A few weeks ago at Babson Food Day, I had the privilege of participating in the quick-serivce incubator for food entrepreneurs. Alfred Schofield, one of the entrepreneurs, presented Vital Fit Nutrition, a company that makes plant-based supplements. They launched with a tart cherry product that is an all-natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, and then they created a protein powder that’s vegan, raw, organic, and non-GMO. I spent the day with Alfred and Cam, the co-founders of Vital Fit Nutrition, to learn more about their company and their vision for more transparency in the food industry.
Alice: Tell me a little about your products.
Cam: So we’re coming in at really that intersection of lifestyle and performance, and what we’ve seen is that the way people are working out is evolving, where they’re going to workout is also evolving, and pretty quickly. But what we saw was that the supplement industry and the way products were evolving wasn’t at the same pace. So we worked with a lot of studio instructors, and fitness professionals, as well as a couple of preventative medicine specialists, who have a specialty in alternative medicine as well, to design plant-based blends specifically for the modern workout. And we have placed a pretty big emphasis on recovery, so each of our products is about bringing your body to homeostasis as a means of creating a better performance from there. So we’re not talking quick fixes, no caffeine, it’s more like, ‘here’s a bunch of new ingredients, you put them all together, and let’s help your body replenish its energy levels naturally, let’s help your body replenish it’s adrenals naturally, and through that you’re going to be able to have a better workout.’
Alfred: Everything we do is all-natural, and obviously, plant-based. Our first product was Tart Cherry. That’s an amazing, all-natural, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. We recently released our protein product, it’s called Planted. It’s based off organic, cold-pressed pumpkin seeds, and we also added nutrients that are missing in a modern diet, specifically, for the vegans out there. For example, it has over 400% of your B12, which we know is something that people struggle to get naturally. And then moving forward and into the future, we’re working on two adaptogenic blends, so we’re really excited about those and they should be on the market, let’s say, before Thanksgiving.
Alice: So I know that you were both in a program at Babson. Can you tell me a little about the entrepreneur program and you’re background with food?
Alfred: Yeah, absolutely. So Cam and I met a little over two years ago. We were in the Babson MSCL program, so it’s similar to an MBA, but for students that don’t quite have that work experience. We both came straight from undergrad, and we met in the program. It’s a one-year, intensive, full-time, program where you kinda get the tools to be an entrepreneur. And just kind of how we got into Vital Fit through the program, so the first semester you essentially do a practice run in terms of creating a product or brand. So the first semester our product was around solving issues in the workspace. And then, they kinda take the training wheels off for the second semester, you do a rocket pitch, and work on your product or brand from there. And so for the entirety of the second semester we worked on what would eventually become Vital Fit.
Cam: So in that second semester I pitched a company about solving some of the ills of the supplement industry, that’s specifically around educating consumers and where all this misinformation is coming from, why they’re so many flashy labels an bold claims, and you know at the time, the company looked nothing like what it is today, but over that six month period without training wheels, Alfred and I were just getting together on a nightly basis and you know, leaving the classroom and kind of continuing our work well into the morning, until we really noticed this opportunity, you know, that we see kind of how the modern workout and wellness user is evolving. And that’s when we decided, okay maybe what we need to do is take that core idea of educating the consumer, but also now let’s create updated products for that consumer, who we know is looking for different things, who we know is concerned, has just fundamentally different goals when it comes to their fitness, and health and wellness pursuits. Um, and that’s where we launched, or that’s where we left off at Babson, and then we really started getting into the actual products themselves. It was kinda funny, but we spent six months working on the company and didn’t have a single product in mind.
Alfred: Just more of a vision of what we wanted to do. The first day we set up the office, we had the normal entrepreneurship story, we were like, ‘alright, let’s do it,’ we like had our pen to paper, and we just realized, we were like ‘oh, I guess we have to think about what we’re going to make now’ (laughs). And, you know, it was a long process, it took us a while to get to market, and the more we started looking into it we said let’s not design a product ourselves, we don’t necessarily… we’re not experts in the field, let’s collaborate, let’s use some of that design thinking that we learned at Babson. So what we ended up doing is kind of, as we started the company we went out in the field, we went to the experts. So we were with you today at Cambridge Naturals, we spoke with the ownership over there, we worked with trainers throughout the city, people that are working out everyday, starting to really hone in on those pain points, what people are really looking for in products, what wasn’t out there that they needed, and so then we kind of took all of that aggregation and information and went back to our doctors, nutritionists, holistic health experts, and said what type of alternative medicine, what type of natural products can we look for to solve these problems. And I mean, that’s how we developed everything we’ve created thus far.
Cam: Yeah, the idea almost has nothing to do us. I mean, granted, you know, we have our ties to the fitness industry, and working out and things of that matter, but um, we wanted this to be 100% a collaboration with people that we knew were on the ground everyday, understanding it better. And so, really that first 6 months, even without a product, was us just building relationships with people that we thought were really trustworthy: instructors, and studio owners, and members, people going to spin classes and boot camp classes, and things like that, um, to really, really understand their needs and develop the product with them, so that by the time we finished it, it was as much theirs as it is ours. And it takes the onus off of us to say, ‘hey, we have something really great here, you should buy this, and here’s why.’ It’s more like, ‘we made this together, and therefore we’re comfortable using it all together.’ And I think that that’s been a pretty big differentiator for us, and especially as a new brand, building that credibility and gaining that trust with who our end users are.
Alice: On the back of your product, you actually list all of the ingredients instead of just saying that it’s a proprietary blend. You tell us everything that’s in it. It also says that it’s vegan, it’s plant-based, it’s raw, organic, it’s non-GMO. That’s a lot of great things packed into one sentence. Can you tell me why it was important to you to have a product with all of those key things?
Alfred: Cam says all of the things that it is, he has it down, it’s so funny to hear him say it (laughs).
Alice: Awesome. Cam, go!
Cam: Take it from the top?
Cam: So Planted, that’s our plant-based protein, it’s made from 100% organic, cold-pressed pumpkin seeds. We’ve added eight essential vitamins and minerals that are missing from most diets, digestive enzymes so you’ll never feel bloated. Essentially you can drink this, give your body all the nutrients you need instead of feeling like you just over-ate all the nutrients you needed. As well as branch-chain amino acids to give it actual recovery benefits for that everyday wear-and-tear, whether you’re just moving some boxes around the house or going for your workout, this is actually gonna have that application, not just ‘hey, drink some protein after you do this,’ and expect to get the recovery you need. But the base of the ingredient is a super food, it’s 100% organic, cold-pressed pumpkin seed. Another reason why we kinda harp on the cold-pressed is we actually use a hydraulic press to squeeze out all the nutrients that are in the pumpkin seed itself, whereas a lot of other companies are using a cooling process and you won’t really get the full scope of the ingredients’ natural benefits. That’s a big selling point for us, it’s something that we want to do. But we also, like you said, list every single ingredient in there, in their entirety. We don’t think it’s a matter of you know, like, let’s protect this trade secret, it’s just something that we never really wanted, and we were tired of seeing ourselves. Let’s just list absolutely everything, and I suppose if you want you could look at it and maybe try to copy it but for I think our end user, it’s all about building that trust. And that’s the easiest way for us to do that. If you haven’t met us, if you haven’t sat down in a room with us, if you haven’t helped us design the product, you know, it doesn’t matter. You still get that exposure. We even have our phone number on the back of some of them, on the label. The labels on the bottles themselves.
Alice: Wow, really?
Alfred: Yeah we do, and that was an interesting move. We wanted to be accessible and I think for anyone that’s taken or bought our products, they know exactly who made them. And that trust is what we kind of thought was missing in this industry. You just see proprietary blends. Everyone sells this magic potion, and we just thought that was totally backwards, especially with the way health and wellness is trending now. People care what they’re putting in their bodies. People don’t wanna just be told that something’s amazing anymore. They wanna do the research themselves and hear from people in their network and really understand exactly what it is that they’re taking. And so for us, that was a big part of what we wanted to do. And again, like, since everything was made in a collaboration and done together, we’re not necessarily worried about protecting something and worried about someone replicating it because what we’ve tried to do is make supplements personal… every company you see is just like, ‘formulated in a lab,’ and people hide behind it, and we thought let’s kind of change that on it’s head, let’s put our faces in front of our products, let’s let people know who we are because, ultimately, people can trust our products and that’s awesome but we want people to trust us, too, and know that we’re doing everything with the right intent. I think that that’s really, really important for us. And then when it comes down to what you were speaking about earlier, which is kind of having those accreditations, we think health and wellness should be for everybody. Ultimately, that’s how we feel about it. And we didn’t want to create products that minimized who could be able to benefit from them. So, I mean you’ve seen it with professional athletes, with all sorts of people: there’s all sort of products that people can’t take because they don’t work for their body, they don’t work with their diets, they don’t work with their beliefs, whatever it might be, and we thought, let’s just make products that are literally applicable to everybody, we’re gonna focus in on that niche, that workout user, but, for example, with our Tart Cherry, what we’ve seen is, as much as we focus in on that hardcore workout user who’s treating that inflammation from working out daily and really pushing their body to the max, there’s also the people at Cambridge Naturals who are older who are dealing with inflammation, with arthritis…
Cam: Back pain…
Alfred: Back pain, stiff necks…
Cam: Really common things.
Alfred: Yeah, common things that everyone faces. And it’s applicable to the protein too. Where, again, like, that protein is great for the person working out, but also if you’re a little older, maybe trying to lose a little weight, you’re trying to change your lifestyle a little bit, tying to fuel your body with a little more nutrients that you might be missing, that’s something that’s for you too, and I think, ultimately, that’s how you create awesome products, and that’s how you create an accessible brand that people respond to, is by really having something that everyone can use.
Cam: I would say, like, there definitely is a trickle down effect in that we do… if we design the product for the extreme user in the target that we’re going for, that product is going to be perfect for the vegan, it’s going to be perfect for the animal-based athlete, it doesn’t matter, it’s gonna work just the same. It doesn’t matter. And I think that gives it that versatility. And even us, I mean we’re not 100% plant-based by any means, but I can take this product every single day, and have the same benefits that I would if I was eating like, uh, I don’t know, like an absolute carnivore, if you will. So that’s been pretty important for us getting that reach and so far it’s worked out for us.
Alice: So you’re both food entrepreneurs. Can you both tell me a little about your personal relationship with food? Why did you want to work in food?
Cam: Yeah so for me I grew up in a household of absolute health and wellness, and that the meant good food involved in that. My parents are doctors. They run a private practice in New York, specializing in preventative and alternative medicine, and to this day, I can’t get home without getting pricked with a needle, a blood test, figuring out where your baselines are off, and what I’m deficient in, and how to eat and supplement accordingly, in the safest way possible, to reach that perfect balance so that I am feeling good. And I’ve seen firsthand the benefits and the value of safe supplementation, and just a healthy, balanced diet. There were, of course, a couple of years where I think I went off the beaten path, rebelling from my parents and maybe going into the store, into a GNC and buying a product here and there, and not eating so well. And I could obviously see the difference in doing so. And now a couple of years later, we’ve come back full circle, to Babson, and I’m more conscious about my health and wellness personally, and so I started to hone in on these good ingredients again, and I think that’s where that inspiration for launching a company in the space, especially creating new products, using a lot of the alternative ingredients that we do use, is based on just that upbringing.
Alfred: So growing up, right around 7th grade I would say, my parents actually bought a general store. I grew up on the Cape and it was kind of a mainstay in our community. We worked on rehabbing the building, and kind of making it that community center, and it was a really awesome experience. I kind of got to see firsthand how food and how, kind of, this community business could bring people together. And I think that was always something that I wanted to replicate, or towards, in my adult life too. So one of the really cool things for us in creating this product is we’ve actually had the opportunity to work with, whether it’s a local studio owner, independent health food stores, some doctors offices even that we worked with, we’re seeing kind of these small businesses owners and local entrepreneurs that are making such a profound change, and I think it’s only natural that, I mean, it’s always the joke that the kitchen’s the heart of the home, and that’s always where people kind of congregate, and I think that, kind of, if you take that metaphor one step further, food is always something that brings people together. And I know through a lot of our work with Food Sol at Babson, and with a lot of these community events, you can see that firsthand, so I think for us to be able to kind of find that intersection where we can take supplements and make them into a little bit more of a food product with a plant base… I mean, everything we do, we struggle with the term “supplement,” because everything is ultimately based on superfoods. And so, what we want to do is take superfoods, and really treat those the same way people treat food, and use them as a uniting force, bringing people together. We’ve seen that with some of the community events we’ve done in the city. One of the really unique things is that we work with all different types of studios, all different types of health stores, and through the events we’ve done, we did one with the Lewis Institute and the Schlesinger Fund for Global Healthcare here, we did one with the Reebok Collective downtown in the South End, we’ve been able to bring all these different stakeholders in the health and wellness industry together, and I think that’s really powerful because, ultimately, it does come back to things like food and community, and it’s so much more than just like our brand, it’s really just the Boston wellness community coming together.
Cam: On top of that, just the way the fitness community is transforming, or the fitness industry is transforming, is it’s all based on community. The studios, the locations that really stand out have built an incredibly strong community between their members, the instructors, the owner, that’s why people are going back, and it’s not just this thing where you kinda go in, work out, do your time and leave. It’s more you go in, hang out for a bit, you get your workout going on, you finish your class, everyone congregates, and is still talking, and it is that community. And I think it’s, for us, that natural progression that you would be integrating food with the actual workout experience itself. We wanna be a part of kind of making that community as strong as possible in the locations that we work with.
Alice: Tell me a little about the future of Vital Fit. This morning, we went to a juice bar that is possibly going to start using your protein powder in some of their shakes. Tell me about what else is going on in the future of Vital Fit.
Alfred: Absolutely. So we have the products that we’re making that are kind of just ours and are going to be distributed through our retail centers. So with regards to that, I mentioned the two adaptogenic blends earlier, and further down, I guess it’s okay to disclose them and be forthcoming with everything that we’re working on, so we’ve collaborated with our whole network that we talked about earlier, and the first product that’s coming next is going to be called Adapted, it’s lion’s mane, holy basil, and lemon balm. And then the second product that we’re working on is going to be called Source, and that’s pine pollen and cordyceps.
Cam: We’re really excited about these products because we’re actually able to loop in someone in our network that wasn’t part of the product design of the first two, but this was a really close family friend of my parents, a fellow doctor, she specializes in homeopathic and naturopathic medicine. She helped push us to look for ingredients that were actually on the “cutting edge” I suppose. These are all traditional foods that have been used for centuries for their medicinal purposes, and now it’s really us coming up with new ways of pairing them to like maximize their application and bring it to the fitness market.
Alfred: Yeah, and then on the other side of things, we are working on all sorts of collaborations throughout the city. We don’t just say we’re about collaboration, we really try to prove it with our product development. You mentioned going to Cocobeet earlier, we’re working on a collaborative drink with them. That’s going to be our protein drink in a prepared beverage. It’s really awesome. We don’t have that expertise, but it’s a new area for us to explore. And the owner, his name is Our and he’s also the owner, he’s a spectacular entrepreneur, he’s a mainstay in the city. We have an amazing amount of respect for him and I know everyone that knows him does as well. But he’s a terrific partner, and were also trying to do that across the sector. Find really cool ways to find people that align with our brand, that we know personally, that are really inspiring entrepreneurs, and honestly, just find ways to work together.
Cam: And make it as easy as possible to integrate our products with your lifestyle, and I think in a lot of ways that comes down to prepared foods and drinks, and because we’re using all whole food ingredients, it’s easy for us to do. We just don’t necessarily have the know-how ourselves of putting them into meals and things like that, and that’s why we…there’s a lot to benefit from these strategic partnerships and collaborations that we’re looking at.
Alice: Yeah, absolutely. Can you tell me a little bit more about your Tart Cherry product?
Cam: Our Tart Cherry product is our bread and butter. It’s what we launched with. We’re always gonna have this connection to Tart Cherry…
Alfred: This soft spot for tart cherries (laughs).
Cam: Funny story. One day we were walking past an alley actually in… where were we?
Alfred: In Cambridge.
Cam: In Cambridge, in Union Square where it’s legal to graffiti the walls. We see these two kids spray painting, probably skipping high school that day, and we had maybe like 20 minutes to kill before a meeting next door, we’re like ‘hey, guys can you help us out real quick? We see you doing this graffiti art, it looks pretty cool. We just started a company, maybe you could help us out with some artwork, some original artwork real quick.’ We run across the street, we buy a little canvas, buy a couple cans of spray paint, you know, people are looking at us like ‘what are you two guys with you know, backpacks and what are you gonna go do with this spray paint because we’re not probably the typical spray painter. We go back, we give it to the guys…
Alfred: …they’re eyes lit up oh my gosh. Like, giving these kids like two cans of spray paint it was like Christmas morning. You have no idea (laughs).
Cam: So they spray painted just two tart cherryies on a canvas, wrote Tart Cherry in cool graffiti handwriting, and that canvas is just hanging in our kitchen (Alfred laughs). Every time we eat a meal, we’re looking at the canvas of the Tart Cherry. It’s gonna be great. Yeah, I can’t wait. It’s gonna be the first thing in every office, it’s always gonna be there. But anyway… the Tart Cherry’s themselves, the easiest way for me to describe them is an all-natural, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant that’s easier to absorb than something like turmeric, which is a great natural remedy but ultimately takes a lot of time to build up in your system. And then on the flip side of that, tart cherries are an all-natural ibuprofen minus the side effects. So, aches, pains, soreness, wake up with a stiff neck, essentially you can take one, two, three of these if you’re in a lot of pain, and within a couple hours, get that inflammation relief, that pain relief that you’re pretty much looking for and not have to worry about what it’s doing to your body because they’re cherries, and people just tend to eat them and I don’t think anyone’s had any issues with them so far. But so, the cherry story is kind of long, it actually started a little over a year ago when we were just fresh out of school and were still working on what we wanted the product to be… so it’s summertime and we’re on the basketball court, and I’m just this un-athletic Jewish kid from New York City who doesn’t play basketball at all, so Alfred’s teaching me how, and he convinces me to get into this pickup game that I probably shouldn’t have been a part of, and I ended up herniating…
Alfred: He was not ready.
Cam: I was not ready. He was like ‘c’mon, it’ll be fun.’ The next thing I know, I’m calling my mom, find out that I herniated a disk, and I’m in a ton of pain, and I’m popping ibuprofen like Skittles because I don’t know what else to do, and I figure, you know, I know it’s something I shouldn’t be doing, so I call up my parents and I’m like is there something that I can take that’s like an alternative, and they recommended I drink tart cherry juice because it should help with pain, hypothetically, inflammation-related issues, that could help. I’m like, tart cherry juice vs I herniated a disk, I’m not sure this is gonna work out… but I go buy some juice, start drinking it, couldn’t believe how well it’s working for me. Obviously, I herniated a disk so I’m not playing basketball again, I never will play basketball again (everyone laughs) but um, I’m definitely like, you know, wow, there’s definitely some fitness application here, this is great. But there’s a ton of natural sugar in here, that’s not really working with my lifestyle. So I put it on the back burner for the moment. A couple weeks later, we’re going down to the different studios, because we mentioned collaboration is a big part of our product design process, and so we thought that we were going to be launching with some sort of all-natural pre-workout. We figured this what instructors would be looking for. And what we found is, they were really looking for something to deal with aches and pains and soreness. And we’re like, ‘well, what’s wrong with what’s out there already?’ Branch-chain amino acids and protein, and we find out that they’re not really familiar with the products themselves, or they don’t really feel like drinking a heavy protein shake, or ‘I don’t really know what branch-chain amino acids are, and I really just need something to help get me over this soreness so I can teach another class,’ or you know, move from this class to work. A light bulb goes off in our head, and tart cherries, that took down aches and pains really quickly, all-natural, whole food, this could be really good. Buy a couple bottles of tart cherry and start passing them out to people, and just saying ‘does this work for you?’ and we get the feedback that it is. Of course, there are the same issues that we were having: calories, sugar, even if it’s just natural, it’s still just not what people really want. And that prompted us to look for a way of delivering the benefits of tart cherries minus that downside. What we ended up doing was finding this growing co-op in Michigan where you can separate skins from the whole fruit, and so that way you’re getting the most potent, nutrient-dense part of the fruit, you get essentially ten times the amount of benefits. What makes tart cherries good is called polyphenols and anthocyanosides, I just learned how to pronounce anthocyanosides correctly after a few months of pronouncing it incorrectly (laughs), and so what we can get out of on serving of our tart cherry capsules, which, again, is just the skins, is about the equivalent of 17 oz. of juice or the nutritional value of 212 tart cherries minus all the sugar and the calories.
Alice: Wow, that’s interesting.
Alfred: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. And adding to that, one of the things that made the extract, or the skins, that we’re using so awesome as a place to start is we knew that credibility was key to us, and that was something we really wanted people to believe in what we were doing. And we knew, okay, if I’m a normal consumer, and I see these two kids who are fresh out of grad school, who aren’t doctors, like why the hell would I trust their product knowledge.
Cam: We saw that big time.
Alfred: We saw it big time, you have no idea how many people were like ‘what are you guys talking about? Why would I…’
Cam: We walked into a couple of dream target stores and were like ‘hey, you wanna do business with us?’ And they were like ‘absolutely not’ (laughs) We don’t know who you are.
Alice: And you can’t even play basketball! (everyone laughs)
Cam: This kid’s walking around with a limp! What do they know about healthy products? (laughs)
Alfred: So the thing that made the tart cherry so spectacular is that the skins that we use were studied at Texas A&M University, which is known as this elite medical location…
Cam: Sport medicine program.
Alfred: …sports medicine program. And so we actually based our formula, which is 480 milligrams, off of what was studied in this test, it’s the only study of cherries of just the skins, and actually in that test what happened was there was a control group of 27 endurance-trained runners, so they took the 480 milligram dose once a day, in the morning, for ten days. Ran a half marathon afterwards. And the runners who were in the test group were able to reduce their inflammatory markers, so that’s just your inflammation, but it was a blood test, by 47%. Their perceived muscle soreness was reduced by 34% and the runners that took the tart cherry were actually able to improve their baseline run times by 13% just because the tart cherries combat that oxidative stress, they help athletes recover quicker, and kind of keep the recovery going over that ten day period so they were more primed to perform.
Cam: So this is a real recovery product.
Alfred: This is an incredible recovery product.
Cam: It’s not just ‘drink some protein after you work out,’ this is like okay, you’re not going to be hurting as much and therefore you’ll be able to do what you really want to do the next day or even within a couple hours.
Alice: That’s incredible.
Alfred: Yeah, it’s pretty amazing because the thing that’s so amazing about it is when you think of recovery, I mean it’s helping people recover, but it’s also helping their performance at the same time which we hadn’t really thought was possible beforehand.
Cam: It’s like even if we knew… like obviously you should be well-rested, but it didn’t really click with us, like, what if all of the products that we were creating are about maximizing that rest and recovery period because if you do that, you’re going to be able to do everything else better anyway. And so why come up with something that you throw on top of something else. You’re just hurting yourself. ‘Take this and boost your performance,’ and so then you have compounding injuries and things happening. Let’s just make sure you’re always feeling good and that you’re operating at your maximum capacity. And you don’t have to worry about needing that extra boost, your body will be able to provide that, and you’ll be able to accomplish it because of that.
Alfred: The other super, incredible thing about tart cherries, and this kind of goes against everything you see in the medical industry or the supplement industry, is that tart cherries are none-chronic, so like Cam was talking about earlier, like popping ibuprofens, we know people do that, and I don’t want to make it too profound, but in life nowadays, we have this proclivity to say, like, you need to be taking this all the time, and that extends to… I mean I’m from Cape Cod, like you see it with the opioid crisis, like it’s crazy that people are just taking things, not knowing, taking them consistently, becoming dependent and addicted to them. So the tart cherries are all-natural, but the other incredible part is that it’s something that’s non-chronic, which means that you don’t need to take it every single day for it to work for you, you can just take it when you feel like you need it. And it works within one to three hours. So it kind of can totally change that perception of how you take products, and I think that ultimately that’s a much safer, and more effective way, to be taking something. And it’s absolutely still mind boggling to me to this day that it’s just something that exists in nature. And just to be able to bring that to market… and at our locations, there’s either locations that never carried tart cherry before we were there, that’s the bulk of them, or the ones that do carry tart cherry, we pretty much outsell their entire segment, so to be able to see the fact that like not only are we bringing tart cherry to people who had no idea about it before, but we’re also kind of bringing it to a wider audience at the places that have had it in the past. It’s really incredible because we walk into places and it’s incredible because we know how many people we’re helping.
Cam: People are like, ‘the cherry boys!’ (laughs). I don’t know if that’s what we want to be known for for the rest of our lives, but right now it’s working pretty well.
Alfred: We might get some cherry tattoos.
Cam: We found that Cambridge Naturals actually had a really great card, I think it was a birthday card, and it was just like two cherries on the front and said like, ‘I’m glad we’re in this together.’ So we had to buy that card, obviously.
Alice: You gotta frame it. Put it next to your awesome graffiti artwork.
Alfred: So hopefully that sheds some light on why tart cherry. Really, I mean, when we go back nowadays, we created something that was innovative and brought it to market, and there are so many supplement companies that get lost in the haze because they’d focus on something that everybody else makes. And so if we were to have started with our protein powder, I don’t think it ever would have reached the audience that it’s reached now, because we started with something, and again this comes back to our learning here, we started with something new, something that wasn’t familiar, and we went after this niche that really, they needed this product, they were demanding this product, and that’s kind of opened the doors to us. And so we’ll always look back and tart cherry will always be our baby. We’ll always look back on it super fondly.
Cam: It was harder for us, we made our work harder for us. Let’s try and penetrate a market where people aren’t necessarily open to taking things, and let’s use something that they’ve never heard of, and let’s convince them that it works. And we figured if we can do that, then anything else that follows, we can also do. So it was a good extra first few steps. But the flood gates are open now.
Alfred: And we’re just excited for the road ahead.
Alice: So what is your mission? What is it that Vital fit is working toward? Why are you doing this?
Alfred: That’s a big question! Ultimately, I think what it comes down to is solving a pain point. That’s what we learned in school, and I don’t even think you necessarily need to learn it to just know it intrinsically, where it’s like, you can see something and realize ‘hey, that’s not right’ or ‘hey, this can be done better.’ And I think anyone, not just us… it just takes people who wanna inspire that change, so we looked at the supplement industry and the way it was operating. And I mean, at the time we were at school it was, literally, people were dying because of the pre-workout people were taking, that’s not an exaggeration. People had no idea what they were putting in their body, there were all sorts of products that were getting people to test positive for drug tests, and they just had no idea, and what it comes down to is the fact that the FDA doesn’t regulate the supplement industry, and that’s why you see the proprietary blends, there’s no real checking on anything until somethings really gone wrong, and so we just looked at that and said this needs to stop, this isn’t right, and the places that people are going for their health, they should be going to other places, and we just talked over the six months we spent, and thought ‘how do we think the industry should operate? what would we want to see as consumers?’ And we just set out, two kids who had no experience at it, and had no product expertise at all, just kind of this vision of what we thought health and wellness, and what supplements, should look like. And that’s the mission, it’s to bring that to the larger audience and we’re already seen that. We started in New England, we started with these awesome partners that educate and we’ve grown that to a larger scale now. We actually just launched with a partner named The Feed out in Colorado. They bring the best, most innovative products to athletes nationwide. And we’ve been lucky enough to partner with them. They named our Tart Cherry the best new anti-inflammatory product in 2017, which was a real honor and it was really spectacular, but I think what it comes down to is just continuing to bring better products to the people that are looking for them, and kind of changing the way people approach their wellness, that’s our end goal, really.
Cam: But really, I think this comes down to changing the process in which supplements are developed, and you know, what that process looks like, and that it’s not a one-sided, ‘here’s where athletes are looking for something, here’s our science background, let’s push it on them.’ It’s changing that process. Let’s invite everyone into the design process so it’s transparent from the very beginning, not just saying ‘here’s where we make it and here’s where we get our ingredients from,’ but you know ‘please come and join us on our endeavor to make a new and better product.’ It’s not only something that you’re comfortable with, you know, it’s something that you’ve made yourself, and then beyond that it’s also putting these products in places where we think you should go. And I think that’s been a big thing for us from the start in terms of picking our partners. I want you to go to Cambridge Naturals whether or not you’re interested in buying my product. I want you to go there because I think the experience is incredibly valuable, and you’re going to have a really informed person telling you, teaching you about health and wellness, so it’s the combination of the two, it’s changing that process, it’s changing where you go, because we do think there’s a lot of issues with where the information’s coming from, where people are currently going for their health and wellness needs, so it’s finding those two big things, bringing them both together, and helping people that way, to have that picture of a safer, kind of more genuine health and wellness experience.
Shop Vital Fit at Cambridge Naturals or try their protein powder in a shake at Cocobeet. Visit www.vitalfitnutrition.com for more information about their products.
Alice Kathryn Richardson is a new media photojournalist and creator of The Clean Food Club. She previously spent two years working on Deserts in the District, a series of short-form documentaries exploring food access and hunger in Washington, DC. She is committed to supporting local and sustainable food businesses by telling their stories with photo and video. Follow her on Twitter @AKR_Pictures.