Honesty in the Health Foods Market
NuGo Nutrition is a lifestyle food company that believes that when it comes to healthy snack food, great taste and nutrition are not mutually exclusive. It was founded more than a decade ago by David Levine and Keith Rohrlick out of a desire to create something better than what was available on the market at the time. They saw a need for a health food snack that did not sacrifice taste for function, and they worked at finding ways to accomplish the task.
“Really, there isn’t a great Ben and Jerry’s story. We just looked at the marketplace and decided to make a product that tastes great and has beneficial characteristics,” says David Levine, cofounder and chief executive officer of NuGo Nutrition. Fifteen years later, NuGo has grown from a simple idea into a company with an ambitious mission to produce tasty nutrition bars for many lifestyles including meat- and dairy-free vegan products, low sugar and low glycemic products for managing blood sugar, gluten free products, high protein bars, high fiber bars, and more.
NuGo’s products use a thin layer of real dark chocolate to cover proteins, which gives the wonderful combination of deliciously lush real dark chocolate and a protein bar containing healthy fats, fibers and proteins that fit perfectly into a myriad of lifestyles.
NuGo’s principle approach to business is combining great taste with healthy living for various lifestyles, but it all starts with the smooth, velvety taste of real dark chocolate. Considering the vast selection of dark-chocolate-coated nutrition bars on the market, you might not see this as a standout aspect of NuGo’s product line, but chocolate is something NuGo does very differently than the competition.
“In the U.S., many food and snack companies will tell the consumer on the package that they’re buying something with real dark chocolate,” says Levine, “However, because of a lack of true regulation, they don’t necessarily deliver that.”
Real dark chocolate contains cocoa butter – the natural fat found in the cocoa fruit. Cocoa butter melts below your body temperature and when consumed the fat breaks down, releasing flavor instantly when you put it in your mouth, and that is what gives real dark chocolate that smooth, velvety consistency.
Most products in the dark-chocolate-coated health snacks market are using a vegetable based replacement like palm oil or palm kernel oil in place of cocoa butter, but due to a lack of regulation, the packaging still reads ‘real dark chocolate.’ Vegetable fats break down at a temperature higher than your body temperature, resulting in an inferior chocolate with a taste often described as waxy. The FDA has regulations in place to control the language used on in the packaging of milk chocolate and white chocolate products, but not for dark chocolate.
According to NuGo, substituting vegetable fats for cocoa butter affects more than taste. “These vegetable fats are actually proven to raise bad cholesterol levels (LDL) negating the heart-healthy benefits of real dark chocolate which raises good cholesterol (HDL)”.
Real dark chocolate is an antioxidant-rich, heart-healthy superfood. Vegetable fats are less expensive to produce, but the products that use vegetable fat based dark chocolates are often sold at the same prices as those using real dark chocolate, causing consumers to overpay for inferior quality.
“It’s an economic deception” says Levine, “when the consumer thinks they’re buying dark chocolate and they’re told on the front of the package that they’re buying dark chocolate, but they’re really getting an inferior product.”
A NuGo Nutrition product is exactly what it says on the label: real dark chocolate. The company recognizes that refusing to cut corners on ingredients has elevated its production costs, but while some companies are gambling on an ignorant market, NuGo has put its money on a public that grows more informed all the time.
For people who must manage their blood sugar and glycemic levels, the NuGo Slim line is designed with complex carbohydrates that release slowly and consistently, giving the consumer sustained energy over several hours rather than sugar highs and crashes that they would get from snacks with a higher glycemic level.
For those on a gluten-free diet due to celiac disease or other reasons, NuGo has twenty-one flavors in its Dark, Stronger, Slim and Free lines. NuGo Family and high-protein, low-fat, zero sugar Smarte Carb lines are often offered to patients in dialysis clinics as the combination of high protein and no trans fats makes for a kidney-healthy protein bar.
Athletic types appreciate NuGo’s high-protein, low-carbohydrate options such as NuGo Slim with sixteen to eighteen grams of protein and NuGo Stronger with twenty-five to twenty-seven grams of protein.
And for vegans, NuGo makes more than twenty bars that use plant proteins and are free of any animal products in its Dark, Organic and Free lines. The NuGo Dark vegan-friendly, gluten free bars come in flavors including chocolate pretzel, mint chocolate chip, chocolate coconut, chocolate chocolate chip, mocha chocolate, peanut butter cup, and spicy chocolate.
NuGo Slim low sugar bar line comes in both vegan and non-vegan varieties. The only sugar in a NuGo slim bar is about two grams in the real dark chocolate coating. What makes NuGo Slim unique among low sugar snacks is that there are no artificial sweeteners added. Many companies use a sugar alcohol called maltitol as a replacement for sugar. The problem is that maltitol is a high glycemic component so while the product might be low in sugar, it will still raise blood sugar levels.
Nugo Slim is sweetened with chicory root which is a high fiber component with a low glycemic response so that when eaten, the body does not have a surge in glycemic load making this a wonderful product for anyone wanting to manage their blood sugar and glycemic levels for diet or diabetic purposes. In addition to the protein, the bars have six to seven grams of fiber and a very low glycemic index of twenty-four. Various flavors are available including crunchy peanut-butter, brownie crunch, raspberry truffle, toasted coconut, chocolate mint, roasted peanut, and espresso.
This continues with NuGo Organic which is made with proteins free of synthetic pesticides, hormones and antibiotics; NuGo Free, a gluten-free bar using rice proteins with probiotics to promote digestive health; Fiber D’lish, a soft-baked cookie, high in both soluble and insoluble fibers, to promote heart health, weight management and regularity, and several other delicious products all of which are non-GMO (free of genetically modified organisms).
“I can stand on a soapbox all day and talk about why other companies are calling products real dark chocolate when they’re not using the real ingredients, but at the end of the day, I don’t want to talk about why they’re not doing it. We’ve decided we’re not going to do it. When we say dark chocolate, we’re going to use real dark chocolate,” says Levine. “I’m proud of what we’ve done.”
As an independent food company, NuGo is committed to using quality ingredients to make products that taste good and are good for you, and it believes that the marketplace values the time and the care it puts into the products it creates.
Although David Levine is the cofounder and CEO of NuGo Nutrition, he does not take any credit for its accomplishments “It’s the company and the people around me that have made this an incredible organization. I’m only as good as all the wonderful people we’ve assembled, and we’re only as good as the products we make tomorrow.” The team at NuGo is singularly dedicated to bringing delectable, nutritious snack products to consumers and are committed to doing so honestly.
In an industry where it is common practice to cut corners on quality to boost the bottom line, and where companies feel like they can get away with it because of packaging loopholes, NuGo gives a little more credit to a very loyal customer base.
“It’s been a fun shift in the market place—the ability for people to access information and know what they’re eating—asking questions,” says Levine. Deceptive marketing might work with impulse buyers but consumers are becoming more informed all the time about the products they spend money on, and the businesses that have real staying power are the ones that respect the market by building on principles like honesty and quality.
“We want our customers to really understand what we have going on in our products,” says Levine.