The French company founded a year and a half ago is marketing its baobab drink, made from baobab fruit pulp, water and caffeine as an ‘energy juice’ and source of calcium, iron and magnesium as well as vitamins B and C.
Speaking with FoodNavigator at the industry event SIAL in Paris, co-founder of the start-up Raphaël Girardin said it was targeting smaller distribution channels and was currently on sale in places like the high-end shop Colette in Paris as well as concept Hi hotels.
“We want to make a brand. So we want to get people who will explain the product and that's why we wanted to keep some small distributors with some small shops where you get a seller who will explain the beverage to the consumers. That's why we want to do it step by step and progress step by step.”
But Girardin said baobab – which was granted novel food approval in Europe in 2008 – was more than an exotic novelty ingredient. “I think the baobab could be the next ingredient for sport, and it's not just a fashion.”
Telling a story
Girardin said the company was investing a lot in communication and advertising, something he hoped would convey the message of health and sustainability as well as what the main ingredient it sources from Benin actually was.
“We want to make it more than an exotic novelty. We have to teach people that it is a super fruit, because nobody knows what the baobab fruit is.
“We use communication, advertising, to show this 'unknown' fruit.”
This Matahi ‘story’ began five years ago when Girardin and his co-founder, two agronomy engineers by education, started researching the African fruit trees.
“We went to Africa to make a small cooperative to get the fruit and we also made the recipe – because it's a dry fruit it's very hard to make a juice with that so it took four or five years.”
‘I'm not scared of caffeine’
Moving forward, he said it would be targeting the sports nutrition market, and added that 'natural' products like its own were the “new way” for this segment.
“We don't want to put this product as an exotic product. We think it can be used as a natural energiser - for sports for example - and we work with medical people on the benefits for the health."
However he said caffeine content was not an issue of concern for the brand. “Yes we put a little bit of caffeine in the product but I don't think it could create a bad image for our product because we communicate and we do some advertising about the health side. I'm not scared of caffeine and the image of caffeine.”
Discussing the company’s health market ambitions, he said getting an approved health claim in Europe was complicated, and ultimately a process he did not see in the company’s immediate future.
This need not be a concern, however, if communication was strong: “We try to explain to people, and it doesn't matter if you don't have a certificate about the benefits."
Adding: "We've seen a lot of products without health claims, but they work well. So we think we don't need one.”