I recently spoke with Shane Emmett, the CEO of Health Warrior, about the marketing of a successful helath food startup. The short answerL an influential book on nutrition, three determined former college athletes, and an almost forgotten, nutrient-packed seed.
Marc E. Babej: Chia seeds, the main ingredient in your food bars, were almost unknown as an ingredient until a few years ago. How did you come upon them?
Shane Emmett: Back in 2009, my friends, and now business partners, read Born to Run, which was a bestseller at the time. All of us are former college athletes and were looking to maintain a healthy lifestyle. In the book, we read about this amazing food that is packed nutrition several times more Omega-3 than salmon, and full of fiber and protein: chia seeds. What was extraordinary about chia seeds is that it was one of the main crops in Western civilization for thousands of years. Pre-Columbian civilizations in South and Mesoamerica, particularly the Aztecs, literally worshipped with chia seeds.
But when the Spanish conquered Mesoamerica, they eradicated the chia crops – exactly because they had an important place in religious ceremonies. What had once been a staple food had become almost extinct in a matter of a few generations. But the Tarahumara tribe, which had run away from the Spanish, continued to cultivate it. The Tarahumara are famous for being extraordinary runners, and known to cover up to 100 miles at a time. You don’t get this kind of performance without great nutrition – and much of their nutrition consists of chia. Babej: So the Tarahumara and their use of chia gave you the idea to start a health food company?
Emmett: Exactly. We thought: here’s a food that’s the paradigm of nutrient density, a food that was used for millennia and 70% of food consumed by Americans is packaged, and 90% is derived from corn, soy or sugar. What if we can take a superfood and use it as a main ingredient in a packaged food. In other words, packaged food that isn’t junk food.
Babej: Do you mean to say that before Health Warrior there were no healthy bars?
Emmett: There were some, but vast majority bear more resemblance to a candy bar than a health bar. Most bars contain a lot of sugar and calories. A lot of sugar in an energy product is fine for athletes, because they exercise 2-4 hours a day. But most of us have a much more sedentary lifestyle, so a traditional health bar isn’t as healthy as it might claim.
Babej: So Health Warrior contains no sugar at all?
Emmett: Our bars contain added sugar, but 5 g is significantly less than many of the best-selling bars contain up to 20g. Some sugar makes it more edible. Most of us aren’t such purists that they’d be willing to eat sticks and twigs, after all. Read more…