Why Aloha Sees Great Sustainability Potential With Its New Protein Bar

Brad Charron was in a beat-up rental Hyundai this time last year, driving up the mountainsides in Hawaii looking for family farms, trying to get inspiration for his protein bar company’s next product.

The CEO of Aloha Protein Products said he wanted to develop something using crops grown in Hawaii’s natural volcanic soil. He started talking to farmers and asking if he could buy their crops for his next product.

“There are a lot of bogus businesses out there, so you have to be honest in Hawaii and agree,” said Charron, who previously held executive positions at Chobani, Nature’s Bounty and Under Armor. “That is the nature of this food ecosystem, especially when it comes to sustainability and ethical sourcing, you have to prove it.”

Aloha was initially founded by three former Hawaiian residents in 2013, and reformed when Charron took over the company in 2017. Charron was fascinated with the quality of local farms in the island state and came to believe that “there is no better place to farm.” ” because of its unique climate and soil.

He soon began developing Aloha’s new product, the Kona Bar, which harnesses the power of various plant-based foods. It is made with 100% Kona coffee, coconut and macadamia nuts. The bars contain 14 grams of protein and ten grams of fiber.

But the product’s most unique ingredient is Ponova oil, an emulsifier developed and trademarked by food ingredient company Terviva, which has raised nearly $100 million to date, according to Crunchbase. It is made from Pongamia trees grown on the island of O’ahu, marking the first time the oil has appeared in a food product, according to the companies.

The ingredient is deforestation-free, Terviva said. Pongamia trees are found primarily in Asia, and 2021 research published in the academic journal Forests said the trees can restore degraded land and enhance biodiversity in the soil.

A pongamia tree.

Upload Chandra Mahato via Getty Images

Ponova’s potential

Due to its sustainability benefits and health benefits, Terviva sees the potential of Ponova oil as a disruptive ingredient in the food and beverage space. It contains a slight nutty and buttery flavor, Terviva said in the news release. As an emulsifier, it has the ability to bind other ingredients and create texture, in the same way that canola and palm oils typically do in food products.

The oil contains omega-9 fatty acids, which some doctors say can help with cholesterol regulation, works like animal fat, and has a good mouthfeel compared to other alternatives, according to Naveen Sikka, Terviva’s CEO.

Terviva, which also sells a protein and flour made from the trees, wanted to feature the oil in a specialty product, Sikka said, so the collaboration with Aloha made sense for two reasons. First, because Sikka has known Charron for 23 years, and they’ve always been interested in the opportunity to work together, but didn’t think it would be in the food space.. Second, because of their shared sustainability values ​​and plant-based agriculture, Sikka said.

“We didn’t want to show up in a cupcake with a white label cream filling. We wanted to present ourselves in a way that told our story with a brand that reflects that,” said Sikka.

Terviva has made other moves in recent years to start spreading its sustainable ingredient in the food and beverage space. In 2021, it partnered with dairy giant Danone to develop food products with Ponova oil. The company said it plans to launch the ingredient in mid-2023.

Aloha’s mission to work with growers in Hawaii required dedication. Not many food companies work with Hawaiian farmers because of the cost, Charron said, because it requires significant funding and products that use Hawaiian ingredients that then need to be developed on the mainland US.

“There’s an intentionality that you have to have, boots on the ground in Hawaii, but you also have to be able to bring it back and make it commercially for a larger audience,” Charron said.

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
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