Beyond ‘smart food’: Start-up Ambronite serves up clean label meal replacement innovation
The company, which launched in 2014 following a successful crowd funding campaign, claims to be the ‘only truly clean’ plant-based meal replacement brand on the market. Ambronite’s new products go on sale this summer and the range consists of three formats: juice, shakes and bars.
But Ambronite is entering an increasingly crowded space, where more established players including Silicone Valley’s Soylent, the UK’s Huel and French brand Feed continue to make gains. How will this new entry stand out?
According to co-founder Simo Suoheimo, Ambronite is the only company to marry divergent – and seemingly contradictory - consumer trends such as the move to ‘smart’ food solutions delivering complete nutrition and the demand for ‘real’ food and clean labels.
“We want to lead the way in converging these trends into tasty and convenient products for everyday enjoyment. Our sustainability awareness and introducing the next generation of plant-based products with zero flavour compromise is also a key part of our DNA. These are areas where we see a big “real food void” in modern lifestyles.
“There’s a massive lack of great options… Real food is actually a non-negotiable for truly complete nutrition. Supplements and synthetic products can be useful, but they can’t fully deliver on the promise of complete nutrition that’s actually usable by the body and healthy in the short and long term.”
Converging trends: #1 Clean label
Ambronite refuses to use artificial or synthetic ingredients and its products are free from GMOs. This stance, Suoheimo told FoodNavigator, is a sharp contrast to some of the other more established brands on the market. “While they’re attractively priced thanks to cheap calories, they don’t deliver on the promise of health, satiety and true completeness,” he argued.
Suoheimo believes this approach taken by the nascent smart-food movement will ultimately backfire. “With their many scandals around health, safety, gut health, and suitability for long term consumption, both the older breed of meal replacements and the newer synthetic meal replacement products and supplements are facing increased scrutiny - and for good reason. There’s a move towards functional real food ingredients people can recognise and pronounce.”
“Clean label is increasingly becoming a key factor in delivering the satiety promise, and consumers are taking note. Anyone who has tried old school meal replacements knows that they’re typically far from clean label and usually do a pretty terrible job at keeping hunger at bay, which is why most diets fail.”
Ambronite’s ‘clean real food ingredients promise’ means it uses whole food ingredients in minimally processed formats. “Our ingredients come from over 10 different countries, and we choose each of these according to quality, taste, and functionality,” Suoheimo said.
Converging trends: #2 The right nutrition, at the right time
In this way, Ambronite believes its ingredients and sourcing strategy feeds into the good nutritional profile of its products.
Suoheimo explained that Ambronite conducts a ‘deep dive’ into the quality and nutrient levels of ‘every ingredient’ – taking into account that even different harvests can cause 'meaningful differences'. Each plant-based ingredient the group sources goes through an examination of Specifications and Certificates of Analysis (CoAs), as well as third party lab testing.
This high quality level – and Ambronite’s ability to communicate these details to consumers – helps build a trusted relationship with consumers. “We believe transparency is the new normal that consumers are increasingly expecting from their food and the brands they can genuinely trust and root for. Our customers value transparency, and we’re proud to be able to provide more and more in-depth quality information to them, unlike most traditional players who either don’t have that data or choose to hide it from their customers,” the start-up entrepreneur explained.
Suoheimo said people are demanding ‘tangible’ benefits and expect their food to improve how they feel. Clean label and good nutrition are both an extension of this expectation, he suggested.
“New clean label meal products like real-food meal shakes are appealing because unlike traditional options, they deliver function, convenience, and flavour. Meal shakes allow for clean label ingredients that are satisfying, nutritionally balanced and truly absorbable. Clean label real food products deliver satiety that consumers can actually feel, unlike other options. They also typically are better at fighting cravings than non-clean-label products. If a product leaves the customer hungry, what’s it really good for?
“Most products cut corners in ingredient quality and are forced to employ extensive processing, settling for lower nutritional value and less effective ingredients to deliver taste and convenience at the cost of health and functionality. Data shows that consumers are not settling for this compromise anymore.
“People are demanding more tangible benefits they can feel instantly from their foods, especially during breakfast and lunchtime.”
Ambronite believes it is particularly well-suited to meet consumer needs in the breakfast space. Here, Suoheimo said, the industry is going through a ‘significant transformation’. ”Consumers are looking for foods that not only deliver convenience and taste but help them achieve their health, work, fitness, and other lifestyle goals faster.
"Breakfast is increasingly enjoyed outside the home, expected to be clean label and to yield immediate functional benefits that the consumer can feel - such as sustained energy, steady focus, and long-term satiety. Simultaneously, flavour expectations remain high. Because of this, there is a demand for new types of innovative products that satisfy these new needs without compromising great taste and enjoyment.”
Converging trends: #3 Plant-based for personal and planetary health
Ambronite links growing demand for plant-based options to rising awareness of the relationship between diet and personal or planetary health. The decision to focus on plant-based options was an obvious one for the start-up.
“With the massive and ever-growing evidence in favour of eating more plants daily, we need to think about how we can make these better plant-based meal choices more available and convenient for everyone in everyday life.”
According to Suoheimo, plant-based ingredients do have many of the answers to delivering healthy diets. But being 100% plant-based also has challenges in terms of delivering optimal formulations and clean labels.
“We look for the maximum amount of nutrition, minimal processing and absolutely no chemicals used in the process. Natural plant-based ingredients like almonds, spinach, spirulina or bilberries deliver on this. The challenge, with spirulina for instance, is that it is often not fresh, chemicals may be involved in the production process, and it may be off-tasting. This seems to be a serious issue for the vast majority of choices out there.
“The spirulina we use stays 100% pure during its entire growth process because it is grown in fully lined ponds with no runoff and no soil contamination, without irradiation, chemicals, herbicides or pesticides. Each batch of the spirulina ingredient is lab tested for the amount of nutrients to make sure we deliver the nutrition we promise so that the customer can truly feel the benefit after enjoying an Ambronite product.”
Sourcing ‘pure’ ingredients is essential to deliver a ‘more natural or neutral’ taste, Suoheimo continued. This means that the need for artificial flavours, extensive sweeteners or masking agents can be reduced through sourcing strategies.
“Spirulina is a great example of this. 95% of actually functional and bioavailable greens mixes in the market, to quote the consumer, taste “terrible”. This is not due to a lack of attention in flavour development, but a lack of focus on the fundamental base ingredients. One key reason we’ve found is that they don’t pay enough attention to selecting the right ingredients. Using the highest quality spirulina in our latest AmbroGreens product, for instance, enabled us to create one of the best tasting, freshest greens drink powders in the market by simply combining meticulously selected plant-based nutritional ingredients with cranberries, apple and a hint of stevia extract and plant extracted natural flavour.”
There are also factors that you need to be aware of to ensure you are delivering complete nutrition when working with plant-based ingredients. Ambronite ‘carefully’ measures and balances the amino acid profile and protein quality of its complete meal options. These are based on oat and pea protein, combined with amino acids from almonds and microalgae.
The company is currently working on a plant-based protein powder that includes a combination of pea, flaxseed and pumpkin seed proteins that together create an ‘exceptional’ amino acid profile, Suoheimo revealed.
The group’s food scientists are also aware of the need to design the right fatty acid profile, GI and GL balance in carbohydrates, and micronutrient and plant nutrient spectrum that comes from real foods, including phytonutrients such as chlorophyll that are not found in synthetically supplemented meal replacement products on the market. “These are vital steps in creating the tangible benefits that the consumer can feel, that are not available in supplements and synthetic products.”
The meal replacement products market is expected to register a CAGR of 7.1% between 2019-2024, according to Mordoor Intelligence.
The market research group states: "The market is driven by factors, such as busy lifestyles, rapid urbanization, rising health consciousness, and increasing demand for food convenience.
"There is an increasing demand for healthy food, and consumers are seeking food products that have high nutritional content, as well as are convenient."
Suoheimo continued: “When adhering to a plant-based and especially strictly vegan diet, some of the most challenging nutrients are B-group vitamins, especially B12 as well as Vitamin D and Choline for instance. We use a combination of microalgae and nutritional yeast ingredients to provide a nutritionally superior and sustainable solution that the human body can absorb and actually use.”
Converging trends: #4 Sustainability without the sacrifice
Suoheimo believes that delivering sustainable products is vital to the future food system and Ambronite wants to be part of this story.
“New, smarter products that are plant based and zero waste, tasty, enjoyable and nutritionally complete are a necessary step to ensure thriving and enjoyable human life on our planet. Better, modern real food options for everyday life play a crucial part in this,” he said.
However, while climate and nutrition issues are becoming more important – the fact remains that consumers like what they like, regardless of the environmental or health consequences.
“I don’t believe that any climate or health news will magically turn consumers’ tastes overnight, and that’s not even necessary. What matters is the big picture: people are demanding for more plant-based foods because it makes sense for them, from a health, fitness and everyday experience perspective - and also makes sense for protecting their environment.
“In fact, it’s estimated that moving towards a plant-based diet could cut your carbon footprint by a whopping 50%. To make this tangible, new healthy, complete and convenient products are needed. Another great reason to swap your beef burger for these great plant-based alternatives. Plants are not only super nutrient-dense, but also better for the planet.”