More than half of 1,500 people dealing with IBS or other gastrointestinal issues who recently responded to a survey about their experiences reported waiting a year or more to seek help with 21% taking more than six years to find symptom relief in large part because they were embarrassed to discuss their symptoms.
In fact, 58% of millennials surveyed said they were too embarrassed to share their struggles with food, 39% worried they would be judged for their digestive discomfort and 25% didn’t think people would believe them, according to the survey, which was conducted by Fody Food Co.
Steven Singer, the CEO and founder of the company, which makes pantry staples and comfort foods without the common ingredients that can trigger gastrointestinal issues, believes that encouraging consumers to talk about their experiences will help them feel less anxious and more empowered to find solutions that allow them to live their lives to the fullest.
In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA's Soup-To-Nuts Podcast, Singer discusses the broad reach of gastrointestinal issues in America, how they impact individuals and how products, like his, that comply with the low-FODMAP diet can help. He also shares advice for other entrepreneurs navigating diet trends based on his experience at Fody and previously as the founder of the gluten-free trailblazing brand Glutino.
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The market potential for low-FODMAP food
According to the survey conducted by Fody, gastrointestinal distress can have a wide-ranging negative impact on everyday life for those who suffer from it.
The survey found nearly three-quarters of those who manage digestive discomfort struggle with everyday routines with one in three regularly showing up to work late and two-thirds of those younger than 24 years arriving to school late due to their symptoms.
In addition, it found 72% of people suffering from IBS or other digestive issues avoid eating at restaurants, 47% were unable to hang out with friends, 27% didn’t want to go on a vacation and 16% were late to a significant occasion or milestone.
On the bright side, three-quarters also reported that following a low-FODMAP diet can provide complete symptom relief, which is where Singer says Fody Food Co. fits in.
“One in seven Americans can’t eat many, many different foods and ingredients across menus or grocery store aisles, and basic foods like garlic, like onion, like honey, like pistachios and cashews and apples and watermelon,” but Fody can help with the hard work of identifying triggers by making foods without ingredients that commonly lead to symptoms, he said.
One of the key certifications that Fody earns for each of its products comes from the Monash University in Australia and signifies that the food complies with the low-FODMAP diet, which Singer explains researchers at the university created as way to identify and manage many digestive issues.
The diet is a way to identify food intolerances by breaking ingredients into different categories of short chain carbohydrates that are difficult for the body to absorb and which make up the FODMAP acronym. These include fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols. All foods falling into these categories are initially eliminated and slowly reintroduced with sufficient time to uncover any reactions.
While the low-FODMAP diet may be effective, it isn’t easy to follow – even with the recommended help of a healthcare professional or dietitian – because so many of the potential triggers are ubiquitous in the American diet and finding options without them is difficult.
“I think what Fody loves to do for people is say, ‘Hey, we will cover you. We have the pasta sauce so you can have a plate of pasta or we have the barbeque sauce so you can still have your meats and chicken and fish. You can have a Caesar salad, but use our vegan garlic-free, onion-free Caesar dressing. You can still have fries with ketchup, but guess what, you are going to have the Fody delicious ketchup instead of some of the other household name brands,’” Singer said.
A loyal fan-base beyond those who need Fody products
Even though the low-FODMAP diet is designed as a temporary elimination diet, Singer believes that once consumers with a history of digestive distress discover the brand they will remain loyal.
“Most of these people have been suffering for a long time … and when they find a sauce they like that makes them feel or doesn’t make them feel discomfort, they are not running back … they are happy they feel better,” he said.
Singer also says that Fody’s products will appeal to consumers beyond those who suffer from gastrointestinal issues to include those who are looking for products made from clean, better-for-you ingredients.
“We use avocado oil in some of our sauces. We use Himalayan pink salt, extra virgin olive oil .. and every product is certified vegan, every product is gluten-free, every product is non-GMO. So, we tap into many other reasons for people to buy and to love Fody,” he said.
Opening a conversation
Beyond creating products that are convenient and appropriate for consumers following the low-FODMAP diet, Fody Foods is trying to open a broader conversation about digestive distress so that those who suffer from it are less embarrassed and will help spread the word that the brand offers a solution.
“Bathroom talk is somewhat of a taboo subject,” but Fody is working on social media, with retailers, with healthcare providers and others to raise awareness of the extent of digestive issues and how the brand can help, he said.
Singer says the brand also is expanding its distribution. Already available in more than 3,000 stores across the US, including top natural food retailers as well as many conventional chains, Singer says the brand has “many, many lined up for the New Year.” Plus, he says, the brand is available online on Amazon.
Key lessons for building a diet-specific brand
The brand also is focused on innovation and expanding its product portfolio – a strategy that Singer says is key not only for Fody but also for Glutino and other emerging brands that are catering to diet-specific consumer bases.
“Make sure you have innovation. You can’t sit still and hope for the best. You have to keep reinventing yourselves,” he said.
Singer also advises entrepreneurs catering to consumers with specific dietary needs to build their brands on trust and a strong sense of purpose.
“People are, in some cases, relying on you and in some cases need that level of trust that they are going to feel better if they eat your food. So you just have to make sure what you put in is real,” and safe, he said.