Launching a new product into the ultra-competitive ready-to-drink (RTD) protein shake market is not for the faint-hearted. But being a minnow in a pool of sharks doesn’t faze the founder of FitPro, who reckons he can give Muscle Milk a run for its money.
Raised on a dairy farm in Minnesota, dairy animal nutritionist, power lifter and fitness enthusiast Brad Kloss first came up with the idea for FitPro as he was building up a chain of health and fitness clubs and looking for protein shakes for gym members looking to replenish muscle after a workout.
“I’d drink some of the products out there and think, God, this is really terrible. So I thought, with my experience in the dairy industry, there has got to be a better way.”
High protein. Low carbs. FitPro has a 3:1 protein to carbohydrate ratio
Look at the ingredients list of most RTD protein shakes on the market and you will notice two things, says Kloss. First, they are made from dairy powders (calcium sodium caseinate, milk protein isolate, whey etc) reconstituted with water, and smoothed out with vegetable oils.
Second, they are often loaded with carbs.
By contrast, FitPro is made with liquid milk that has been filtered to remove lactose (milk sugar), fat and water, leaving pure ultra-concentrated liquid protein.
It has a 3:1 protein to carbohydrate ratio, averaging about 65% fewer carbs than other milk-based RTD protein shakes, it is sweetened with cane juice, stevia and monk fruit extract, and flavored with natural vanilla extract or cocoa.
“You do see higher protein low carb products out there, but they are still made with powders and oils”, he adds.
Smoother texture, more bioavailable protein
But why is liquid superior to powder?
Lots of reasons, says Kloss. For a start, it tastes better, and has a smoother mouth feel (no chalkiness). Second, the protein is more bioavailable, he claims.
“Many products in the protein shake category utilize a chemical acid wash process to separate the proteins from the milk, resulting in evaporated powders that are later reconstituted.
“Our process keeps the proteins in their natural liquid state, providing for better absorption and greater bio-availability. FitPro is also the first RTD protein shake on the market to earn the REAL Dairy seal.”
“We’ve done more business in the past 35 days that the last five months combined
So how did he get FitPro to market?
His first port of call was MetaBrand (a one stop for early-stage entrepreneurs looking to make it big in beverages and supplements run by serial entrepreneur Eric Schnell); followed by NY-based direct store delivery experts Gotham Brand Managers; and Focus Sales Associates (an outsourced sales management company for natural products manufacturers); to establish a sales and distribution network in New York and other major metropolitan markets on the east coast.
The product hit shelves in gyms, health clubs, selected Whole Foods stores, natural food stores, c-stores and other outlets in July 2012, and has been steadily expanding ever since, says Kloss.
But do consumers - and retail buyers - get the FitPro point of difference? Or are they just focused on price and grams of protein per pack?
It’s early days, says Kloss, who has pumped all available funds into sampling in the first six months. But initial signs are very encouraging, he says, because people that try it, almost universally like it - a lot.
“We’ve done more business in the past 35 days that the last five months combined. We get 97% acceptance of the product when people try it, and that’s unheard of. I would have been happy with 80%.”
I add it to cereal in the evening instead of having a bowl of ice cream
His next big push will be at Expo West in Anaheim, he says. However, one of his biggest coups was securing a spot as the only protein drink at the Zumba instructor convention in Orlando, Florida, last summer, which put his brand in front of thousands of people that are both target customers, and influencers.
As with most new products, the packaging has been tweaked since FitPro was first launched - switching from a male-oriented red and black to a cleaner white and black look that stresses to serious athletes and bodybuilders that the product packs a powerful protein punch - but also appeals to a broader audience.
But do weekend warriors really need protein shakes?
If you’re doing some heavy duty exercise - whether it’s lifting weights or attending a dance class - for an hour or more, then protein will help you repair and rebuild muscle, says Kloss.
But FitPro is also ideal for adding to cereal to ensure that you start your day with a good dose of protein instead of a carb overload, or as a dessert in the evening, he says.
“I add it to cereal in the evening instead of having a bowl of ice cream.”