BÖ: We have an R&D company called Aventure based in Sweden where we do a lot of extensive food research and try to develop products that have documented health benefits, clinically proven health benefits, primarily in the field of the metabolic syndrome. The way to prove that they are functional, obviously, is to submit them to clinical trials. For us to submit any product that we have developed to clinical trial, the only logical reason to do that would be if you also have some kind of patent on the technology behind the product, so our philosophy since 2008 is to develop patentable and patented technology that develops all-natural, minimally processed food products with documented health benefits.
The team behind Aventure developed Oatly, the world’s first and foremost oat milk product, for example, which was patented by my brother back in 1994 or ’95. And in working with oats and oat milk, you study the metabolic syndrome and notably their ability to reduce cholesterol; but there are other really exciting health properties in oats and oat fibre and that research around the oat components has been driving all the work around Aventure for us. Of course, in a scientific environment when you’re looking at solutions to problems, you may come up with ideas that are not necessarily tied to your original thoughts, so for example when Good Idea came about, there’s no oat component at all in there, but we could really benefit from all our research and knowledge and the insights into metabolic syndrome issues. For us, when Doctor Elin and her professor first approached us, it was pretty easy to decide to work with them on launching this product, which we felt had tremendous potential, because unfortunately the need for a product like this is so pervasive and on a global scale. In some sense, two minds met and harmony and music started playing, and that led us to Good Idea!
How do you pin down the aim for a product like Good Idea: is it for people with diabetes, or is it more general than that?
EÖ: The target for using the product – it could of course be many, but we have done all the basic research in healthy people – normal to overweight – so my philosophy has always been to try to prevent lifestyle-related disease like metabolic syndrome and diabetes-obesity and all that. That’s really where we come from and what we have studied so far. But of course there are lot of people with diabetes very interested in the product, they are very aware of having to regulate their glycaemia and they’re looking for all tools they can find to do this in a better way. We get anecdotal evidence from these groups that they see improvements in their blood sugar regulation when they use the product, so in that sense we are beginning to learn more about the potential of the product – and we also have a very early pilot study with type-I diabetes where we also got some inputs from several type-I diabetes patients, and they seem to be helped by Good Idea. That’s really the goal going forward: to expand our line of research to look at these groups as well.
How fine is the line between what you can and can’t claim with a product like this?
BÖ: It is a fine line and it’s a line that has to be balanced very carefully of course. As a food or a dietary supplement, we can’t communicate anything about detecting or curing or relieving symptoms of disease or anything of that nature, which is challenging when you know that you may have a product that works for some conditions, but we can’t effectively talk about that [to consumers]. There are things we can say, and we’ve spent a lot of time studying the regulatory framework obviously, trying to avoid any pitfalls and unnecessary mistakes that are otherwise easy to make. We also struggle with coming in with a functional product to a market which, unfortunately, a lot of consumers are pretty ticked off I think by suppliers that overpromise and under-deliver, and there seems to be a lot of them out there and a lot of companies make claims all over the map that we just don’t understand how the regulatory framework can allow them. They probably wouldn’t pass. But they’re out there, so there’s a lot of distortions and the poor consumer has not an easy choice to make. I think for us to able to communicate to these groups, where we could potentially help, has to be through doctors and healthcare professionals quite simply. They can make those recommendations and give that kind of advice to their patients based on their own appreciation or understanding of whatever product they recommend. We find that’s a very important influencer group for us to work with, and they understand the benefits we deliver and they see the need for it and they see the benefit in their patients, so I think there’s a broad community out there that is quite willing and ready to talk about these benefits to an audience we can’t communicate to directly ourselves.
People tend to see the US as a lighter touch when it comes to regulation. Will it get more complicated for you as the brand grows and expands?
BÖ: We are a Swedish product originally, the invention was made at the University of Lund. We have not yet launched in Europe but we are launching in the US. Now, does that mean that the regulatory framework is ‘easier’ or ‘more relaxed’ here? I’m not so sure about that. I think when you look at the European framework and the US framework, you could argue that the burdens of proof are pretty equal; we have to submit clinical data to prove [what we say] if we are challenged in court here in the US. The difference is that in Europe I have to do it upfront, and I have to get a seal of approval from an authority – the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) – and that’s an ordeal to go through that process. It costs money, it takes time, but the benefits of course once I’ve gone through that gauntlet and I get my seal of approval stamped on my forehead, I’m ready to go onto the market and do whatever within that approval framework. In the US, I can read up on the regulatory framework online: the FDA actually says that, if you feel that you comply Mr Supplier, go ahead. Knock yourself out. Have a good day.