“Anytime you have a functional product—whether probiotic or other—it takes a lot of consumer education,” says GoodBelly co-founder Todd Beckman. “You have to drive trial, then drive repeat business. We know we have a good product at this point. Our biggest potential is drilling deeper into the consumer.
"With any good probiotic, consumers can feel the effect of how it works for them. You don’t need biomarkers for probiotics; you feel it in your digestive system. It’s that cause and effect that gets people into the habit.”
Beckman, the former president of White Wave Foods, teamed up with his former colleague White Wave founder Steve Demos to launch NextFoods in 2005. Three years later, the firm launched GoodBelly, a line of soy-free, dairy-free, vegan probiotic juices containing Lactobacillus plantarum 299v—a well-studied probiotic strain formulated for daily intake—aimed at aging baby boomers.
“We did a lot of research and put together a little team of guys from the medical, lifestyle and consumer research communities in January 2006 to share ideas,” Beckman says.
“The medical guys said, ‘Americans have gut issues. Let’s fix the gut.' The trend guys saw that probiotics were taking off in Asia and Europe and jumped on board. And the consumer research guys said probiotics would trend down to the US eventually. To have all these different groups agree that digestive health is an issue in the US, to come up with that epiphany, was huge.”
The company secured a licensing agreement on the Lp299v strain from Swedish brand ProViva in early 2007, and within the year obtained national distribution at Whole Foods. Currently, GoodBelly is distributed in about 6,000 grocery stores, including Kroger, Safeway, HEB and Wegmans.
“We ask consumers to test the product continuously for 12 days. If at the end they don’t like anything about it, we give them their money back,” Beckman adds. “We’ve found that the product is so efficacious, after 12 days, the majority of consumers feel positive about what the product is doing for them, and they become lifelong customers.”