“To some extent, all food is brain fuel,” points out IQ BAR founder and CEO Will Nitze, who studied psychology and neuroscience at Harvard and found that changing his diet (“trading bread and pasta for nuts and avocados”) helped tackle mid-afternoon “mental fatigue” once he entered the workforce.
“Anything with glucose in it or with MCTs in it is by definition brain fuel, so the phrase 'brain fuel' is not a health claim," adds Nitze, who recently secured a coveted position in PepsiCo's nutrition greenhouse accelerator.
Similarly, the IQ BAR brand name is like smartwater, he claims: "If you ask people whether drinking smartwater will actually make them smarter, clearly the answer is no. It's more of a smart choice. This is the same. It's a little cutesy. We’re not making hard health claims.”
No one wakes up thinking ‘I’m looking for a brain healthy solution’
The keto-friendly, grain-free IQ BAR – formulated with 15-16g fat (accounting for around 75% of the calories), 6g protein and 7-8g fiber per 45g bar (180-190 cals) – is not a miracle product that will boost your IQ, or a caffeine-laced energy bar designed to wake users up, but a tasty snack made from whole foods that consumers will recognize (nuts, seeds) with healthy fats, and carbs that won't spike your blood sugar, claims Nitze.
“It's not about an immediate pick me up. If that's what you're looking for, buy some coffee or an energy drink with caffeine.”
The bars (MSRP $2.49), which launched in 2017 and performed well on Kickstarter, are formulated with almonds and almond butter, allulose (which doesn’t raise blood sugar), sunflower seeds, walnuts, and flaxseed, plus various ingredients linked to cognitive health including vitamin E, magnesium (from the almonds and flaxseed) and lion’s mane extract.
Keto is the most rapid consumer base for us
Like most new brands, IQ BAR has initially focused on ecommerce, says Nitze.
“We started online, and ecommerce will always be a major channel for us; it’s helped us learn who is buying our products, and the margins are better. What we’ve found is that the brain fuel piece closes the deal, it’s the cherry on top, but above all, consumers are looking for great taste and nutrition, and then protein count, carb count and so on. No one wakes up thinking ‘I’m looking for a brain healthy solution.’”
Over half of buyers are women, he adds, with the heavier users interested in paleo, keto, and vegan options. “But really keto is the most rapid consumer base for us; there are not that many keto products in the bar space"
Non-traditional retail channels: Bookstores, offices, chiropractors…
Aside from the ecommerce channel, Nitze has also had success in some non-traditional retail channels such as bookstores, hospitals, offices (many of which now serve millennials who expect novel snacks in the workplace), libraries, salons, smoothie chains, and chiropractors.
“The product tends to do well in these places,” adds Nitze, who has thus far raised some money from angel investors and says his success on kickstarter helped show them that consumers are interested in the products.
“If they have a low trade spend and high margin proposition, then we’ll explore it. But grocery is the 800 pound gorilla we’re tiptoeing towards.”
You’re going to lose money for a while before you make money
While he wasn’t under any illusions about how hard it would be to get into the food industry, building the right cost structures has been a challenge, he says.
“The cost structure is very challenging – how to make the economics work. You’re going to lose money for a while before you make money, and it crushes a lot of companies."
As an entrepreneur, you learn that there will be very good days and very bad days, he says.
"We've had great wins, like getting into the PepsiCo accelerator, and we won some money at MassChallenge, and we've had great feedback from customers, but anyone that's in the food business knows that stuff always goes wrong. Some days you're on top of the world and other days you are pulling your hair out."