Jack Schrupp started a whole-foods-based diet protein powder company from his kitchen, somewhat by accident. Last year he had over $2 million in sales.
As a teacher, with an affinity for athletics, particularly skiing, Schrupp had always been interested in his diet and health. But when he started reading the ingredient lists on protein powders, he was disappointed to see that they were made with preservatives, stabilizers, and cheap ingredients that weren’t healthy for this gut.
“I don’t have chronic intestinal problems, but if I took a protein shake, I just didn’t feel well afterwards. I’ve tried both vegan and non-vegan options… and still got a stomach ache or felt very bloated,” he says from his home in New England. So he started making his own experimental batches in his kitchen.
“I admit, they didn’t taste the best at first, but they worked, and they were a few simple ingredients that I literally ground myself.”
In 2020, Schrupp started Drink healthy, who sells his protein powder mixes online while still holding a full-time job as a boarding school teacher. Still, the pandemic changed things for him; he could no longer do the in-person tastings he planned to bring attention to the company. “I thought I would go to sporting events and races and hand out monsters. But that was not easy.”
So he focused on digital, mainly his website. While sales were slow at first, within a few months the healthy ingredients caught the attention of customers looking for gut-friendly options that were easier to digest. As word began to spread that his brews were lighter on the system, and thus a better option for those warring circumstances that limited their food options, he saw a surge in sales. “At that point I was just selling to family and friends and then I started getting orders from strangers and it sounds weird, but that was the best part. People who didn’t know me bought it.”
Schrupp began to expand its inventory and used the cash flow from sales to buy more ingredients, expand its production and eventually introduce new products – meal replacement drinks, in addition to protein powders, helping a similar group of consumers looking for a supplement their diet with an easily digestible formula.
With a focus on clean, simple ingredients, Schrupp sources many of the essentials from U.S. suppliers and growers: oats, almonds, eggs, peanuts, and chickpeas. And he has opted for real food, not natural flavourings. So there are real vanilla pods in his mixes. “It’s insanely expensive, but you can’t match that taste,” he says.
All of the ingredients, which rarely exceed 5, are listed in large bold letters on the front of the bag. It’s a marked departure from the typical ingredient list on the back. When asked why other brands haven’t taken this approach, Schrupp says, “It’s expensive. Mine is definitely a more premium product.
Using cheaper fillers and core ingredients, such as pea protein or whey, can help lower costs, he says. But that is often precisely the reason why some people cannot tolerate protein shakes.
“Let’s be real. You should be getting most of your nutrients from real foods, not supplements. But if you need more protein in your diet, or a convenient way to get it, you should use a protein powder mix. Not the other way around,’ he notes.
Schrupp’s growth has come with its usual challenges: with skyrocketing egg prices this year, it saw its costs triple overnight. Or when shipping costs skyrocketed during the pandemic, he had to be a little more careful about where to source international ingredients. But he weathered the storm. In fact, it had just over $20,000 in sales in 2020 when it launched; but in 2022 it’s now over $2 million.
The time has come that this year Schrupp will have to give up his day job and focus solely on the business. “I will be the first full-time employee on the books,” he says with a laugh. So far he has built the company with several contractors. Its products are packaged by a factory that also partners with a New England-based granola company. He hires individuals for specific tasks. It’s an old-fashioned approach of building the business from the ground up, and based on sales, rather than flooding it with investments.
In addition to selling protein powder mixes, he opens up the dialogue about nutrition, even in the athletic circles in which he works and plays. “Many athletes know that protein is good for you, but they don’t think about the source of that protein. In today’s world of highly processed foods, it’s not just about getting good fats and proteins, it’s about which ones you consume on a daily basis. Think about it, if you take that supplement or protein shake every day, you’re putting more and more of those preservatives in your gut. That’s not good over a long period of time,’ he explains.
“Keep it real, food.” he says empathetically.