Where gut health meets hypergrowth with Ben Goodwin from Olipop

Where gut health meets hypergrowth with Ben Goodwin from Olipop

Introduction and two truths and a lie (00:00:00)

  • Becca and Dom introduce the podcast and discuss their favorite types of soda.
  • Dom doesn't drink soda regularly, but enjoys it occasionally when he goes back home to Florida.
  • Becca mentions that they will be speaking with Ben Goodwin from Olipop, a company that produces a gut-healthy, low-sugar, high-fiber soda.
  • They play a game of two truths and a lie, with the options being:
    • Ben started in the kombucha business.
    • Olipop's revenue last year was $150 million.
    • Ben is the CEO and still in charge of creating all the Olipop flavors.

Olipop introduction (00:02:12)

  • Olipop is a new type of soda, the first major innovation in the soda category since diet soda in the 1980s.
  • It is called a functional soda with 2 to 5 g of sugar per can compared to over 40 g in traditional soda.
  • Olipop contains 9 g of soluble fiber per can.
  • It tastes like regular soda but provides health benefits supported by research from Purdue and other leading universities.
  • Ben Goodwin, the founder of Olipop, dropped out of college at 20 to start a kombucha company.
  • He was attracted to the health and wellness industry due to his own childhood journey of being overweight and anxious.
  • At 14, he changed his diet and approach to health, which positively impacted his emotional and cognitive functioning.
  • This led him to learn about the microbiome and the brain-gut axis, inspiring him to create Olipop.
  • Olipop aims to make empirically validated ingredients and nutritional strategies accessible to as many people as possible.

Researching the microbiome (00:05:42)

  • Olipop's nutritional strategy is based on research showing that fiber, prebiotics, and nutritional diversity benefit the microbiome.
  • The company conducted its own independent research, focusing on the viability of probiotics and identifying key factors in non-industrialized diets that are missing from industrialized diets.
  • Olipop established a Scientific Advisory Board with experts in the microbiome field to guide their research and ensure scientific credibility.
  • The company published a mechanism of action white paper with 152 citations supporting their product's nutritional strategy.
  • Olipop's research confirmed that their product ferments beneficial short-chain fatty acids, leading to an invitation to the White House Hunger Nutrition Summit and opportunities for insurance reimbursement networks.
  • Olipop is now a reimbursable product for about 25 million Americans through Medicare and Medicare Advantage, increasing accessibility to their premium product.

The industrial diet in America (00:11:34)

  • The industrial diet is the post World War II Western diet.
  • Advances in hybridization, petrochemical, and food additive technologies during World War II have led to:
    • Drastically decreased micronutrient concentration in the soil and food, including fiber.
    • Increased natural and artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives.
  • This combination sends a message to the brain that it should be getting critical micronutrients, but they are absent from the underlying food, leading to nutritional depletion and an overabundance of calories.
  • The industrial diet contributes to the high prevalence of type 2 diabetes and digestive distress in the US, with significant emotional, physiological, social, and economic implications.

Transitioning from research to product development (00:15:03)

  • Most entrepreneurs commercialize research immediately without implementing scientific scrutiny.
  • Olipop's approach involves combining research with commercialization to ensure a quick turnaround of research-informed products.
  • Brands and flavor profiles can create powerful emotional relationships with consumers, making behavior change challenging.
  • To encourage mass adoption of healthier products, companies must make it as easy as possible for consumers to transition.

Product nostalgia and marketing (00:17:49)

  • Nostalgia is a key factor in getting people to make healthier alternatives.
  • Olipop's watermelon lime flavor is an example of how they incorporate nostalgia into their products.
  • The nostalgic anchor is the starting point for flavor development, and then the flavor is evolved to be ownable and push the category forward.
  • Soda has deep resonance for customers because it was there for them during core developmental memories.
  • Olipop is trying to speak to soda's place and its own place as a part of people's social and familial experiences.

Market share in the beverage industry (00:20:29)

  • Olipop's founder, Ben Goodwin, believes in focusing on the quality of their product rather than worrying about competition.
  • Olipop's product has multiple reasons for entry, including great taste, fun packaging, compelling nutrition facts, and a nostalgic feel.
  • Goodwin believes that many new innovations in the beverage market have flaws that will prevent them from scaling successfully.
  • Goodwin cannot comment on whether the big soda industry has approached Olipop to copy their product or buy them out.
  • However, he acknowledges that Olipop's disruption in the market has likely caught the attention of these companies.

Olipop’s 200 million dollar year (00:23:26)

  • Olipop grew from $74 million to $200 million in revenue in one year.
  • This growth was achieved in less than 30,000 retail doors, which is unusual for a company of its size.
  • Increased shelf expansion, successful marketing strategies, new flavors, and increased organic demand contributed to this growth.

Targeting food deserts (00:25:44)

  • Olipop plans to address food deserts by expanding into small format stores and convenience stores, which are often found in these areas.
  • Partnering with insurance offerings and local organizations focused on hunger and nutrition can also increase accessibility for low-income communities.

Time management as CEO (00:27:36)

  • Goodwin still manages new flavor creation despite his leadership role.
  • He enjoys the creative outlet and direct customer connection that formulation provides.
  • Goodwin recognizes his strengths (vision and leadership) and weaknesses (management) and builds his team accordingly.
  • He emphasizes the importance of continuously adapting to the changing environment to succeed.

Fundraising and pitching investors (00:31:06)

  • It's wise to speak to CPG investors when pitching a CPG product as they have different expectations for scale and return dynamics.
  • CPG investors tend to be more methodical and picky, aiming for a higher success rate and a different return on investment.
  • The fundraising process involves considering the length of the runway, what should be accomplished by the end of it, and the timing of the next fundraising cycle.
  • Olipop has been fortunate to have more investor interest than they could accommodate, due to their operating team, product strength, industry experience, and connections.
  • Fundraising decisions have focused on choosing the right investors to work with, structuring governance and board matters, and ensuring adequate differentiation to warrant continued investment.

What’s next (00:33:32)

  • Olipop plans to introduce new flavors, including one tied to a fun partnership.
  • They aim to significantly expand their retail presence, potentially doubling the number of stores they are available in.
  • The company will focus on developing their "Real Love Makes Us" platform, sharing stories, and involving customers in the conversation.
  • Ben Goodwin attempted to create a lemon peel serrano pepper flavor inspired by a lemon peel drink he tried in Japan.
  • The carbonation caused bits of pepper to go up into the nose when smelled, resulting in sneezing.
  • Goodwin has since figured out how to address this issue.
  • Goodwin currently has a five-way tie for his favorite Olipop flavors: tropical punch, classic grape, cherry cola, lemon lime, and watermelon lime.
  • These flavors are his go-to choices and are always in his fridge.

Host commentary (00:36:03)

  • Olipop, a health-conscious soda brand founded by Ben Goodwin, achieved $200 million in sales, surpassing its initial projection of $150 million.
  • Despite being a relatively new player in the competitive beverage industry, Olipop has secured a notable 10% market penetration in households.
  • Goodwin personally develops all of Olipop's flavors in a lab, demonstrating his hands-on approach to product development.
  • The growing focus on gut health and microbiomes has contributed to the increased demand for products that address digestive issues, aligning with Olipop's offerings.
  • Discussions have emerged regarding the potential deductibility of Olipop for medical purposes, although further clarification is required due to the complexities of working with large medical and insurance entities.
  • Olipop's success is attributed to its appeal to consumers seeking healthier alternatives to traditional sodas, tapping into the nostalgia factor while offering low sugar content and no caffeine.
  • Despite the competitive beverage industry, Olipop has found success and is available at various grocery stores, including Whole Foods.

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