The brainchild of Jonathan Wolfson, founder of microalgae-fueled business TerraVia (now owned by Corbion), and former TerraVia SVP food and ingredients Mark Brooks - who have raised a significant (undisclosed) sum to get their new venture off the ground – Ingenuity Brands’ Brainiac products contain 120mg choline, 160mg ALA omega-3 from flaxseed, and 130mg DHA omega-3 from algae per 4oz serving.
Sugar is dialed down by using a small amount of monk fruit, while protein is dialed up with added milk protein concentrate, said Wolfson, whose wife gave birth to their third child after he left TerraVia last year, pushing infant nutrition to the top of mind for him on a personal level, which in turn stimulated his entrepreneurial juices.
“Some brands have added DHA to products here and there, but there’s not really a single brand focused on kids’ most important asset, their brain, which is going to have a bigger impact on their future and happiness than anything else. We’re really the first food-based brain nutrition brand.”
While the branding (Brainiac) is a bit on the nose, that was deliberate, said Wolfson: “You’ve got to be simple and clear. The packaging also says ‘supports brain development’ right under the logo.”
Kids’ brains continue to develop well into adolescence
Parents seek out infant formula with DHA and other key nutrients for baby’s developing brains, but kids’ brains continue to develop well into adolescence, said Wolfson.
“I started talking to pediatricians, neurologists and nutrition scientists, and they basically came back to me and said the infant formula companies have already done a pretty good job on formula by adding nutrients such as DHA.
“But my discussions with these experts led to an a-ha moment for me, which was learning that my older kids’ brains were also still growing rapidly and developing, and they need significant amounts of certain nutrients for brain development. It should have been obvious, but it wasn’t.”
It’s hard to get kids to eat salmon and broccoli
Children in the US are only getting 20% of the adequate daily intake of the long chain omega-3 fatty acid DHA (based on WHO recommendations), and only two thirds of the daily adequate intake of choline (based on the National Institute of Medicine’s recommendations), claimed Wolfson.
“Yes you can get these from foods but it’s hard to get kids to eat salmon, nuts and broccoli. You want them to grow up to be their best selves and to give them the tools that they need, so out of that Brainiac was born.”
Yogurt is an ideal delivery mechanism for these nutrients because kids like it and it’s consumed regularly, said Brooks. “We spoke to over a thousand Moms and they overwhelmingly think yogurt is a healthy product, although they are worried about sugar.”
“When we needed to switch our newborn to formula, my wife and I spent a lot of time investigating the options. The focus on brain nutrients made us wonder if our older kids were missing out. With the help of experts, we discovered that kids in America, including ours, are getting far too little of the critical nutrients their rapidly growing brains need."
Jonathan Wolfson, founder and CEO, Ingenuity Brands
Kids don’t like bits in their yogurts
While some other brands such as YoBaby from Stonyfield Organic have in the past added DHA to their yogurts for babies, they don’t anymore, while other kids’ brands such as Gimmies from Chobani, Danimals from Danone North America, and GoGurt from Yoplait (General Mills) focus more on avoiding artificial ingredients and keeping sugar levels down.
“Some companies just add a bit of DHA, whereas we’ve got meaningful amounts in there and I don’t think there is anything like it out there," said Wolfson.
As for texture, kids like body and texture in yogurt, but they don’t tend to like ‘bits’ in the mix, he noted. “They like it smooth.”
The flavors are also deliberately mainstream, said Brooks: “We’ve gone straight down the fairway on kids' favorites with things like strawberry and mixed berry.”
We see this as a national brand
The products – which will launch in H.E.B's Central Market stores in Texas at the end of the month and will be on show at Expo West next week (booth #N112) - will also be available from late March at Good Eggs, the Bay-area based online grocery delivery service, said Brooks.
“We’re also in very late stage discussions nationally with other large retailers that will help us build the scale we’re looking for, because we see this as a national brand.”