Sara Bonham, Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer of Perennial shares with us the ins and outs of Perennial’s Daily Gut & Brain shake. Sara studied Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry at university and completed a graduate degree in Biological Engineering.
The business was founded in 2016 very much based on championing older adult health, looking at how plant-based proteins or inputs can improve health and how it can provide better sensory experiences for customers. The first product was launched in 2019 and then an enhanced, revised version was launched in 2020.
In terms of the name “Perennial”, it refers to both the plants and the customer: ever-blooming, grounded, enduring, reinventing themselves year after year.
Going plant-based is a universal theme. Our nutrition beverage, Daily Gut & Brain, while being vegan, has the sensory appeal and the refreshing taste of dairy without the cholesterol, or lactose. Older adults are driven to plant-based products for health reasons such as cholesterol reduction, lactose intolerance, added protein, inflammation reduction, etc...
We spent a lot of time looking at plant-based inputs and trying to optimize them for the nutritional requirements of today’s active customers over 50 years of age. All the while, it was critical that we made the product taste like something they would want every single day.
There are so many wonderful things that happen to us as we age. Research shows we are happier and more content – areas society doesn’t touch upon enough! In terms of nutrition, some of the key things that we’ve focused on and feel are of value to our customers include absorption of nutrients, maintaining muscle health, and digestion. We lose 3-8% of our muscle mass each decade after 30. Maintaining that strength and reducing frailty is of the essence.
Concerning protein digestibility, most plant-based products have only one protein, which is only 70% digestible. This needs to be taken into account, as people over 50 are likely to have less gastric acid to absorb all the nutrients anyway. Often vitamins such as B12 are not taken or able to be absorbed in sufficient amounts.
Fiber is also something we have optimized with a blend to enhance digestive wellness and the microbiome. Interestingly, 97% of adults today don’t consume the recommended daily intake required, so having a simple nutrition drink like ours, with a satisfying vanilla or chocolate taste, is a great way to incorporate fiber into the diet.
There are many other factors that we take into account when catering specifically for the nutritional needs of the >50s. Maintaining mental sharpness is of equally high priority.
A lot of work was put into making sure this product was not super caloric, yet still delivered the necessary digestive and brain health benefits. It contains 11 vitamins and minerals that older adults might not be getting enough of in their daily meals. The design wasn't based solely on people’s needs, but also on what they care about in their health. Because of this, we focused a lot on nutrient absorption and cognitive nutrition.
The shake lasts up to 15 months from the manufacturing date.
Keeping the brain nourished and keeping the memory sharp are super important. One of the things that I found very interesting on this journey was that Vitamin E (protector of the cell membrane and powerful antioxidant) is hugely important in cognitive nutrition.
According to research, brain changes can be detected up to 20 years in advance when it comes to an Alzheimer's diagnosis. So yes, the ingredients in our shake can definitely benefit younger people, it’s simply that we placed more emphasis on the nutritional needs of the older demographic.
Only 1% of innovation targets this demographic. I think it’s a lot harder to innovate for this demographic than for that of the millennial and there was a definite gap in the market.
People are living and working longer. The perception of older adults is so different from what it actually is and I believe there’s an opportunity to not only innovate but also to create a better brand that represents how they feel, and do it with legitimate clinically backed ingredients.
We were obsessive about getting the taste right, and “packing” all of this nutrition into a small bottle was incredibly tricky. Customers wanted something convenient and simple, so it really was a challenge getting the required nutrients into the “space”. We also had to make it shelf-stable, which required different processes involving heat. Heat alters how plant protein tastes. It was operationally complex.
Learning what customers value, how to make it taste good, and then going from a benchtop to pilot production to mass manufacturing were all phases of the process that required large amounts of time and research.
Our goal is to be the leader in active older adult nutrition. We see a platform being developed of smartly crafted plant-based products that fit into the active lifestyle of the >50 customer demographic.
Long-term, we see tremendous opportunity to reimagine and redefine what adult nutrition is in traditional retail. We want to reinvent what healthy aging can be and create a brand that really resonates with older adults.