Pre-alcohol protein bar: SOBAR pushes ahead with Asia expansion plans despite pandemic setback
Last year, the firm had plans to enter Japan, South Korea and Singapore in Q3 2020, however, the COVID-19 pandemic had halted these plans, Zeno Functional Foods’ president, Dr Joseph Fisher told NutraIngredients-Asia.
SOBAR is a protein bar is said to reduce alcohol absorption through its patent-pending food technology called Alco-HOLD. The formulation of milk protein and insoluble oat fibre holds alcohol in the stomach longer where it can be more efficiently inactivated before its absorption.
In a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Foods, eating one bar prior to consuming two alcoholic drinks could reduce peak alcohol levels and total absorption by about 50%.
SOBAR was initially launched in US in late 2019 as a beta-test, with an initial run of 60,000 bars sold and distributed as promotional samples on its own website, and Amazon.
“This test run was successful in gathering feedback from both consumers and potential channel distributors to improve the product for a full launch in 2021,” Dr Fisher said.
Dr Fisher told us the pandemic posed a challenge for SOBAR, as a primary appeal for the product was its use in social settings such as weddings, parties, bars, sporting events which have been downsized or cancelled due to various restrictions.
“As many of these were put on hold over the last year, it was a perfect time to reformulate the product and relaunch as the world emerges from the pandemic.
“Starting in the summer of 2021, we expect a great demand for products that can complement the social gatherings that were difficult to stage over the past 12 months.”
This May, the firm is looking to launch SOBAR directly to consumers through Amazon, retail, and food service channels in US. These include convenience stores, wine and spirits stores, gift shops, as well as channels in the travel and leisure industry.
The first production run is approximately 100,000 bars, comprising of three flavours and a variety pack.
For international expansion, the initial focus is in countries where allulose, its key ingredient has been approved for use. Allulose is a sweetener used in SOBAR to improve taste, mouthfeel and keep calories low.
“We have had serious discussions with importers from South Korea and Japan which we hope to expand in the latter half of 2021 after a foothold is achieved in the U.S. We are still actively seeking a distributor for Singapore,” Dr Fisher said.
Other regions where allulose is approved include Mexico and Colombia. For other regions such as EU, China, India, and other markets, Dr Fisher said the product would require a non-allulose formulation, which he has begun works on.
While both local and international expansion were put on hold last year, the firm decided to focus on reformulation.
“Many consumers mentioned that the original bar was too large and filling, in particular, before consuming alcohol,” he said.
So, the firm developed a smaller version which weighs 44g, the original version weighed 75g. The latest version now contains 130 calories instead of 210 calories.
The formulas were adjusted to provide optimal mouthfeel, mostly increasing moisture.
“The new bar format is designed for ease of consumption as well as providing greater control over alcohol absorption. Consumers can start with one bar first but can always eat more if they want to. Also, many consumers wanted a more moderate effect on alcohol absorption and the larger bars were too robust an effect in many situations.”
SOBAR is suitable for all ages as a high-protein snack or as an aid for responsible drinking. It is the first product launch from Zeno Functional Foods, which hopes to develop products targeting public health.
Diabetes and weight management
One of the health areas targeted is diabetes, and the firm is currently conducting R&D, with clinical tested expected in 2024.
Dr Fisher said it will utilise aspects of the SOBAR into the new product, in particular, its ability to significantly slow and delay gastric emptying. This functional element could help to reduce post-prandial blood glucose spikes.
Milk proteins, insoluble fibres and polysaccharides have been shown to affect gastric emptying, which also influences alcohol absorption.
In addition, the allulose ingredient may also play a role in anti-obesity application. Allulose has been tested in a number of clinical trials and there is growing evidence that it can help regulate fat metabolism.
He cited a study published the Nutrients journal, where allulose consumption significantly decreased body fat mass compared to the placebo group.
Another study published in the Nutrition journal, found that allulose could enhance postprandial fat oxidation and lower plasma glucose levels in healthy humans, indicating that it could be a novel sweetener to control and maintain healthy body weight.
As of now, the next six months will be used for launching the new SOBAR and gathering feedback from consumers on how they view and use the product.