By Becky Hurley
Goodbelly (a NextFoods company)
No. of employees: 13
Probiotics cultivate growth for CEO Alan Murray and Goodbelly, progeny of Colorado's prolific natural foods family tree
Next Foods’ Goodbelly Probiotic Fruit Drink Co. founders Steve Demos and Todd Beckman know a good probiotic when they taste one. Five years ago today’s Goodbelly CEO Alan Murray introduced them to a special Swedish probiotic strain that could improve the digestive health of some 75 million Americans who suffered from gut discomfort or disease. Within months, the new brand was in development.
But Goodbelly was hardly a trial balloon.
Decades earlier Demos, the former CEO of Boulder-based White Wave Foods and Beckman, his Vice president, Business Development identified the need for a heart-healthy alternative to dairy milk. As a result Silk brand soy-based organics were launched. Silk products soon dominated the grocery shelves of natural foods and national grocery chains. The company sold to Dean Foods in 2009 for $455 million.
Energized by their initial success and focused on products for a healthier world, the entrepreneurial team decided to once again combine their passion for science, organics and sustainable practices. In 2008, they launched NextFoods’ Goodbelly Probiotic Fruit Drinks.
All Goodbelly products deliver a powerful daily dose of live and active probiotic cultures of Lactobacillus plantarum299v/, first discovered by Murray during meetings with the CEO of a dairy cooperative in Sweden.
He’d heard powerful testimonials from Europeans who incorporated the natural probiotic into their diets.
“I saw such an opportunity to internationalize it, to extend its benefits to a generation of people poised to take control of their health,” Murray says, adding that the founders’ background at Silk was invaluable in setting up the company’s East Coast manufacturing facility.
Murray had met Demos and Beckman years earlier as CEO of Tetra Pak, a packaging company that developed “gable-topped” cartons – the same carton design used today by Goodbelly. When he returned to the United States with a refrigerated case containing the sample Swedish cultures, Demos and Beckman sampled them and immediately recognized the probiotic’s significant healthful benefits.
Within months, the entrepreneurial team arranged a licensing agreement with the Swedish co-op.
Two top nutrition scientists from Silk Soy Milk were hired right away. Within months, the company created their own probiotic cultures, adapting flavors for the American palate.
NextFoods rolled Goodbelly out exclusively through Whole Foods markets a year later. Soon, consumers and retail grocers like Kroger’s Vitamin Cottage, Vons and more were calling with orders.
The brand has found a broad-based market that has responded to Goodbelly’s delicious taste, non-dairy ingredients and, live, active organisms so important to overall good health.
To date Goodbelly probiotic mango, blueberry and pomegranate drinks are among the company’s top sellers. Individually packaged “Big Shot” power-packed probiotics are also popular. Competition so far is minimal.
“Annual sales are about $10 million and are growing exponentially,” Murray says, adding that there’s almost unlimited opportunity to expand our line.” During an interview with Fortune, Demos agreed, noting “In the European market, there is a huge amount of square footage dedicated to probiotic products [in stores], but in the U.S., it's almost like there is a vacuum."
What’s most gratifying, however, is not measured simply by financial success.
“The nicest surprise has been the number of consumers who write and say that Goodbelly has had such a positive effect on their lives,” he notes.
Challenges: “Managing our growth and educating the consumer. All our marketing and educational programs are done online which keeps them affordable and targeted to those with digestive issues and looking to maintain good health.”
Opportunity: “Our probiotics are wonder bugs – and there’s a tremendous potential market for them. Think of all those people quietly suffering from digestive issues. Our business as more than doubled in the past three years. Out of 300 million Americans, at least 25 percent experience gut issues on a regular basis, and most of us will need help at one time or another. Goodbelly provides a healthful layer of protection.
Needs: Our greatest need is the patience to be able to get it all done. We’re running to catch up with demand right now. Fortunately we’re blessed with wonderful, motivated staff that goes the extra mile.