Why FRISKA Thinks Gut Health Is The Next Big Wellness Trend

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This is a podcast episode titled, Why FRISKA Thinks Gut Health Is The Next Big Wellness Trend. The summary for this episode is: In his 15 years at Target, John Peine met with hundreds of brands looking to get on their retail shelves. And while marketing and package design could help you stand out momentarily, the brands that sold the best, were the ones where the product just plain worked. This lesson is at the heart of FRISKA, the new supplement company John recently started aimed at achieving better overall health through improved gut health. We sat down to talk about his journey starting the brand and why he thinks digestive enzymes and gut health are the next major trend in wellness.

John Peine: The iPhone would not be the iPhone if it didn't have great design, and there's no reason why that can't translate into consumer products as well.

Dave Knox: I'm your host, Dave Knox, and this is Predicting the Turn, a show that helps business leaders meet their industry's inevitable disruption head on. Welcome to another episode of Predicting the Turn. Today, we sit down with John Peine, the Founder of FRISKA, a new brand in the CPG world that's going to be awesome to learn about. John, welcome to the show.

John Peine: Thanks Dave, I appreciate you having me on.

Dave Knox: I want to get straight into talking about Frisco. As a new brand it's one that people might not be very familiar with yet, but that's soon going to change. Can you tell us a little bit about FRISKA and how you got started?

John Peine: Yeah, thanks for having me on. It is a new brand, and FRISKA was founded first and foremost by my belief that supplements as they continue to increase in popularity should be founded on the principle of they have to work. And as a retail executive at Target for 15 years, you see a lot of great products come and the one consistent through line is the products that worked are the products that sold the best. And we wanted to have a great connection with today's consumer that is increasingly focused on proactive wellness. And our belief at FRISKA is that if you want better wellness, there's no better place to start than in gut health. Better gut health equals better overall health. Getting that at the forefront and making it easy for consumers to understand was really critically important to what we did at the launch of the brand. And as you mentioned, it is unique in today's environment of trying to launch a brand with a number of extenuating circumstances, not the least of which being the global pandemic of COVID. Retailer traffic has changed which has had us pivot our strategy a little bit and really hit that social media hard. And then once we get better traction on that we'll continue targeting and increasing that voice to the consumer.

Dave Knox: There's a lot of interesting stuff that I want to double click on, but let's start with the one mentioned that you said you spent 15 years at Target. What's it been like making the leap from being on the retailer side to be on the CPG brand side?

John Peine: It's been really, I'd say pure oxygen. The pace has been considerably different, but working in that retailer set, innovation is really core to what Target was all about and that was what was of most interest to me. And ultimately what ended up making me take the leap was that desire to want to be able to innovate, move quickly, capitalize on on the trends of today's consumer and what they want out of their wellness journey. There's a little bit more similarity than might be at face value of, at the end of the day, the retailers want things to be easy for their consumers. And at FRISKA one of our core tenets is to try to make things easy for our consumer, of making it very understandable for how they can approach the products and how the FRISKA supplements will fit into their daily prototype. Similar to the way that retail consumers are changing with things like click and collect, trying to make it easier, we also wanted to make it easier, so there are probably more similarities than might be at face value and taking that insight of ease and simplicity was core to the first 10 products that we launched at fresco being all condition- specific. Nightly Reboot, you can see that and understand right away that it's going to help you get a better night's sleep and it's going to help you restore your gut health overnight. Women's and Men's Daily are things that can easily be understood. These are products for women and these are products for men and I take them on a daily basis with the food that I eat to get more out of what it is that I'm eating via the digestive enzymes in each product.

Dave Knox: As you launched this business you had to go and formulate these great 10 different skews in the lineups. What did that process look like of going out and figuring out the formulation in how to build each of those 10 products?

John Peine: Yeah, the journey for me really started with a personal issue that I had from a medical condition standpoint, where there was an issue that I had where my body wasn't producing digestive enzymes in the way that it should. And that started me down a rabbit hole of trying to understand the role of enzymes and what they do. While many people might be very familiar with probiotics and vitamins, certainly vitamins, digestive enzymes are more unknown. And to put it short, they help your body break down the food that you eat and turn that food into bioavailable energy. I underwent some personal research and then canvassed the formulator and manufacturing landscape and met up with a PhD in the space that helped really round out the formulations. And each of the enzymes contain what we call the FRISKA proprietary blend, that is P- A- L. P is for protease, it helps you hydrolyze and metabolize the proteins that you eat. A is for amylase and amylase goes after carbohydrates. And then L is for lipase, which helps hydrolyze and metabolize fats. Largely the food that we eat consists of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, and what FRISKA does is help your body break those things down and turn them into bioavailable energy. We started with that. The second core tenant of three was that clinically proven probiotic. Again, going back to what I said at the top, we were all about generating products that worked at FRISKA. We weren't willing to take any commoditized probiotic strains, we went after a clinically- proven form of probiotic that we knew our consumer would be able to feel. And then as kind of the third tenant that cherry on top, we went after those conditions- specific vitamins to ensure that not only were we giving great gut health, which helps overall health in each of the formulations, but had an additional botanical lens on that as well. Immunity Boost for instance, has that great gut health formula, but then is complemented by echinacea, elderberry, vitamin C and zinc, which is obviously very top of mind for today's consumer. And we anticipate that Immunity Boost will be one of our top sellers.

Dave Knox: When you look at that, the concept of gut health is one that's really been gaining a lot of steam over the last few years. How do you expect people to engage with the current lineup of products, both that first product, but then just the multiple lineups throughout the day?

John Peine: I think the understanding of gut health has really been an avalanche of consumer awareness of the role of gut health. Couple that with the fact that people aren't sleeping well, people are stressed out immune health being top of mind. And I should call out with that, that depending on the research that you look at about 70 to 80% of the immune cells in your body reside in your gut. We wanted to start with that fact and then hit those other needs states of," I want to sleep better." So for Nightly Reboot we helped with some botanical sleep aids. Energy Boost, people want to have more energy. We didn't want to give them the refined caffeine that they're used to we instead went after organic- sourced, pure organic caffeine from green coffee extract, and then really helping the gut health element is the cherry on top. But in many times the gut health aisle can be very clinical, intimidating, hard to shop. I mean, there was this arms race of how many billion CFU can we fit into a probiotic capsule. Well, I mentioned, we have a clinically- proven probiotic that those clinical results are off of a dose of 1 billion CFU. And we really tried to pivot away from that notion of more CFU is better and make it approachable and empathetic and create a brand that people can really see as an extension of themselves, because we do feel that great design is important to having great products. And we knew he did a great job with the formulation so we wanted that to echo throughout the entire brand aesthetic.

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John Peine: It was interesting meeting with a number of brands and candidly helping a number of brands launch to the world. And it was something that, again, came back to a few core tenants. First and foremost, you have to have a great product and that was critically important as we've built FRISKA. And being a student of brand building over the last 15 years, it was all about getting those high quality ingredients and also finding a retail partner. So we launched FRISKA at both Whole Foods and CVS. CVS has a great program called Tested to Be Trusted or they have third party validation and verification of all the ingredients that you have. I think everybody's well aware of the, I call it the gauntlet of Whole Foods quality assurance program. We specifically went after those two retailers because with the high quality that we wanted, we wanted to get credit for that and we feel like shelf space at those two retailers really helps discuss that quality. Quality is critically important. Also mentioned earlier, it has to be easy. Instead of having that intimidating, confusing, scientific approach that you see in the gut health aisle, we wanted it to be a little bit easier and avoid the confusing jargon and industry lingo. We used that naming convention to help the consumer understand how to use it in their daily prototype. And then last, but certainly not least we had this great product. It was critically important for us to also get a distinctive design at shelf. To underscore the quality of the capsules we wanted to make sure they were housed in a glass bottle and not in a plastic bottle because glass bottles have that impermeable wall and really helps the consistency and quality of the product, but it could break, so we housed it in a protective recyclable paper tube. And we use that tube as the real estate to really convey the premium nature of the brand, to have that clear nomenclature of each item for the consumer to know how they can use it and for consumers to be able to see that brand as an extension of their personality. I like to say that the iPhone would not be the iPhone if it didn't have great design, and there's no reason why that can't translate in the consumer products as well.

Dave Knox: With that you mention your Whole Foods and CVS, it was important to launch with those retailers. When did you start approaching them in the journey? Between formulation and branding and packaging you had a ton of different moving parts, so where did you start the retailer engagement?

John Peine: Yeah, I mean, like I said it was like breathing pure oxygen of going from a Fortune 50 company, that even though they're very fast moving was still obviously slower than what I would like to do. I did a lot of heavy lifting throughout April and May of last year and really honed the pitch, worked with a number of people that were very willing to dedicate their time, the connections in the network that I established over time and started that pitch really in the July timeframe. And there was actually a trade show and a CVS total store expo which was in August of last year out in Boston, and that's where I had my first conversation with CVS. And again, we were still working with really early rough prototypes at that point, but was fortunate to meet with a retailer that saw the vision of the brand and also saw some of the same challenges that I did of, this is a confusing intimidating space and we're willing to make the leap to say," We think you're onto something here and we think that our consumer could benefit from how clear this is, how different it is at shelf." And have really invested in that the shelf space, because we do think it's going to be extremely incremental to the category. We aren't trying to take anyone's share, there's a lot of great products that are out there that I have a ton of respect for, but we feel like this can bring new users into the category and really help make the pie bigger.

Dave Knox: That's wonderful. You talked about the challenging times that we're living in as you launched this product. What's been the challenges and maybe the opportunities of launching the brand during a pandemic?

John Peine: Dave, I think the challenges are pretty obvious of retail traffic has been hit pretty well. You have stores that are closed across the country and you have stores that, like CVS and Whole Foods will likely weather the storm, but are doing so with much less foot traffic than they're used to. The overall foot traffic is certainly one component. Layer on top of that just the fact that shoppers are entering these stores with masks on, they're likely very specific in what they are trying to achieve. They have a list, they want to get in, get out and maintain their distance so they're not probably browsing for new items in the same way that they otherwise would have. We really have turned up the dial on our social media engagements trying to help drive that traffic and really educate as much as we can out of the store. Because as discerning as the FRISKA consumer is, it's a product that's new. Digestive enzymes don't have the household awareness of probiotics and even probiotics don't have the household awareness of something like a multivitamin. We're doing a lot to try to educate and try to cut through the clutter, which certainly is a challenge but one that we're up to. And then the second half of your question of what has been some upside, because of COVID and the impact that it has, I think people are more acutely aware now than ever of the importance of strong immunity and good proactive wellness habits. And like I said, all 10 of the initial FRISKA formulations have the ability to boost your immune system, that's a claim that we can make with the formulations that we have but then offer a little bit more than that. It can help people in multiple facets of their life achieve better health. We're hopeful that as we get out on shelf and as we continue to gain momentum that people understand, and again, this is a product you can feel work. You can take a multivitamin for 20 years and never really be able to tell whether or not it had an impact. Where the formulas that we have, particularly if you haven't been on enzymes or probiotics, you will feel them working. You might have a little rumble in your belly for the first seven to 10 days, but the energy's there, there's less bloating, less gas. Again, there might be some ramp up to that but you really start to feel the impact of how these are turning that food that you're eating into bioavailable energy and seeing the results.

Dave Knox: With all your background you have on the retail side and now on the brand side and the changes we're seeing coming from the pandemic, what do you think we're going to see in the world of retail and omni- channel over the next, not just six months but the coming years because of the changing consumer behaviors of today?

John Peine: It's interesting that you mentioned that Dave, because I was actually part of a retail forum out at Harvard called the Future of Commerce Initiative back in February. And this was literally on the eve of COVID really hitting the U. S. and it was a two day session about the future of retail and where will things be five years from now. And I have to admit that many people in the room were somewhat skeptical of will this really happen in five years? And I'm not sure if it can happen. And if you look at the impact that COVID has had, I think it's accelerated almost beyond that five years. We made five years of progress in terms of digital penetration and the importance of a strong digital footprint really in 10 weeks of, again, I'm looking at secondhand data at this point because I'm not plugged into the retail architecture the way I used to be. But everything that I can see is that digital adoption has absolutely gone through the roof in the last two and a half months and really has taken years off of the adoption curve. If there were any remaining naysayers of digital's not that important or it's not going to be here for long, clearly they've been proven wrong and I think the retailers and brands that will come out successful on the other side of this really do have a best in class strategy of click and collect, understanding the importance of connecting brick- and- mortar to a brand experience, to a brick- and- mortar presence. Because people don't care where they are getting their products as much as they used to, they know what they want and they want it now. And as a brand, it's important for us to have that great brick- and- mortar presence, but also have that great digital footprint because that's where people are increasingly being exposed to these new brands.

Dave Knox: Yeah. Talk a little bit more about that exposure to the new brands. Because one of the barriers for eCommerce historically has been, it's been a great buying tool but not a great shopping tool. And in retail we use that word shopping very specifically because it is about discovery and finding new things, et cetera. How do you think brands can really drive that behavior to get more shopping online, get more discovery and then be able to win in the the click and collect, et cetera?

John Peine: Yeah. I mean, from a direct standpoint there's a lot being stood up through the Facebook platform as well as Instagram, now have that built- in shop functionality for established companies that clearly helps bridge that gap. But having a really clear call to action of understanding where your consumer is, so again, our consumer isn't just the 2% wellness warriors, we really are a more approachable brand that can hit the next two or three tiers down of people that are health conscious or deciding to change health habits. And it's understanding where they are showing up. How do you get the right social media platforms? I think everyone right now is trying to figure out," How do we try to identify TikTok and utilize that platform," when the reality is TikTok is built to be organic and not be as corporate and try to figure out what those new nuggets are. Is it actually taking a part of your strategy and say," Hey, we want to have a platform that can help get our products in an organic way into the TikTok ecosystem?" Or understanding all of the new platforms that seem to be exponentially increasing as time goes on and being as adaptable and as flexible and quick as you can be to capitalize on those trends.

Dave Knox: Awesome. Well, it's been wonderful to learn a little bit more about the FRISKA journey. If somebody wants to learn more about you, what's the best way to go first off find about the product and then go buy the product?

John Peine: Yeah. I mean, like I said it is available nationwide at CVS and at Whole Foods and we also have direct to commerce off of our website, which is www. getfriska. com. That's G- E- T- F- R- I- S- K- A. com. And then I didn't mention this nugget that almost 60% of product searches in this category start on Amazon. We also have a great Amazon platform and are very excited to be partnering with Amazon. You can search FRISKA in the Amazon search bar, F- R- I- S- K- A, and it will take you right to our product listings.

Dave Knox: Awesome. Well, John, thank you again for sitting down and love what you're building with the brand.

John Peine: Thank you, David. It's been great and I appreciate the time.

Dave Knox: Thanks so much for listening. If you like the show hit that rating and make sure to subscribe so you don't miss a single episode. And for more resources, head over to predictingtheturn. com.


In his 15 years at Target, John Peine met with hundreds of brands looking to get on their retail shelves. And while marketing and package design could help you stand out momentarily, the brands that sold the best, were the ones where the product just plain worked. This lesson is at the heart of FRISKA, the new supplement company John recently started aimed at achieving better overall health through improved gut health. We sat down to talk about his journey starting the brand and why he thinks digestive enzymes and gut health are the next major trend in wellness.