Goodbelly protein shakes
GoodBelly is introducing a line of ready-to-drink protein shakes.

BOULDER, COLO. — Debuting from GoodBelly, a brand of probiotic juice beverages, is a line of ready-to-drink protein shakes in three varieties: tropical coconut, triple berry and green vegetable blend. The beverages contain 15 grams of plant-based protein and 40 billion live and active probiotic cultures, according to the company.

Alan Murray, Next Foods, Goodbelly
Alan Murray, c.e.o. of NextFoods, Inc.

“We wanted to stay vegan because that’s who we are, so that excluded whey protein right away,” said Alan Murray, chief executive officer of NextFoods, Inc., which markets the GoodBelly brand. “Plus we found if you use the traditional proteins such as whey and soy, you feel like you’re eating chalk, and we wanted to get a fairly smooth texture while providing a significant protein serving.”

GoodBelly Protein Shakes feature a blend of pea and chickpea protein.

“We thought if we could combine those two, we’d have a vegan protein without the grittiness and no off flavors,” Mr. Murray told Food Business News.

GoodBelly products are sold in more than 6,000 stores, including natural foods stores, grocery chains and mass retailers. The company was founded in 2006 by Steve Demos and Todd Beckman, two former executives of WhiteWave, Inc., the maker of the Silk soy milk brand.

“They felt that they dealt with heart health by launching soy products and wanted to figure what was going to be the next big growth area in terms of functional beverage,” Mr. Murray said. “They talked with medical experts and trend experts and decided that digestive health was going to be the next big thing.”

It was then Mr. Demos and Mr. Beckman learned of ProViva, a popular probiotic juice beverage in Sweden.

“When we looked at the per capita consumption in Sweden, we thought if we start getting anything like that per capita consumption, this is going to be a big thing in the U.S.,” Mr. Murray said. “And so we tied up the license agreements with the Swedish manufacturer and got all of these exclusivities in place so that the probiotics and the process of making it were licensed exclusively to us in the United States, and then we went about adapting the formulation to suit the American palate.”

ProViva Swedish probiotic juices
ProViva, a popular probiotic juice beverage in Sweden, inspired GoodBelly.

But formulating with probiotics is not easy, Mr. Murray said. The bacteria are highly sensitive and may not survive the simplest of recipe tweaks, he said.

“Finding that balance with the ingredients you want to use to get the flavor profile just right but keeping the probiotics happy is by far the most difficult thing,” Mr. Murray said. “And it’s really good that it’s difficult because we’re good at it and other people who try it find it extremely difficult. You can modify the percentage of one berry up by a tiny bit and suddenly all of the bugs will die.”

GoodBelly’s original line of probiotic juice beverages are packaged in multi-serve cartons and include such organic varieties as blueberry acai, pomegranate blackberry and cranberry watermelon. There’s also a gluten-free tropical orange variety. Recently, the company added smaller packaging based on consumer demand.

Goodbelly cartons of probiotic juice
GoodBelly’s original line of probiotic juice beverages are packaged in multi-serve cartons.

“A lot of consumers were saying they wanted a grab-and-go format they can drink over lunch, so we’ve got a 15.2-oz variety coming out that’s going to be up there against Naked and Odwalla,” Mr. Murray said.

Reduced-sugar varieties also are on tap.

“We used a top-secret new technology that enabled us to keep the same bacteria happy but take the sugar content down,” Mr. Murray said. “And we’ve got all sorts of patents around that one as well. Sugar is food for the probiotics.”

As for whether the company will expand beyond beverages into other product categories, Mr. Murray said it’s “more a question of when rather than if.”

Since 2008, when GoodBelly splashed on the scene, many food and beverage products touting probiotics have hit the market. Additional competition in the digestive health category isn’t a concern for the company, however.

“I think it’s one of those cases where if you’ve got a few more people in the category singing the same song, more people will hear the song,” he said. “We don’t think that’s a bad thing. Besides there will be very few if any capable of putting the number of probiotics into a beverage that we can. I think we have on average 5 to 10 times more probiotics than anybody because of our science and the technology behind it.”