Prenatal dietary supplements are recommended for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive, however, during pregnancy common problems such as nausea, reflux and even food aversions can make swallowing a large, unappetizing pill a challenge.
To offer a more palatable and convenient solution for expectant moms, Erica Huss and Zoë Sakoutis, the co-founders of ERZO Functional Foods, developed vitamin-fortified, whole grain cereal biscuits intended to be consumed daily.
The concept behind ERZO was born out of necessity during Ms. Sakoutis’ own pregnancy, she explained. “Having to take a fist full of pills every day while trying to conceive, throughout pregnancy and post pregnancy (a total of about two years) was extremely challenging. Having to take pills that make you nauseous while you’re already nauseous with morning sickness just adds insult to injury. So we found a way to pack all of your prenatal vitamins into a delicious breakfast biscuit.”
The ERZO Vitamin Biscuits are non-GMO, made with organic grains and no artificial sweeteners, and contain 200 calories or less per serving. The biscuits are a “good source” of fiber, and provide comparable nutritional values to other prenatal pills or gummies on the market. Its ingredients are Generally Recognized As Safe and manufactured in a GMP-certified facility.
Ms. Sakoutis’ search for information on staying healthy during her own pregnancy was also a key inspiration for the product. Citing books such as The Prenatal Prescription, by Peter Nathanielsz, MD, PhD; Nutrition in the Womb, by Dr. David Barker, MD, PhD, FRS; and Origins, by Annie Murphy Paul; she found a new understanding of the connection between nutrition in the womb and adult chronic disease. “I read these books over and over again during the course of my pregnancy,” said Ms. Sakoutis, “and just couldn’t believe that there wasn’t more awareness around this subject and the potential consequences of not taking prenatal vitamins.”
When experimenting with how ERZO would deliver these essential nutrients to mother and child, the company’s co-founders said they were shocked by the lack of innovation in the prenatal category. “We’ve seen some products in the form of powders or cookies but they all tend to be supplemental, not actual alternatives to a complete vitamin. There are gummies now, which we are not huge fans of because it’s borderline candy, and I personally couldn’t stomach eating six gummies for breakfast every day while pregnant,” commented Ms. Sakoutis. “It just didn’t feel like nourishment.”
Again, the conundrum of pregnancy nausea was a huge consideration. “Vitamins often make people nauseous (not just pregnant women) and we wanted to address that in the form of a food. In terms of routine, we tend to take vitamins in the morning so creating a breakfast food was important. We also wanted it to be neutral enough in taste and texture that it would help to curb any nausea, not add to it.”
Leverage the recent tremendous spike in the breakfast biscuit category, approaching ERZO’s product development from a functional food standpoint seems timely. For example, belVita Breakfast Biscuits from Mondelez International launched in the U.S. in 2012, and took 1.8% share of the cookie category (or $66 million). Sales grew to nearly $100 million by 2013.
“We found that people often forget to take vitamins but rarely forget to eat,” said Ms. Sakoutis. “The fact that something as important as a prenatal vitamin is so difficult to swallow and easy to forget is a real issue we wanted to address. So we just made the most important meal of the day even more important!”
Since its target audience is especially precious, ERZO takes great caution to assure efficacy and quality with its product. Discussing its production process, Ms. Sakoutis noted the company’s vitamin formulation undergoes more than 45 physical and chemical tests by validated analytical procedures prior to being released. “Specifically, we insist on analytical data supported by Certificate of Analysis, the only way to guarantee the end product meets proper specifications,” she said. “So everything is third-party lab tested to make sure that what’s on the label is exactly what’s in the product.”
One of the key goals of the company is to support the health of mothers and children around the globe. With that in mind, ERZO partnered with Vitamin Angels, and with each purchase of ERZO Vitamin Biscuits, the non-profit organization donates prenatal vitamins to a woman in need.
“This is something we are very passionate about,” said Ms. Sakoutis. “Vitamin Angels is an amazing organization that provides vitamins to those who need it most—not just overseas, but here in the U.S. as well. Now that we know what we know, we feel it’s our mission to raise awareness around the subject of maternal health and make sure that we understand this is an issue that affects us all, as a society. Healthy babies turn into healthy adults and healthy adults have healthy babies.”