Energybits are small tablets pressed from whole spirulina algae. The company also markets a recovery product based on chlorella, and features a 50/50 ‘vitality’ offering as well, all of which are now sold as food products, not supplements. The products are marketed as an on-the-go energy source for competitive athletes and health conscious consumers.
Helping a relative
Like so many entrepreneurs in the sports nutrition and wider dietary supplement arenas, Arnston has a personal story. While helping a relative deal with the damaging effects of chemotherapy and hearing the advice the oncologist gave on nutrition, she decided to go back to school at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition to study the subject.
“I started the whole journey about seven years ago when her oncologist was telling her she needed to improve her diet. I went on to read about the power of green nutrition,” Arnston told NutraIngredients-USA.
Armed with her dietitian degree, she set up a private practice counseling individual patients. Arnston, who also has an MBA, also set up a consulting business offering healthy nutrition advice to groups of employees at companies. But she was seeking a way to affect more consumers at a deeper level, and that desire and her research into the power of green foods led her to algae.
“Algae is a nutritional superstar,” Arnston said. “My prediction is that algae is going to be one of the biggest industries of the 21st Century.”
Athletes were early adopters
Arnston has been pursuing a bootstrap type of development for her company, which is based in Boston. As the products first came on the market, among the early adopters were runners, who appreciated the energy boost they attributed to the tablets, and the no-fuss delivery that contrasts to the sticky mess associated with many sweetened energy products on the market. Energybits are formulated as tiny, 1-calorie tablets, with 30 to a serving, which can be a bit of a hurdle, Arnston admitted. But she believes swigging a handful of small pills down with a swallow of water beats trying to choke down goo at mile 20 of a marathon, and the reports she got form the field showed no stomach upset associated with the products, as opposed to the significant amount of GI distress associated with existing energy products loaded with carbs and caffeine.
Energy boost attributed to nutritional profile
Arnston said she attributes the reports she receives from athletes of an energy boost to the algae’s unique nutritional profile. The products feature about 4.8 grams of protein per serving (which is 60% or more of the total weight) and a full suite of B vitamins and minerals. And the minerals are naturally chelated, that is, bound to the amino acids, and so are more fully absorbed, she said. Algae is rich in chelated iron in particular, and not having enough iron in the blood restricts its ability to carry oxygen, Arnston said, leading to fatigue during endurance exercise.
Arnston said she believes that kludgy marketing has held back the adoption of algae products in the US market, something that she aims to change.
“Algae has been sold in America for 50 years and virtually nobody knows about it yet,” Arnston said.
One of the things that could boost uptake of the product in the sports field is a drug-free certification, and obtaining one is one of her near-term goals, Arnston said. While the products have one or at most two ingredients, athletes still need assurance that there is nothing else in there. But certifications cost money, so she is in the process of raising capital with that in mind. The funding picture got a boost recently when Arnston won a $15,000 prize as first runner up in Entrepreneur magazine’s annual Entrepreneur of the Year competition.