At present, the firm’s portfolio largely comprises clean energy bars, which use upcycled coffee fruit and are based on energy provision for different times of the day when consumers need it most, i.e. the 9am (Lemon Coconut and Coffee Fruit), the 3pm (Cocoa Almond Butter and Coffee Fruit) and the Pick-Me-Up (Espresso Tahini and Coffee Fruit).
When we first spoke to the firm back in late 2020, Co-Founders Vanessa Murillo and Lachlan Powell had just developed and launched their first products – A bit more than a year on, I Am Grounded’s clean energy bars are now ranged nationally with various well-known distributors such as Go Vita and HealthyLife, in independent supermarkets such as IGA, and have found a steady clientele in offices and workplaces as well.
The next obvious step for the firm is to enter mainstream supermarkets, and indeed that is the next step in the works for them, according to Murillo.
“We have just commenced in the Seedlab Australia's Cultivate Cohort, a Woolworths-supported incubator designed to get us Big Box retailer ready so we’re now preparing for exciting retail opportunities to help us grow more sustainably,” she told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“One of our upcoming plans is in new product development to expand our portfolio by developing more upcycled clean energy snacks – one of these new products is our Crunchy Clusters – these will come in Banana and Coconut and a Plant-based Choc Protein, containing 71mg of natural caffeine in the 120g bag which is about 17mg per portion making them lightly caffeinated.
“We will also be developing more better-for-you energy products and innovating to release a number of new products over the next year.”
Just as with many other companies, the firm was also affected by the COVID-19 pandemic particularly in terms of its workplace supply contracts due to many Australian consumers having to work from home as a result of lockdown restrictions, but this in turn drove its direct business to new heights.
“[The major COVID-19 impact for us] was due to our store partners closing due to lockdowns here in Australia - however we also saw our direct-to-consumer e-commerce orders through our website increase, as customers turned online to get their snacks,” said Murillo.
Powell added that as yet it is hard to say what sorts of snacking formats are most popular amongst consumers seeking out products that are both upcycled as well as able to provide a clean energy boost, but that the snacking category as a whole is seeing higher demand for options which are both better-for-you and sustainable.
“In Australia, it’s too early to tell [what products or trends are the hottest in this space] but the better-for you snack category is [growing and also] shifting in favour of more sustainably-minded brands,” he said.
“Because of this, you will see the merge of brands using the upcycled mission alongside functional, gut health, nootropic ingredients and more.”
The clean energy proposition
Although the firm already has a very attractive proposition for sustainably-minded consumers due to its use of upcycled coffee fruit as a base ingredient, the team opted to take this proposition a step further by not only focusing on the provision of energy as a selling factor, but to make this clean energy as a whole to up the health and nutritional value.
“In traditional coffee processing, only about 10-20% of the overall coffee fruit is used and the rest is discarded. [What we do] is take the otherwise discarded coffee fruit from a value-ending lifecycle on the coffee farm and give it new life in the form of our energy snacks – [that’s] the upcycling value,” said Powell.
“Also, our coffee fruit processing is unique in that it uses the pulp and mucilage of the fruit rather than just the skin - This is obtained during the harvesting/picking of the coffee cherries, and the finished stable upcycled ingredient is then used as a key part of our plant-based natural energy bars –the goal of this process is to ensure as much of the valuable antioxidants and plant micronutrients as possible are present in the snacks – [this is] the health and nutrition value.
“In addition, we also work with a contract manufacturer here in Australia who aligns with our sustainability mission so that our energy bars are produced via as clean a process as possible, [which] then allows for consumers to get the clean energy they need to get through the day.”
All three value areas are advantageous for the firm as consumer demand is on the rise for all of these. Apart from the obvious demand for upcycling due to sustainability concerns, and better health and nutrition due to health concerns, clean energy is also very much in demand in Australia in tandem with the latter, with the general energy drinks market having grown almost 6% in the five years between 2015 and 2020 to hit A$1.4bn (US$1.03bn) and expected to grow even further in the coming years.