Levels adds new twist to whey protein category with grass-fed, fruit-infused options

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Grass fed whey + whole fruit powders = Levels

Related tags Flavor Milk Food preservation

Whey protein is a large, growing category, says Levels founder Blake Niemann. “But there’s actually been surprisingly little innovation."

He adds: “It’s off trend. There are very few organic or paleo options ​[eg. grass-fed], and most products are still sold in big canisters with candy-inspired flavors like cookies and cream or salted caramel, and a lot of the marketing is still to the 1980s body-building set.

“We knew that if we wanted to get into this space, we’d have to be different and look different.”

Grass fed whey + whole fruit powders

On the ‘being different’ front, Levels​ uses grass-fed whey protein and blends it with freeze-dried whole fruit/veg powders [as opposed to drum- or spray-dried powders], providing a full serving of fruit/veg per serving.

“The fruits/vegetables provide the flavor, so we don’t have to add natural or artificial flavors to make the product taste acceptable," ​says Niemann, who launched Levels earlier this year. "We can label the powders as whole fruits because that is what they are, just freeze dried whole fruits that have been ground into powders, so we have a very clean label."

Levels grass fed whey
Each serving of Levels grass-fed whey protein includes a serving of fruits and/or vegetables

On the ‘looking different’ front, Levels (a name Niemann’s girlfriend came up with) markets its products in a big 5lb box (as opposed to a cylindrical tub) with a modern, clean design (which Niemann created himself), but also offers single serve sachets to encourage trial.

More than half of Amazon users have Prime membership now 

And so far, says Niemann – a runner up in Food Vision USA’s 2016 ‘trailblazers’ challenge​ - the strategy is paying off.

“We’ve only been on the market for a couple of months on Amazon and via our own website, and I’m really encouraged by the sales and the feedback [via reviews on Amazon]. The top comments are people love the flavors of the fruit and the super-clean packaging. We’re going to approach brick and mortar outlets but for products like this, online really works well, especially to start with.

“Amazon is eating up many traditional bricks and mortar retailers and more than half of Amazon users have Prime membership now.”

Consumers are looking for grass-fed meat and dairy

So who’s the target audience for Levels​?

Blake Niemann: Start-ups should go deep before they go wide when it comes to distribution

“We are looking for consumers that buy grass fed dairy or meat, cross fitters, people looking for organic and grass fed, and people already in the category that want to trade up," ​says Niemann, who says there are other brands [Naked Whey, Natural Force, ProMix, Reserveage etc] offering grass-fed whey, “but they are still using traditional flavors and packaging formats​.”

So what lessons did he learn from his previous food start up (quinoa-based snacking brand eatKeenwa​)?

Lots of things, says New York City-based Niemann, who majored in global supply chains & operations management at college, and says spending time on due diligence to ensure that the manufacturing partners you work with meet the highest standards is critical for early stage companies

Go deep before you go wide

Perhaps the biggest learning, however, is the importance of going deep before going wide, building steadily and not spreading yourself too thinly when you’re going into bricks and mortar stores, he says.

“When you first launch a product you want to be on every shelf, in every store, but what really matters is velocity, not the number of stores you are in. You need to drive your sales strategy to where the product sells the best and that’s my focus now.”

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Comprehension matters

Posted by Eris Toomer,

"More than half of Amazon users have Prime membership now" is not the same as half of Americans...

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Amazon Prime

Posted by Sanford Argabrite,

I don't think half the people in America have Amazon Prime accounts. Perhaps half the households have Amazon Prime or half the users but half the people would be over 150 Million, whereas the estimate is closer to 60 Million

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