Greg Stroh just couldn’t stay away, apparently. One of the co-founders of mix1, along with Dr. James Rouse, Stroh sought to create an all-natural, nutrient-laden beverage that could be consumed as a healthy, anytime snack or meal replacement drink.
As a product, mix1 had a mixed run. Formulated with whey protein isolate, carbohydrates, antioxidants, fiber and healthy fats, mix1 products quickly gained national placement in Whole Foods stores in 2007, just one year after its launch. The brand also won over some sports drink consumers for whom mix1 offered more than simple electrolyte replenishment.The Hershey Co. took notice of mix1’s traction on the market, and in 2011 it acquired a 49 percent stake in mix1. A year later the chocolate conglomerate bought another 20 percent to become its majority owner. Hershey’s eventually shut down the brand, but it was resurrected in 2014 under new ownership.
Stroh exited mix1 around the same time as Hershey’s initial investment, but he wasn’t out of the healthy food business for long. Three years ago, he launched a company called Healthy Skoop, which markets a range of nutrient-rich powders that are made with plant-based ingredients. The powders are designed to be mixed into shakes or added to other foods. Rouse later came onboard, joining the company as a co-founder and product formulator.
For Stroh, who also co-founded better-for-you soda brand Izze, Healthy Skoop represents an opportunity to avoid many of the challenges associated with ready-to-drink products, including the formulation blunders and distribution woes that he encountered with mix1, while still offering shelf-stable, healthy and innovative food options for consumers.
“One of the biggest challenges we had with mix1 was the formula,” Stroh said. “But we learned a lot about protein and the trends of protein and James was always ingesting healthy things. And with that it always allowed us to kick around what… we thought were opportunities for the American population to be exposed to. Plant-based nutrition is something that people were kind of deficient in and [we] thought that if you made it fun and approachable, it could be a nice little business.”
And the mix market has turned out to be a hot one recently: over the summer, another brand, Vega, sold to WhiteWave Foods for $550 million. Plant-based proteins may get even hotter with recent news linking certain meats to an increased cancer risk.
In 2014, Healthy Skoop started selling the powders via an online, direct-to-consumer model, a move that Stroh believes was need to validate the brand. Products included an “all-in-one” nutritional blend and a “superfood” greens blend with the products packaged in multi-serve plastic tubs and jars. The powders sell for $40-50 per package.
Now, they’re headed back to the stores: the Boulder, Colo.-based company is now attempting to cross over from online into conventional retail beginning in the Rocky Mountain region. Stroh said the company is focused on natural and mainstream supermarkets, and is being sold at local Kroger banner King Soopers. He noted that Healthy Skoop is positioned to be sold in the nutrition/supplement section of stores. It’s a new area of the store for the longtime beverage veteran, but one that comes with an easier distribution path: the company is able to ship its products to retailers’ distribution centers or mail them direct to individual stores.
“A lot of the retailers are very open and actually encourage ordering directly and having it show up via the mail,” Stroh said. “It just allows for healthier margins for both the retailer and for us and allows us to be more aggressive with promotions. Back in the day, when we were launching Izze, all of the independent distributors worked on 25 to 30 points; now they’re all wanting 30 to 35. Over 10 years ago, distributors would co-op promotional pricing. That’s all gone now, so it’s all out of your pocket.”
Saving money on distribution means that Healthy Skoop can extend its mission to create and deliver nutritious foods to more Americans — even those that don’t buy its products. As part of a joint effort with Chef Ann Foundation, a nonprofit that provides “tools that help schools serve children healthy and delicious scratch-cooked meals made with fresh, whole food,” Healthy Skoop donates one serving of free fresh fruits and vegetable to a school lunch program in the U.S. for each serving of its powders sold.