What motivated two founders to build better natural products
While the inspiration for a new product can come from anywhere, these brand founders explain how it came from a need that was close to home.
The war on plastic isn’t new. Indeed, consumer activism has led to bans on problematic and unnecessary plastic products across Australia. While much of the focus has been on eliminating plastic straws, single-use water bottles and disposable coffee cups, Marie Pallas zeroed in on another plastic-loaded product: chewing gum.
“As an avid gum chewer, I discovered that conventional chewing gum is made of a plastic gum base and laced with all sorts of artificial ingredients,” she says. “Thinking there must have been a better alternative out there, I went on a hunt to find a natural chewing gum and discovered there wasn’t anything available on the Australian market.”
Across the world around 100,000 tonnes of chewing gum are consumed each year, and 95 per cent of it contains a synthetic ‘gum base’. In other words, plastic.
Pallas set her sights on finding an alternative and her brand, Honest Gum, was born. Made the traditional way using natural chicle, a sustainably harvested natural sap from the Mexican sapodilla tree, Honest Gum contains no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. It doesn’t contain any petrochemical bases, either, making it plastic free. “Basically, as well as not enjoying chewing on plastic, I knew I had to do something about all that plastic chewing gum stuck on the streets.”
The feel-better factor
After living with a sensitive, sore stomach for years, Vanessa Hutchinson discovered that sticking to a low-FODMAP diet helped alleviate and prevent her symptoms. “The trouble was, after I discovered it was specific FODMAPs that were causing my symptoms, I found it really difficult to find low-FODMAP snacks that were also healthy,” says Hutchinson.
Her solution? She started making her own, in the process launching Fodbods – a range of health bars that are certified FODMAP friendly, as well as being vegan and gluten free.
The uptake since launching the bars in 2019 has been swift. “What’s surprised me is how popular the bars are with people who don’t have gut issues,” says Hutchinson. “I thought the ‘gut friendly’ market would be Fodbods’ main one, but it’s so much broader than that due to people searching for a healthy snack that also meets one or two dietary preferences or requirements.”
How to know if your hunch is a safe bet
Loving your own idea is one thing. Knowing it will translate into a brand or new product line that others want can be something else.
Hutchinson has this advice: “It’s absolutely essential to do a lot of research before launching a new product. Does it already exist? Do people really want it? How big is the opportunity? A lot of this can be uncovered online, but I recommend speaking to potential customers, stockists and relevant industry people. If the product you’re envisioning isn’t really needed, people are unlikely to buy it, especially as a small unknown brand.
“Plus, knowledge is power so equip yourself with as much of it as possible. I started Fodbods with zero industry experience, little knowledge of the food business and no relevant connections. My biggest piece of advice is to ask a lot of questions – don’t worry about sounding silly and remember that most people are happy to help. I’ve been so lucky to have met wonderful, supportive people on my Fodbods journey who have been so generous with their time and advice.”
For Pallas, Australia’s growing aversion to unnecessary plastic combined with the nation’s love of chewing gum meant she knew she was onto something. But it hasn’t been without its challenges.
“It was actually very simple for me,” she says. “I hated the fact that chewing gum had plastic and all sorts of other junk hidden in it and I knew that once people found out what it’s actually made of, they’d feel the same.
“But while it hasn’t been hard to expose the truth about regular gum, it saddens me how secretive the industry is. I wish there was more transparency and a requirement to list every ingredient used, rather than just being able to use ‘gum base’ to describe what chewing gum is made from, so you can then hide almost anything under that umbrella term. The more people who are aware of what really goes into regular gum, the better it’ll be for the environment. It’s so simple, yet still challenging.”
“The decision to create Honest Gum was a complete fish-out-of-water moment for me,” she adds. “I had no previous experience, but I didn’t let that bother me. I just knew that plastic didn’t belong in my mouth. And now, knowing that we’re helping to eliminate plastic waste one piece of gum at a time, feels like the biggest win.”
Honest Gum and Fodbods will be exhibiting at Naturally Good this 6-7 June 2022.
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