Prebiotic chocolate? Gutsii enters US market on a mission to make gut health simple
Gutsii chocolate contains no added sugar and no more than six ingredients: cocoa mass, inulin, cocoa butter and vanilla beans; plus flavor inclusions such as amaranth, Himalayan salt, dried raspberry, peppermint oil, rice & millet crisp.
Founder and CEO of Gutsii, Janine Zappini, had grown up learning about the connection between food and health from her German grandfather who knew the importance of incorporating fermented and no sugar foods into his diet.
As she entered her twenties, Zappini became an avid reader of nutrition journals and studies that led to launching an accidental raw snack bar business in Australia where she was living at the time.
“Your gut is the root of all your health. Most people who want to eat healthy, are either focused on protein or fats,” Zappini told FoodNavigator-USA.
When launching Gutsii in its first market of Australia, Zappini saw prebiotic chocolate as a unique offering within the functional foods category because “people love chocolate so much”, but it was off limits for many individuals that had negative gastrointestinal reactions after consuming it.
“I’ve worked with bars before, and the market is so flooded. For me personally, I’m bored of eating them. And I didn’t want to be another Kombucha-like brand that’s full of sugar,” Zappini said.
Prebiotics in focus
Gut discomfort may be one of the most common health issues among Americans, yet the least talked about, said Zappini. When gut health is discussed, the conversation usually points to increasing intake of probiotics, which Zappini feels is misplaced energy.
“There has been so much education around probiotics,” she said.
According to Packaged Facts, in 2016, digestive health/probiotic supplements represented the largest condition-specific category for mass-market retail sales in the US, and the second fastest growing condition-specific supplement category.
“Probiotics are extremely overrated because first of all, they’re extremely expensive, and second, there are hundreds of different strains of probiotics and they have to be very specific to your biome. So you really have to know what [strain] you need, and people don’t really know that.”
Zappini believes the focus should instead be on prebiotics, a nearly or wholly indigestible substance that when consumed promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract, conferring a health benefit.
“Prebiotics is the food that nourishes your already existing gut bacteria,” noted Zappini.
Yet consumer understanding of prebiotics is still hazy and poorly understood. Nevertheless, Zappini believes that is starting to change and she hopes that Gutsii can play a role in introducing more consumers to the prebiotics with its line of chocolate products.
Globally, the prebiotics market is expected to exceed US$8.5bn by 2024, according to Market Study Report.
“I’m on a mission to talk about it in a very simple way,” Zappini said. “Your gut health is the root of all your health. The easiest way for me [to make an impact] is to provide snacks that tick all the boxes.”
Developing a no added sugar chocolate bar
Zappini worked with a leading chocolate producer in Switzerland to develop a chocolate recipe that had some sweetness (found naturally in the chicory root), wasn’t bitter and without adding artificial
According to Zappini, not using sugar meant the company had to get creative with its processing.
“We tested it for nearly 12 months… it’s not just the combination of the ingredients. It goes back to choosing the right cocoa and roasting time,” she said.
As a result, Gutsii chocolate takes four full days to produce on a 5km-long production line. The end product has a 35% daily serving of dietary fiber (from the inulin) and around 4 grams of net carbs per bar.
The chocolate bars are also technically 98% cocoa (even though it looks and tastes lighter), according to Zappini, but the brand was careful not to mention that anywhere on the packaging because it didn’t want consumers to assume it was dry and bitter.
The branding also had to be playful and not come across as a purely functional product. Gutsii ‘sexy Swiss dark chocolate’ bars are in brightly colored packages packaging with tongue-in-cheek names such as ‘raspberry rhapsody’, ‘mint puffdaddii’, and ‘pinksalt floyd rocks’.
Reaching the masses
Now living in Los Angeles where she operates the day-to-day business of Gutsii, Zappini is targeting the US market and has gained attention from major retailers including Whole Foods and signed on for a national rollout with a large retail pharmacy group.
There has also been international interest for Gutsii in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Mexico as well as “huge demand coming out of Europe,” she added.