When Vanessa Hutchinson launched the health bar company, Fodbods, it was to fill a void in the market for consumers suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, but a larger segment of the market was also hungry for the product. Adam McClery writing.
Fodbods were first made in the kitchen of owner and founder, Vanessa Hutchinson, who lived with the challenges presented by irritable bowel syndrome.
The challenges, especially in a fast-paced work atmosphere like the law, of finding the right food that was also FODMAP was difficult, and the impact on daily life was exhausting.
“Starting Fodbods was really to solve my own problem initially,” Huthinson said.
“I had a busy job where I traveled a lot and it was hard on my diet because I have IBS and I was introduced to the low FODMAP diet and when I started following all my symptoms went away. disappeared and I live a perfectly normal life.
“IBS affects one in five people, which is a large portion of the population. The low FODMAP diet was developed by Monash University and is now the best-known treatment for IBS, helping 75% of people reached.
“That means that effectively 15% of the population is FODMAPS intolerant, which is huge, causing people to predict this will be the next gluten-free because of how many people it affects.”
After following the FODMAP diet, Hutchinson found she felt much better and many of her symptoms were gone, but if she ever went back to a non-FODMAP-compatible food, she instantly felt sick.
The challenges then were making sure she had a FODMAP-friendly meal option on hand when needed. Hutchinson shopped around to find that FODMAP-friendly food options outside of cooking ingredients were virtually non-existent.
“That’s when I decided to make my own protein bars at home and take them with me and realized in the process that there was a huge void in the market for healthy and convenient fodmap-friendly foods,” she said.
“There are lots of foods around the kitchen and breakfast cereals and ready meals but nothing prevalent in the industry, if you go to a gas station there is nothing to find, airplanes, airports, the same.
“I started talking to dietitians and fodmap Australia and Monash University and they all agreed they had nothing for people.”
Hutchinson then shifted into research and development mode while building her company, gaining valuable insights from key minds in the FODMAPS and IBS research sectors.
“We actually work with a lot of sports dietitians because athletes are more affected by IBS than regular people because they put stress on their bodies,” she said.
“They struggle to get enough calories because they don’t have those options. I started exploring more, talking with consumers and customers, and investigating forums.
“I felt like I had to fix this because IBS is so much more than people think, there’s anxiety around it, that’s where the practical part comes in. “
Knowing that it was going to have to expand to achieve its goals, Hutchinson began investigating the possibilities of manufacturing Fodbods.
“From day one I knew I wanted to do this on a large scale and that I couldn’t make them in my kitchen if I wanted to grow,” she said.
“It took a lot of research to look at other products and recipes and think about combining low FODMAP ingredients.
“There are so many ingredients used in other bars that we can’t use in ours, dates, cashews, etc. We had to gather low fodmap ingredients and work with the combinations.
One of the problems, Hutchinson said, that Fodbods aimed to solve was to help people have a higher-energy protein bar that wasn’t just empty carbs.
“I just wanted them to be simple ingredients that you recognize and use at home,” Hutchinson said.
It started like me in my kitchen, I made 200 samples to start with and tweaked every ingredient and tons of taste tests.
“We would have tasting days and then expand to public areas for feedback. Eventually I stumbled upon the recipe. Making sure we stayed under the threshold was probably the hardest part.
Once the Fodbods recipe was established, the next big step was to achieve FODMAP certification, which no other product in Australia had achieved until now.
“The process of getting fodmap certified is inherently difficult because you have to have every sample tested with that exact recipe and we’ve had a number of products fail the test because the thresholds are so low,” said Hutchison.
But first, Hutchinson had to find a manufacturing partner to help scale production to an industrial level before seeking certification.
“Once we had the recipe, it was a matter of finding the right manufacturing partner because they get inquiries all the time and you have to submit them for your business,” she said.
“I had to explain what I was trying to accomplish and why the bars would be successful.
“I found a wonderful manufacturing partner who worked closely with me to get it right and only worked with natural ingredients, which really helped.”
The initial challenge, Hutchinson said, was that its manufacturing partner hadn’t worked with the specific ingredients needed for FODMAP-compliant products, but through collaboration, the end result was achieved.
“The other thing is that ingredients can go through changes during the manufacturing process, which can create FODMAPs, which is really weird,” she said.
“Even if you used all of the low-FODMAP ingredients in the process, some sugars or carbs may break down. Nuts, for example, when roasted, can become high in FODMAPs.
Hutchinson and its manufacturing partner worked together to test samples and ensure they had the best possible basis while reducing the risk of FODMAPs being present during the process.
“We had to do a lot of iterations to get the consistency right and it would work on their machines and once you have the basics it’s a lot easier because you change little things like flavors,” he said. she adds.
After defining the recipe and obtaining the FODMAP certification, the next step to enter the market was to find the right distributor.
“We had to find the right one for a product like ours that understands and explains why it’s different from other bars on the shelf. Once the ball started moving it picked up momentum, you have to be ready to work hard,” Hutchinson said.
“Everyone has a different approach to distribution, they may want to be direct to consumers because that’s where the margins are highest, or direct to the supermarket because that’s their model.”
Because Fodbods aims to help as many people as possible, Hutchinson said, the goal is to get the product in front of as many people as possible.
“We just want Fodbods to be in as many hands as possible, so the next logical step was to talk to supermarkets,” she said.
“We’re helping on that because you want to make sure everything’s in order before you go to a supermarket, and we still have a lot to do before we get into supermarkets.”
Hutchinson succeeded and Fodbods became the first FODMAP-certified protein bar in Australia.
The Fobods brand will continue to grow as it hits supermarket shelves in the very near future, while its position with its current list of distributors will also remain, meaning Fodbods will be available in a market still wider.
“The early success was due to FODMAPs due to a real gap in the market,” Hutchinson said.
“If people have a choice and find other options, they don’t look for a solution. We were able to reduce the noise quickly as we are the only FODMAP certified product in Australia.
“We have a huge vegan clientele; I think 2% of the Australian population is vegan, and they are always on the lookout for healthy, vegan products. »
Capturing a larger than expected segment was attributed to a number of factors, mostly all related to changing habits of consumers who have become more health conscious.
“COVID-19 may also have played a role in changing consumer trends,” Hutchinson added.
“I think people being at home and having more time to think about their bodies and being aware of the fragility of their health, they started to be more careful about what they ate.
“We’ve grown a lot during COVID, with people ordering from home and wanting that healthy option.”
Word of mouth was also a big driver of Fodbods’ early success.
“We do a lot of direct-to-customer sales, which helps us with product development research,” Hutchinson said.
“Without changing our recipe, we can make small adjustments to the manufacturing process. For example, some people want their FODBODs to be a bit bigger, so we chop the peanuts less, these changes come directly from the customers.
This direct customer feedback, combined with word-of-mouth success, Hutchinson explains, is why the product is able to meet changing market demands.
“Having FODBODS in your bag for someone with IBS is a huge burden on their shoulders because they don’t care what they’re going to eat next,” she added.
This has opened up a whole new segment of customers, there is a side of the market looking for a protein bar, Fodbods are all natural ingredients, plant based, simple and clean, delicious and healthy.
“Then you have the other side of the market that would never think of a protein bar but are looking for a healthy, convenient FODBOD option that makes them feel good.”