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Plant-based boost for the over-50s

Instead of writing older people off as online-shopping-averse, the developers of plant-based supplement drink Perennial saw a vital audience keenly interested in keeping up their health, perfectly willing to buy on the internet – and with the disposable income to do so. By dale Buss.

17 September 2019

Many aging boomers at least subconsciously go through a health checklist every day of questions such as: Is my digestion OK? Am I losing a step mentally? How’s my muscle mass? Could my bones withstand a stumble or a fall these days? Perennial is a new meal- supplement drink that attempts to help this crucial but often-ignored demographic group to come up with more satisfying answers to those questions.

Perennial is the brainchild of Brandon Taylor, a co-founder of meat substitute brand Beyond Meat and a food scientist. It is a non-dairy drink designed for gut, brain, muscle and bone health for older consumers, which they’ve designated as being 50-plus years old, encompassing not only baby boomers who currently are aged 55 to 73 but also the first half of Generation X, who are 39 to 54.

Taylor left Beyond Meat in 2016 to begin working on the Perennial proposition with Sara Bonham, who was a food developer with health food retailer Nature’s Emporium and an operations and packaging executive with General Mills. They wanted to further work each had been doing with plant- based products and ended up targeting 50-plus consumers because they concluded that they were underserved by nutritional targeting by supplements and

meal replacements. It was as if these categories had stopped catering to an increasingly aged population after the introduction of dairy-based products such as Ensure and Boost.

“We found that people didn’t want a sole-source nutrition product...They love eating food and wanted something to complement their day. So Perennial can be used as a snack.”

– Sara Bonham, Perennial co-founder “We definitely saw that there was a

gap,” Bonham told New Nutrition Business. “When you’re in the store, you see how it goes from Millennial brands that are targeting them as individuals or as new moms, to convalescent-care products in adult nutrition that are often associated with something you consume after surgery. And they’re just not perceived as healthy.”

The duo concluded that just 1% of industry innovation targets what they’ve named the “new-age perennial” consumer – “perennial” because it’s a kinder and more vital moniker for a generation than “elder” or similar terms, and because perennial “signifies a plant, and signifies coming back better and stronger and more beautiful year after year,” as Bonham put it.

Perennial tastes like almond milk and contains almonds, pea protein, soy protein, rice protein, organic sunflower oil, cane sugar, dietary fibre in the form of fructooligosaccharides and pinches of algal oil and shiitake mushroom powder. It is packed with 8g of protein, or 16% of the US daily dietary requirement, and 3g of dietary fibre, or 12%. An 8oz (226g) package of Perennial also yields 25% of vitamins B6, B12, C, D and E, and folic acid and phosphorus; 30% of calcium; 15% of iron; and 10% of vitamin A.

So on Perennial’s Tetra Pak standup box, consumers are told that they’re getting “32mg DHA Omega-3s and 4 nutrient complex to support brain health”; for bones, an “excellent source of calcium & vitamin D”; for the gut, “3g prebiotic fibre to support digestive function”; and “8g complete plant protein” for muscle.

The product just launched by Bonham and Taylor’s parent company, Willow Cup, retails online-only at the moment for $24.99 (€22.41) for a 12-pack and $69.99 (€62.78) for a 24-pack. “We’re only available online now because we want to use this year to test and learn, and adjusting our messaging so that it resonates with our consumers more and helps us to formulate our next product,” Bonham said. “We really want to hear from consumers what they want next and transition to retail after that. Online, you can learn things quickly and test different messaging fast.”

Plus, Bonham said, 39% of online purchases are made by 50-plus



18 September 2019


consumers. “So there’s a misperception that it’s only Millennials who shop online,” she said. “As people age they have more disposable income and they aren’t afraid to buy online.”

As they discussed launching Perennial, Bonham and Taylor focused on the fact that, while the oldest boomers are beginning to die off, “there are 10,000 people turning 65 every day.” And they often are most in search of new products to supplement their diets. “We talk with our parents, and they’ve come back from Whole Foods Market or the grocery store with products that would kind of surprise me – that would either be for athletes, or super duper meal replacements,” Bonham recalled. “But they weren’t what they were looking for to supplement their nutrition and stay on top of their game ... We wanted to be that first brand to use health science to really champion these people and create delicious, simple-to-consume and convenient products.”

For 50-plus consumers, Bonham said, the “game” includes several elements. “People over 60 are aging so much better than previous generations, and differently,” she said. “They’re working longer, living longer and caring about different things” than previous aging generations.

Mental acuity is one of the top things on this target’s list. “They want to maintain that mental sharpness,” Bonham said, noting that one study showed 69% of boomers care more about cognitive [maintenance] than even physical aging. At the same time, boomers’ digestive systems also are among those who could most benefit from plant-based nutrition. “Lactose intolerance increases with age, and older people are more concerned about cholesterol levels,” Bonham said.

Perceiving that the amount of “white space” to be filled by their products was nearly limitless because of a lack of like- minded competitors, Taylor and Bonham quickly made some major decisions. One of the first was positioning Perennial as a supplement rather than as a full-fledged meal replacement, with the latter path being one that many companies had chosen.

“We found that people didn’t want a sole-source nutrition product,” she said. “They love eating food and wanted something to complement their day. So Perennial can be used as a snack. But it also has this vitamin-mineral blend based on what you don’t get enough of in your food, so it’s not far off a meal replacement.”

They also understood the primacy of taste even for a brand that was going to lead with its nutritional credentials. “It’s never easy putting so much nutrition in a small bottle,” Bonham said. “Your goal is to make sure it doesn’t taste like medicine ... We designed it to have a very clean taste, after each of us had spent years working with so many different plant-based inputs” in previous jobs, Bonham said. “It’s almost like the taste you’d find in a glass of milk. Or you could add it to a smoothie.”

Among considerations were ensuring that Perennial’s sweetener formula ensured good taste while also not alienating consumers who might be expecting a low-calorie benefit. But they believed the cohort would be turned off by artificial sweeteners and experimented



19 September 2019


with natural alternatives such as monk fruit. In the end, Bonham said, they determined that monk fruit “has a high after note; we didn’t like it and we knew that consumers wouldn’t”.

So Perennial stuck with organic cane sugar which, at 8g per serving, the founders believed would be acceptable. Besides, Bonham said, “Sugar helps after a workout to restore glycogen. And Perennial still has less sugar than a glass of milk and way less than any other adult-nutrition product on the market.”

Of the multiple health benefits of Perennial, Bonham said decisions about digestion were the most difficult, such as whether to include probiotic bacteria. “How do we optimize digestion and deliver a product that has diverse plant- based outputs that can feed the probiotics already in your microbiome?” she said. “Consumers felt they already were getting enough [probiotics] but not enough daily fibre. It’s also hard to formulate probiotics into a shelf-stable product.”

At the same time, Bonham said, they had to avoid creating digestive problems. “A lot of plant proteins don’t have 100-percent digestion,” she explained. “So we wanted to provide not only a complete protein source but also one that didn’t leave people feeling bloated. We corrected our amino acids for digestibility...So Perennial goes down quickly and is absorbed well.”

While a planned retail presence might not come until next year, Perennial is investing resources into marketing, such as by passing out packages at pickle-ball tournaments in California that are packed with people aged 50-plus.

Meanwhile, Bonham and Taylor are developing more Perennial products that, she said, will specifically target gut and brain health, and various usage occasions. But 50-and-older consumers will remain the focus. “To really leverage our know-how in health science and plant-based nutrition to make for healthier human life, we need to be 100-percent focused on this consumer,” Bonham said.