Gummy startup offers sweet alternatives to pills and tablets

· The Pulse

If you've ever let bottles of vitamins languish in your medicine cabinet, you've probably switched to gummies — an Edmonton startup is banking on it.

Gummy Nutrition Lab is Alberta's very first manufacturer of nutraceutical gummies (not to be mistaken for cannabis gummies), which now dominate health supplement sales worldwide. Founded in 2019 by food scientist Jolene Ali, the Edmonton company joins a burgeoning global industry worth billions (US$6.4 billion in 2021, by one estimate).

The reason for the surge in gummy popularity boils down to taste, Ali told Taproot. While people often dislike the taste of chewable tablets or the feeling of swallowing pills, they gobble gummy vitamins like candy. "People like to take gummies, so they take them more often," said Ali. So rather than losing a bottle at the back of a cabinet, a consumer is more likely to finish their gummy vitamins and run to the store for more.

The demand for gummy nutraceuticals — not just vitamins, but health supplements like omega-3, probiotics, and melatonin, among others — has been growing rapidly in the past decade, but especially during the pandemic, when many of us scrambled to boost our immune systems with vitamins. But Ali first became aware of the gummy trend 15 years ago when she was manufacturing her own line of tablet-based prenatal and pregnancy supplements, which she sold across Canada and at her Edmonton-area Sweet Momma pregnancy spas (a business she sold in 2013).

However, it wasn't just market growth that motivated her to launch Gummy Nutrition Lab in 2019. As a food scientist, she knew that Alberta's dry climate made it the ideal place to manufacture gummy products. In more humid places, gummy manufacturers need to run dehumidifiers constantly to ensure gummies are able to dry after they've been cooked.

On top of this, Ali knew she'd have good access to raw ingredients, like the pea fibre that forms the base of every gummy. "It acts very similar to corn syrup in candies as it provides a nice softness and has a low calorie density, so we can make a very delicious low-sugar gummy," she said.

Jolene Ali in a lab coat, with a piece of stainless steel machinery behind her, beside two closeups of gelatinous cubes

Gummy Nutrition Lab Jolene Ali has secured an industrial space in west Edmonton and the necessary Health Canada clearance to produce gummy vitamins and other nutraceuticals. (Supplied)

Like so many startups, Gummy Nutrition Lab was delayed by COVID-19, but Ali has made huge gains over the past year. In recent months, she's been able to secure a 2,000-square-foot industrial space in west Edmonton, acquire specialized manufacturing equipment, and receive licensing from Health Canada. She has also hired two food technologists to assist in the company's operations, thanks to support from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP).

In the next month, the company will begin sending its first few products to market, including a line of gummy vitamins, as well as a weight-loss product that tastes like strawberries and cream, and a fibre supplement that is taken before bed. Gummy Nutrition Lab products will be sold via the company's website, Amazon, and select local retailers.

In addition to manufacturing its own products, Gummy Nutrition Lab will also offer its services to other companies. Since Canadian gummy manufacturers are scarce and require large minimum batch sizes, Ali figures her company's manufacturing services will be in demand by smaller enterprises.

"What's been really amazing is that almost every single day since we've started, we've gotten requests for manufacturing," she said. "There's such a lack of manufacturing for natural health products in gummy form in Canada right now."

That collaborative piece is particularly interesting because it can give rise to so much more, Gail Powley of Technology Alberta told Taproot's Bloom podcast, noting that Gummy Nutrition Lab won the People's Choice Award at the Innovation Gallery and Company Showcase at the ASTech Awards in November 2022.

"Jolene is building a manufacturing facility here in Edmonton, which is already cool," Powley said. "Also, her master's degree was all about industry clusters, and how if you set up several companies that have similar interests ... (you) can really grow a sector. So that's the sort of mindset she has in mind."