Ample redefines what a meal replacement can be, gears up for equity crowdfunding campaign
Since its inception in 2015, Ample has raised more than $4m from venture capital and angel investors, but in order to build out the Ample community that founder and CEO Connor Young envisioned when first launching the company, he wanted to give nearly anyone -- from consumers to private investors -- the opportunity to own a piece of Ample should it go public.
"I felt like we should give the opportunity to our community to potentially own a piece of Ample and also potentially see the financial return for our success," Young told FoodNavigator-USA.
Ample has launched an equity crowdfunding campaign on Republic where with a minimum $100 investment an individual would receive company shares.
"It allows a non accredited private investor to invest in a company through a platform such as Republic. If we ever sell or go IPO then there would be a financial return. Effectively what we’re doing is making angel investors out of normal people -- basically it makes it much more accessible," Young said.
Redefining 'meal replacement' drinks
At 400 or 600 calories per bottle, Ample is intended to be a meal for "anyone who is busy but also very health conscious and struggles to maintain their standards of nutrition and health when life gets in the way," explained Young.
However, Young isn't so thrilled with the term 'meal replacement' because it suggests to the consumer that the product is not actually a proper meal. Even though meal replacement drinks have come a long way since the concept was first introduced to the US market decades ago with brands such as Slim Fast (which is still the third most searched meal replacement drink on Amazon, according to Kantar market research), meal replacement products are often associated with low calories and the promise of weight loss, and nutritionally poor ingredients, according to Young.
"I think that the 'meal replacement' name is a bummer. Not because I don’t think it’s a good term, but there’s a lot of baggage out there," he said.
"Nutrition science has advanced quite a bit in the last thirty to forty years and we’re finding that calorie consumption is important, but what’s more important is the quality of the nutrition that you’re getting. It’s totally ok to have a full meal with enough calories that your body needs."
Ample's core three products -- Ample Original, Ample V (vegan), and Ample K (keto) -- are designed to be a complete meal with 19 to 36 grams of protein and 11 to 14 grams of dietary fiber depending on the variety, along with a "high-quality" monounsaturated fat profile from high oleic sunflower oil (a recent new addition to the formula)and macadamia nuts.
Making it taste good
Ample is a convenient nutrition company first and foremost, but Young knew that in order for the product to resonate with consumers it had to taste good. Prior versions didn't quite hit the mark from a flavor, texture, and mouthfeel standpoint, which is why Ample's R&D team spent two years tweaking and modifying its formulas for its three products.
"Ample V needed the most help," Young said. The Ample R&D team discovered that the plant-based pea and rice proteins of Ample V, which tended to have a bitter or astringent aftertaste, paired better with an acidic flavor profile as opposed to a chocolate or vanilla.
Ample's packaging format of pre-filled bottles of powder has several key advantages, according to Young, from logistics (lightweight for shipping purposes) to convenience (doesn't require tracking down a protein shaker and TSA compliant) to customization (consumers are free to add cow's milk, dairy alternatives, or cold brew coffee the bottle).
"What we need to do was we needed to solve for the customer's problem. And the customer's problem was how can I have a stupidly convenient meal that’s also healthy and that tastes good too. If we were just to launch originally with the bulk version, we would not be really solving their problem," Young said.
"They actually work better with an acidic flavor profile. What we did was put more fruits and vegetables in Ample V, so we have the majority of our flavor actually coming from raspberry," Young noted.
For Ample Original the biggest difference in its reformulation work was an improvement in mouthfeel making a product that was much more creamy and smooth than its original version.
"Part of it is the composition of our fibers, changing the ratios of fibers from a mouthfeel standpoint can dramatically change the smoothness and creaminess of a product."
Ample K needed less work from a flavor standpoint, according to Young.
"Ample K honestly tasted really good from the start," Young said, so the company focused on slashing its net carb count without the inclusion of sugar alcohols.
"The net carbs in our keto version were cut in half, which in the keto community is a really big deal, and in reality we’re basically the only real food based meal replacement in the category," said Young.
How did was this achieved? Young explained that working with its ingredient suppliers on a unique combination of fats using inulin (chicory root fiber) as a fat binder.
"Generally up until very recently, the standard has been you mix fats on a one-to-one ratio with corn maltodextrin and therefore every gram of fat you have also comes with a gram of carbs, so it’s inherently not keto. However, what we’ve been able to do is work with our ingredient suppliers on unique combinations that help us get the fats we want while avoiding the carbohydrates that traditionally came with those fats, and inulin is one of those ingredients that allows us to do that."
What's in store for Ample
Ample is at the precipice of "exponential growth", the company said, with a pipeline full of product developments including a bulk version of Ample (something consumers have been requesting) launched later this year and a ready-to-drink format further down the line.
From an investment standpoint, Ample has been rapidly generating revenue on Amazon at 150% month-over-month growth rate. The company has also been able to attract a core set of loyal consumers with strong repeat purchase behavior, according to Young.
"What we’ve found is that we’re a high consumption product. Most people are actually consuming more than four Amples per week and so the opportunity for us to really integrate into someone’s lifestyle is pretty real," he said.
"Our percent of total revenue that’s come from subscribers has more than doubled, now it’s more than 60%. And these subscribers are spending more than $100 a month on Ample."
Young added that the company will continue to scale its business on Amazon and is exploring brick and mortar retail while maintaining and growing its community of consumers who incorporate Ample into their day to day nutrition.