Not every growing brand can have a founding team that includes one of the biggest health and wellness influencers and a top supplements formulator. But brands can all take note of some of the key factors that have catapulted Ancient Nutrition, a rapidly growing wellness brand by Jordan Rubin and Josh Axe, in its first two years of business.
Rubin, who founded Garden of Life and wrote a book called The Maker’s Diet (2004, Siloam), was nursing a knee injury in early 2016 and drinking “copious amounts” of bone broth to help his joints. He was also working with Josh Axe, a clinical nutritionist, doctor of natural medicine and creator of draxe.com, on some collagen formulations, one of which included a dried bone broth component as a source of type 2 collagen.
Rubin discovered that the dried powder was a convenient solution to meet his bone broth needs while he was on the road, and an analysis of the product found it to be 90 percent protein and loaded with chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine sulfate and hyaluronic acid—all compounds associated with healthy joint function.
“I saw almost like a billboard in my mind that said, ‘bone broth protein,’” Rubin said. “I felt like this would be the protein powder that would work from the inside out, would support your skeletal system, your hair, skin and nails.”
So Rubin and Axe went for it. Within six months, they had a product on the market—a line of bone broth-based protein powders in sweet and savory flavors. By the end of their first calendar year in business, according to Rubin, they had three SKUs in the top 20 in protein in the natural channel. Then came pills, collagen powders and protein bars.
“This was a perfect storm in that bone broth has been boiling up interest-wise, and I think we picked the perfect timing,” Rubin said. “But truly, the magic of the Bone Broth Protein launch—the name, the positioning, the way we launched—was this partnership between my company and Josh’s at the time.”
Their teams fully joined forces in 2017 and took on a $103 million investment in March of this year through a partnership with VMG Partners, Hillhouse Capital and more than 100 industry leaders and influencers.
Here are five factors giving Ancient Nutrition momentum.
A unique value proposition. Bone Broth Protein isn’t just collagen, and it’s not just protein, Rubin said—“it’s a dried, real food that brings the function to a category that I think has been very pigeonholed into muscle-building.” While most collagen protein is type 1 or 3, Ancient Nutrition’s is type 2, which is found in broth of poultry, and has those beneficial glycosaminoglycans.
An intersection of growing categories. The protein and collagen categories are both booming—collagen supplements were up 30 percent in 2017 to $98 million, while sports nutrition powders totaled $5 billion in sales last year. “The name Bone Broth Protein, we admit, is a great category to be in—it’s a great name and it’s absolutely contributed to the sales of the product, because people are looking for protein and they’re looking for bone broth—and two is better than one,” Rubin said. “But it you look at what is in here—it perfectly fits in the protein category. It simply, in our opinion, redefines it and makes protein functional.”
A powerful multi-channel marketing strategy. While Rubin had the connections and ability to reach retailers, Axe had the ability to reach the customer. Over the last several years, he's been rapidly growing draxe.com, a consumer-facing resource for health tips and articles related to nutrition and natural remedies. For Ancient Nutrition, it’s proven to be the right mix of content, education and digital marketing.
When Bone Broth Protein launched, Facebook Live had just started. Axe got on his Facebook page, which today has more than 2.7 million followers, and did a Live event explaining what Bone Broth Protein is. “We had people all over the country going into their health food stores and asking for Bone Broth Protein,” Axe said. “We see a much greater lift on an Instagram post or a Facebook Live than we do [when I appear] on Dr. Oz. Social media really is where it’s at, and it is driving so much demand in stores.”
An experiential product. Rubin notes that the protein powder is versatile and can be used in many different ways. For example, some customers add it to the water they cook quinoa in and end up infusing those grains with 20 grams of protein. Ancient Nutrition also works with retail partners to create content for them to distribute alongside the products, like how-to guides for the keto diet and a collagen cook book.
A clear path for growth. Going forward, Rubin and Axe see their brand as more than protein—they want it to be an iconic global wellness brand. “Bone broth protein was our entrant into the space," Rubin said. "It blazed a trail for us to build a more complete product line and a set of standards around Ancient Nutrition."
Next steps include expanding the protein product plus its keto, collagen, organic essential oils and fermented herb products to other use occasions and dosage formats, and growing distribution into new geographic areas. They also include taking on other supplement categories. “I think we’re going to be able to innovate in what I would call the foundational categories of probiotics, multivitamins, etc., in the same vein that we have over the years with our previous organizations,” Rubin said.
He also hinted that he believes collaboration is a part of the company's future. “Don’t be surprised if you see Ancient Nutrition teaming up with some of the top current and former founders of the industry,” Rubin said, “because it really is time to do that.”