Plant-based Brazil startup eyes mass retail expansion – it's the 'main avenue' for growth

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Plant based protein Brazil Mother Nutrients target mass retail growth

Rio de Janeiro-based protein startup Mother Nutrients, led by a collective of soft drinks entrepreneurs, is close approaching its one-year mark and has big plans to ignite mass appeal this year, its CMO says.

Founded in January 2018 and launched onto the market in July, Mother Nutrients has two lines of plant-based protein blends – 'sports nutrition' and 'wellness and greens' – developed for athletic and non-athletic consumers. Both ranges are made using pea protein isolates; contain all branch-chain amino acids; and incorporate chia oil for omega-3s but the sports nutrition products contain 23g protein per dose versus 13g in the wellness line. Manufactured in a range of flavors and formats, most products also come in single-serve sachets. Mother Nutrients also has a 'natural booster' product made from a blend of beetroots, matcha and green tea for slow-release energy.

Available online and in a range of Brazilian health and supplement stores, Eduardo Phillips, chief marketing officer (CFO) at Mother Nutrients, said the goal this year was to get stocked into large retailers to reach a wider consumer group.

“What are we doing to get more people to try Mother? We're now going to the big supermarket chains. Most of them – 80-90% of them – have never sold a supplement or food complement for athletes in their shops, so we have a big challenge because we have to educate them and educate the consumer,”​ Phillips told NutraIngredients-LATAM.

“...This is something we're working really hard on because this is the main avenue to grow supplement revenues and sales here in Brazil, in our opinion.”

The large majority of dietary supplements in Brazil were still sold in specialty stores known as 'body shops' or, more recently, natural and organic stores, he said.

Guys on steroids or feminine in a bad way

Mother Nutrients specifically wanted to garner interest among a wider athletic, and non-athletic, consumer base than current Brazilian brands on the market, Phillips said.

The 'body shops' or supplement stores, he said, tended to carry brands targeting consumers wanting mass muscle gain and didn't especially speak to outdoor athletes like trail runners, triathletes or surfers. This was a “big gap”​, he said, and a core reason behind founding the company.

“Here in Brazil, we still have this big movement towards getting big muscles, so brands talk about muscles and use images of those guys on steroids and it's something that's just not for the regular Brazilian. We didn't see a brand that talked to us. Either, you have those ones with these huge guys and girls in these big product cases you open and half of it is filled with air so you can have a big image and, on the other hand, what you had is something that's really, really feminine but in a bad way.”

Mother Nutrients was developed with this gap in mind and therefore wanted to retail in as many varied outlets as possible – to reach regular consumers, Phillips said.

“We cannot judge the person who wants to buy our product. So, we like to think that our product is made for everyone – not only vegans, especially not only vegans.  ...The products, we think, should be and have to be everywhere.”

The wider 'brand universe'

Mother 2

Mother Nutrients did have a number of sampling programs in the supplement shops, for example, and was in conversation with CrossFit athletes and heavyweight-lifters, but Phillips said this space was not the brand's target “universe”.

“Our brand universe is natural; it's outside. It's not inside the gym or stadium. That's just something to point out.”

This was also part of the impetus behind developing the 'wellness and greens' line, he said.

“When we talked to nutritionists and doctors, they told us that they saw a big market for people who are not used to using proteins and don't do high levels of intense exercise – that could be older people or younger people. So, we created the [wellness and greens] line focusing on non-athletic persons. ...The idea was to deliver a between-your-meals product that is high in nutrients and low in calories.”

The line, he said, integrated a range of 'superfoods', from cardamon and spirulina to carrots and banana and the 'super berries' variant would soon contain real berries, rather than just natural berry flavors following consumer feedback.

The power of the pea?

Phillips said the base protein formula took a year and a half to develop and it became clear early on that pea was the best plant-based protein source for the brand.

“We decided to go with the pea and not rice or any other vegetable because of the high-quality protein and amino acids it has. ...It's also the best [protein source] for good taste, good texture of the product. We tried rice and a combination of pea and rice, but this is definitely the best outcome we had so we kept it.”

The company sourced its peas from France which were then processed into pea protein isolates in Belgium, he said.

While its pea protein formula was an aspect the company was hugely proud of, Phillips said it also remained “the main challenge” ​for Mother Nutrients in Brazil.

“It's really common to see people arguing that animal protein is better than vegetarian or plant protein. It's common to see athletes judging performance based on the animal protein source – thinking that if you eat animals, you'll perform better. So, it's a big culture in Brazil, not only for the customers but for the prescribers looking at these plant-based proteins as inferior.”

However, the company remained hopeful global trend towards plant-based diets would eventually take off in Brazil's supplements space. There were also numerous high-level vegan athletes like tennis champion Serena Williams and world pro surfer Kelly Slater, he said, that would continue to be “the best weapon to create a mindset change in a consumer”.

Forget the environment, it's all about flavor

Asked if the environmental appeal of plant-based could draw in consumers, Phillips said: “In Brazil, unfortunately, we cannot say that the changes are done because of the environment or we are going to be driven by the environment. ...This is something that comes with the product; it comes with the choice of buying Mother, but I don't see it as the first thing that's going to change people's mainstream choice. It's 100% focused on flavor - if you can deliver the same flavor of an animal product; the same experience; the same texture.”

But, he said this didn't take away from the founding environmental principals of Mother Nutrients.

“We founded the company to take care of that special place that gives us the best moments of our life, doing what we love, which is practicing outdoor sports. When we started, it was as simple as that. ...Our name comes from 'mother nature', where we get our products, and it also comes with our 'mother f****r' attitude of not leaving things half said.”

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