When Aucklander Anna Thompson-Ford found herself unable to get out of bed to work or care for her two young children as a result of a debilitating auto-immune disease and exhaustion, she set about finding a pathway back to good health. That led to her co-founding nutritional supplements company, Pro You.
Who is Pro You aimed at?
Women aged between 25 to 40, although we’re seeing uptake from older women as well. They are the largest demographic of women in New Zealand and nicknamed ‘the wellness generation.’ They’re often mums juggling young children, climbing the corporate ladder, they might have sick, elderly parents. It’s just a very, very busy time of life, a time where you need to keep your health on track.
What products have you launched so far?
We have released two blended protein powders – pea and whey. We combine protein with all the B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, zinc, Ashwagandha, pre biotic acacia fibre and New Zealand organic flax seed fibre. We’re getting really good feedback from customers. They love the taste and they love the fact they don’t have to take multiple products.
What other Pro You products do you plan to launch?
We’ve done the R & D on seven other products including collagen powder and capsules, a gut-health blend, an immunity-boosting product New Zealand Greens, and an adaptogen blend which is an alternative to coffee without the side effects of caffeine.
What led to you developing a nutritional health range for women?
About two and half years ago I got really sick with an auto-immune disease. I was working fulltime at a real estate company running two teams, and under a lot of pressure. I was also pregnant at the time and my husband and I had just undertaken a commercial-to-residential development in Sales St. I just had so much on my plate. I had my son Luca and went back to work when he was six months old. Then I found out I was pregnant with my daughter Polly, who was born when Luca was nine months old.
By the time Polly was six months old I was so sick and sleep-deprived. I became completely bedridden, we had to get a fulltime nanny. I was initially diagnosed with post- natal depression but I had so many physical symptoms – chronic fatigue, anxiety, irritability – that my GP ran some tests and I was diagnosed with a severe auto-immune disease.
How did you recover?
I went on some strong medication prescribed by an endocrinologist but I also undertook a complete overhaul of my health with a nutritionist Kaytee Boyd. A complete eradication diet, no gluten, dairy, caffeine, sugar, alcohol…it was a really fun time. It took about six months to recover.
I was determined to make sure other people didn’t go through what I went through. You basically go from someone who is happy and bubbly and on top of the world to someone who can’t even get out of bed and look after their children. I developed a passion for preventative healthcare.
How did you go about developing Pro You?
We didn’t want to be just another female-led Instagram fad brand. We really wanted to make products that we could stand by. We worked with Jenni Lane who has a science background and is also a qualified naturopath and herbalist. Working with her meant we were able to come up with products that drew from different ideologies.
From the start we were very clear with our brief, we only wanted to include ingredients at levels that were going to be effective. All of our ingredients are backed up by research from PubMed. And on our website you can look up each ingredient and see all the publishedresearch that supports its effectiveness.
How are you selling the range?
On our Pro You website and through premium retailers and gyms. We’re running tastings at our outlets and we’ve launched a digital marketing campaign called ‘Eat Your Age – your complete guide to eating and living well for each decade of life’. We’re promoting it on Instagram and Facebook.
What are your future business plans?
Right now we’re really focused on growing our New Zealand customer base. We started working with NZTE really early on. We’re looking initially at China and South-east Asia, and then Australia, the States and the UK. We’re currently working with online outlets in China, and with Pier Smulders, the New Zealand manager for (e-commerce platform) Alibaba.
Health nutrition is a very crowded space. What makes Pro You different?
Firstly, we exhaustively researched and sourced the best ingredients, almost entirely from within New Zealand. Second, we have used generous and genuinely active volumes of multi vitamins and other ingredients combined with protein powder.
Convenience is a big thing for us. A woman can take our product and not have to take several other products.
We’re not pitching it as a weight-loss product but the protein and the acacia fibre does help with a feeling of fullness so it reduces sugar cravings. But we don’t want to be seen as a weight-loss skinny girl brand. We want to promote overall health.
Sustainability was also important to us. Our products are made in New Zealand with a focus on Kiwi ingredients to support local businesses and reduce our carbon footprint. Our canisters are made from aluminium which can be recycled indefinitely and our pouches are home compostable. I’m really proud of that.
What advice would you give someone thinking of starting their own business?
I would say not to be afraid to get out there and talk to people early. We didn’t go out to the retailers until we had our product ready and that lost us a lot of time. If I had my time again I would be talking to retailers a lot earlier. People will generally give you direct feedback.
Have a really good content marketing plan. Be organised, get all your systems up and running. Start as you mean to continue because once you’re in the market you’re busy with things you didn’t know you were going to be busy with.
What Pro You product do you use?
I use the pea protein blend every day, religiously, and I really notice the difference when I don’t have it. It’s given me a much more energy with being a working mum. I haven’t been sick all winter, I get comments about my skin, and I don’t eat crappy food at three o’clock!
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