Women's health driving South East Asian ambitions for Indian functional beverage firm &Me
The brand launched in September 2017, and currently has three types of functional beverage products in its portfolio: PCOS (to support healthy hormonal balance in women with polycystic ovary syndrome), PMS (to support metabolism and healthy muscle and nerve function during periods), and Beauty (to support hair and skin health).
The products are made from a mix of fruits, vegetables, spices and ayurvedic herbs, combined with vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C and E, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, calcium, zinc, chromium and copper.
They come in 240ml flasks featuring a variety of flavours — including orange, mango, watermelon, cranberry and green apple — and are available in &Me's web store, as well as 500 retail supermarkets and health food stores in Mumbai and Bangalore.
Functionality and formulation
According to &Me, the beverages fulfil 30% of women's daily vitamin and mineral requirements, and contain fewer than 80 calories each, with no added sugar or preservatives.
Speaking to NutraIngredients-Asia, CEO Ankur Goyal said: "We have a strong focus on women's health as women face many such issues in India, especially anaemia and osteoporosis. The idea behind our business is that we are functionality-driven — we want to help solve these problems.
"We also make it a point to use a combination of herbal nutrition and modern science to incorporate both ayurvedic herbs along with vitamins and minerals in our formulations.
"We experimented with different formulations for about a year before launching the products, and tested them on consumers, so we know what works and what doesn't."
&Me uses a third-party facility to manufacture and package its products, and according to Goyal, he and his team oversee the process themselves, so the "secret recipe" for their formulation is not revealed to outsiders.
A key part of the process, he said, was making sure the products could have a shelf life of four months without needing refrigeration, despite the complete absence of preservatives.
"The most crucial aspect of developing these products is understanding the interactions between the different herbs, vitamins and minerals. We've spent a lot of time on determining the effects resulting from each of the ingredients, as well as from combining the ingredients," said Goyal.
"We've determined the safety of combining these ingredients, but we will be conducting clinical trials to determine if there are any added benefits to these combinations."
Currently, the brand sources its ingredients from supplier Pristine Organics, and is in talks with DSM for a possible partnership.
"Our supplier helps us ensure our products have a high level of bioavailability. For instance, we don't use calcium carbonate, which is commonly sold as a supplement or included in functional products.
"Instead, we use a specific type of salt that increases the products' bioavailability. The herbs also help to increase bioavailability of our beverages, making them more beneficial than most supplements."
Three-pronged plan: Expansion, diversification and research
&Me has drawn up a rather ambitious plan that covers the rest of the year as well as the first quarter of 2020, prioritising overseas expansion with its functional beverages.
This includes not just securing local distribution partners but also updating its product packaging for the international market.
Goyal said: "We are still figuring out the Indian market, since we launched less than two years ago. But by March next year, we plan to expand to South East Asia, to countries such as Singapore and Indonesia.
"We will likely launch our beverages in these countries in updated packaging that will help to extend their shelf life. We've done some testing with glass bottles and found that they can extend shelf life to 12 months."
He added that while the current packaging will continue to be sold in India, &Me was exploring the possibility of lowering the volume per bottle from 240ml to 180ml, because in India, "women in general tend to consume less liquid — they usually prefer servings of 150ml to 200ml".
"The main challenge is whether or not the same health benefits and taste can still be delivered even at smaller volumes.
"Reducing the volume and maintaining the health benefits may affect the taste, so over the next three to six months, we will be working on a solution to ensure we won't have to compromise on any of these qualities."
The brand also intends to diversify its portfolio beyond functional beverages, while still focusing on women's health.
Goyal revealed that his team was planning to launch low-calorie, high-nutrition chocolates within the next three months, and was working on developing nutritional tea bags and powder sachets — all featuring the same unique formula used in &Me's beverages.
At the same time, the brand wants to broaden the range of applications for its products to include sports and fitness, UTIs, and health support for women over 50.
It also plans to begin clinical trials on its ingredients and formulation within the next six months.
"We are looking for partners to help us start clinical trials within the next six months, including potential partners that are approved in the US.
"Having products supported by research conducted by US regulator-approved organisations would make them more attractive to consumers," said Goyal.