BJÖRN ÖSTE is Founder & CEO of Good Idea Drinks. He is the Founder of Oatly and has 25 years of experience from entrepreneural-driven companies. Scientists, physicians, nutritionists and dietitians all over the world agree that meals with too much sugar and fast carbs result in repeated blood sugar spikes that, in the long run, put a lot of strain and stress on our bodies. Some years ago, experts in food and nutrition at Lund University in Sweden found that a special mix of amino acids and a mineral could have a beneficial effect on the blood sugar spike following a meal. Repeated clinical trials confirmed that when this mix, dissolved in water, was served before, and with a meal rich in sugar and fast carbs, it was able to reduce blood sugar rise by 20-30%. This research marked the beginning of the development of Good Idea® – The Swedish Sugar Buster. The goal was to develop an attractive product that could help our bodies handle the fast carb and sugar effects following a meal. Now it´s here, and it comes with a Structure/Function-claim, proudly printed on every single can.
How did you get into the industry?
After finishing my M.Sc. at Linköping University in Sweden, I started a software company with some friends. Several years of hard work and many lessons learnt later, I was able to make a successful exit in the mid. 90´s. Building a software company was interesting, but now I had the opportunity to engage in something that could make a real difference in people´s everyday lives. The obvious choice was to go all in with my brother Rickard, a professor in nutrition, who had just invented a healthy oat-based dairy alternative with enormous potential. Together, we co-founded Oatly, and after conquering the Nordic countries and Europe, our outstanding vegetarian milk alternative is now spreading like a wild fire across the USA, and we´re taking our first steps into China. Oatly´s success is the result of advanced cross disciplinary research going hand in hand with smart branding and market activities, and in parallel, my brother and I also founded Aventure AB – a research based company specialized in the development of advanced and functional food concepts. The basic idea is to develop attractive food products with preventive properties that make it easier for people to move towards a healthier lifestyle. Our newest product – Good Idea – is a typical example. It´s a carbonated water with a blend of five amino acids and chromium that is clinically proven to reduce the blood sugar spike after a meal. It´s a totally new approach, and we chose USA as our first market for obvious reasons. Lifestyle related diseases such as type 2-diabetes, obesity and CVD are sky rocketing, and we see a real need of changing the paradigm – from cure and treatment to protection and prevention by lifestyle change.
Any emerging industry trends?
People are becoming increasingly aware of the health properties of food and drinks, and in parallel there´s a growing awareness of environmental issues. The result is that more and more people are looking for e.g. vegetarian alternatives with a smaller footprint, eating less meat and that food is expected to add health value, and even preventive properties. Food companies cannot fake this and those who want to stay on top will need to make real changes. Innovation and transparency needs to be the hallmarks of any leading food company. The alternative is losing both trust and profitability.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
In a country with 90 million prediabetics and an obesity epidemic, caused by unhealthy eating habits, it´s a true challenge to achieve change. But things can´t go on like this. The cost for both individuals and society is sky rocketing. The opportunity for food producers such as ourselves lies in including proven and truly healthy properties in foods and drinks that people like. It is all about pairing responsibility with business opportunity.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
The whole business idea with our mother company Aventure AB is to combine research and deep knowledge from different fields to develop attractive, healthy and functional food products to meet real market needs. Good Idea is a result of many years of research and clinical studies. Yet, the product itself stand out as quite uncomplicated – a sparkling water – and that´s the general idea . We want to make it easier for ordinary people to move towards a healthier lifestyle, by bringing health to the table. We live by that vision every day.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
After a soft launch last fall in the USA, we have now started to take bigger steps and sales are growing. We are working on two fronys: retail, with growing rotation at a rapidly growing number of retailers, and health professionals who are embracing our product as a tool to help people live healthier. I see a number of signs in the sky implying that the positive development will accelerate the next 18 months. We will continue to grow, we will introduce new flavors, and we are looking at expanding markets with an European introduction.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
There´s a number of those, of course, but one of the most important is our partnership with health professionals – nurses, dietitians, nutritionists and MD:s all over the country. These are our gatekeepers, we need their trust and they know exactly what benefits our product can give their patients. Our ambition is to make their work a little easier.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
It is a serious problem that there are so many out there making unsubstantiated health claims. We are marketing a product based on serious research and repeated clinical studies. We know that the blend it contains can reduce the blood sugar spike after a meal by 25%, and we can prove its effect. Oen of our main challenges is to find ways of convincing our customers that our product is different, that it really works.. This is also why we have chosen to work together with health professionals with a high level of integrity and credibility. Their endorsement of our product and its function is an important quality stamp that can separate us from the rest.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
We want our customer to feel that healthy change can be easy, and that our product can make a real difference. A naturally flavored sparkling water is easy to like, and one of our main goals is to encourage people to consume less sugar and cut their post-meal sugar spikes by replacing their sugary drinks with Good Idea. The direct benefit of a more even blood sugar curve is that afternoon crashes and cravings can be avoided. In the longer perspective there´s a clear health benefit in this, since recurring blood sugar spikes are associated with many lifestyle related conditions.
How do you motivate others?
Bringing health to the table with a truly innovative product is highly motivating for everyone working with us, no matter their role or position. Being Swedish, I probably have a typical Scandinavian approach to leadership. For me it is about creating a trustful and open environment that motivates every employee to give his or her best. In a knowledge-based company you will be surrounded by people who know more than yourself. You need to trust them and give them a chance to grow. Inflexible hierarchies can easily kill creativity.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Innovation is not about changing the colors of a bottle, designing a new label, having the smartest advertising or just claiming that a product will do something for the consumer. Food companies that want to grab the opportunities created by the demand for truly healthy foods and drinks must do their homework properly. Products that don´t do the job will have a short life and tear down people´s trust in the brands and companies that brought them to the market.