kind of pouch. They were all good, but they didn’t have everything we were looking for.
Next, we researched the ingredients we’d need to use, narrowing it down to 4 core carbohydrates; sweet potato, potato, oats and rice. Even if I couldn’t eat the last two (yes, I have a rice sensitivity too), they’re great fuel, taste good and a lot of people love them, so we couldn’t ignore them for that reason.
Once we had those core ingredients, we went looking for recipes that paired them with other ingredients that tasted good, but also offered a nutritional benefit, and ultimately a performance benefit. We were trying to figure out the smartest food pairings that we could put into a pouch for athletes.
We finished that stage with a shortlist of around 40 recipes. This was also the moment we started to hit the ceiling of what was possible with our cooking skills.
After a weekend of food experiments, we quickly realized that in a year of weekends, we wouldn’t be able to create something that we’d want to eat (or that met our criteria).
Time to call an expert.
Through friends, we were lucky enough to meet Keith. He’s a creative director, a classically trained chef, and has run marathons. He’s also a great guy.
He started with some of our recipe ideas, then added a number of his own. We worked with him to arrive at a shortlist of 12 recipes, and narrowed that down to 8 through taste testing with friends.
We knew through our experience that our recipes were a good source of fuel for athletes. But we needed something more exact than ‘our experience’.
We wanted to be able to promise athletes that our products would have all of the nutrients they needed to perform at their very best. And for that we needed a nutritionist.
Time to call another expert.
We were introduced to Sharon through friends (again!). She had a masters in nutrition, and had worked with athletes to create diets tailored to the demands of their different sports. She was also an athlete herself. Jackpot.
We worked with Sharon to optimize each recipe for either “endurance” or “recovery”, tweaking quantities, and adding or removing ingredients where necessary.
Those became our prototype recipes.
The next step was to create manufacturing recipes from those prototypes; so the product could be made at scale, and have a shelf life. That turned out to be a whole process of its own, and deserves its own post.
'Til next time.