Having made sugar the focal point of public scrutiny, consumers today are faced with a daunting question: how can they embrace a healthier, less processed diet without losing enjoyment in the foods they eat?
For A1C Foods, the reason for asking that question is profoundly personal: after his daughter was diagnosed with diabetes, founder Ran Hirsch teamed up with renowned, Harvard-educated endocrinologist Dr Mariela Glandt – founder of Israel’s Glandt Center for Diabetes – whose father is also a type-1 diabetic.
“Our pain came from diabetes,” Hirsch tells me. “My daughter, Mariella’s patients and father – you name it. So we were trying to find food that would be desirable and good for diabetics. What we found out is that, actually, it’s good for everyone.
“Dieticians from Israel have started coming to us and saying it’s very good for weight loss. The first thing they tell their patients is ‘stop eating carbs, stop eating bread’, and they resent them for it. Now we can give them bread to enjoy that is both delicious and low carb, with no artificial sweeteners.”
A1C’s initial offering includes chocolate pralines and low-carb bread, and the company is developing other products – like pizza – with a view to bringing those to market, too. With all of the products in the range, the goal is to offer something that stands apart on taste: their low-carb bread actually tastes like bread, and they received positive feedback from an Israeli retailer on what they believed was just a first prototype of low-carb ice cream.
It is also exploring low-carb noodles, which would represent a huge opportunity in Asia alone, but the brand doesn’t want consumers to feel like they are compromising.
“There are some low-carb noodles, without mentioning names, that just aren’t the real thing,” Hirsch explains. “It gives you the feeling of eating rubber and the sauce doesn’t stick to it: it doesn’t give you the feeling of the real noodles or the real pasta.”
The products themselves are based on a formulation developed by Dr Glandt after much trial and error. There are no artificial sweeteners or ingredients that could fall out of favour later, and because the company can lower the glycaemic index of its products it has been able to use only familiar, natural ingredients.
There is still 2.3g of sugar in the chocolate pralines but, having experimented with healthy fats like palm oil that have attracted negative reception, the brand is seeking to reformulate further. Taking out these ingredients will make the formulation naturally sweeter, facilitating further sugar reduction, it says.
And for the bread, the formulation allows A1C to put a little white flour in the recipe, giving the product the same characteristics consumers associate with a full-carb loaf.
Hirsch says: “The bread has only 2g of net carbohydrates per slice, which is the equivalent of a small cucumber. When you eat bread usually, you don’t think of a cucumber as the comparison. It’s a good example of what we are trying to do: for me, toasted with butter, it’s one of my favourite foods now, and I hope the next developments we do will be even better.
“We are trying to give people the opportunity to live a low-carb lifestyle without being deprived of good food – enjoying food, enjoying life, without eating some sort of space food.”
For Glandt, a medical professional for the past 20 years, it is important to show consumers that their overall health is intrinsically linked to their diet – something they are showing a greater awareness of than ever before.
“In all of our chronic diseases of this century – heart disease, stroke, cancer – food is really what’s causing the problem. When we look at communities around the world that live really, really long, what they have in common is low insulin levels. And what raises our insulin is carbs.”
The range is currently branded ‘A1C’, which is meaningful only to diabetics.
She criticises Ancel Keys, the physician who perpetuated the myth that ‘fat makes you fat’, and the American government for publishing a food pyramid that places grains at the bottom with little scientific reasoning.
“When you take carbs out of the diet, everything gets better: the quality of cholesterol improves, hypertension goes away, waist circumference improves – everything,” Glandt says.
The next step for the company is to take its products mainstream: having established a following of diabetic consumers, the company is rebranding its entire range as DeLoCa – which stands for ‘delicious low-carb’. With mass appeal in mind, it has brought on board Shali Shalit Shoval – a CPG veteran and former CEO at Sabra – as its new president.
“What I think is very interesting is that we all know two things: first that sugar has become a big no-no, and second real food is coming back,” Shalit Shoval tells me. “Real food is something that is very interesting. We all want to eat as clean-label as possible. Now the challenge is how to transfer the message to all of the population without calling it ‘diabetic bread’ or ‘diabetic chocolate’.
“Of course today, you think about ‘diabetic’ and you think it’s not tasty. The idea is to take pizza, bread, chocolate, spread and make them accessible to everybody so that your sugar levels are not going high, and the insulin is not coming out. It’s a complex message, but for a nutritionist it’s very easy.
“To have achieved this taste, this is what attracted me. And I think it can be big. The mission is to spread it as widely as possible.”
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019