Why it had to be organic for rookie whey protein entrepreneur

Daniel Whitehead describes his early life on a small farm “in the middle of nowhere” as “probably quite unusual”. Going on to study horticulture Merrist Wood College in Surrey seemed a natural path to take, and it was there that Whitehead developed a strong passion for organic farming.

When he came recently to talk to Natural Products News that, he told us that has always aimed to grow as much organic food as he can – and to proactively choose organic when buying the things he can’t practically produce himself.

founder-daniel-whitehead-3One of the things he couldn’t seem to find anywhere was organic whey protein. He become aware of this a few years ago after starting to use a gym. In theory, he could import products from America – but they would have to be airfreighted, which was at odds with his personal ethical and sustainability values. “Commercially, the whole thing just struck me as a glaring omission,” he says.

Whitehead began to explore the idea of producing his own organic whey protein. This turned out to be anything but plain selling. “I didn’t come from a business background at all. I’d passed through a few jobs by this time and was working as a web designer. But I started to do some research and it quickly became obvious that there was a market for whey protein for people other than muscle heads. So I began to think about a product that would be positioned more as a health-orientated one, that had the highest natural credentials and that would appeal to a different type of user.”

While he was searching for an organic producer closer to home he came across an organic dairy group along the Schleswig-Holstein Cheese Route in Northern Germany. They’d begun producing their own version. What’s more, they were using a gentler, low temperature filtration process that produced a whey protein of exceptional high quality. “It’s small scale production, batch-made and with full traceability and great provenance. The perfect match,” he says.

“It’s small scale production, batch-made and with full traceability and great provenance. The perfect match”

Getting the packaging and branding right was the next task for the rookie entrepreneur. With the help of a £5,000 EU grant Whitehead was able to explore a range of packaging options. Eventually, after lots of testing, he settled on a brown paper bag style pouch that “fitted with the brand ethos and communicated natural values”.

The Organic Whey Company launched in 2014 and immediately caught the imagination of natural products retailers. “I think it’s because the product is both genuinely unique and that it appeals directly to the health-oriented and organic consumer that feedback has been positive.”

organic-whey-protein-pouch-front-439x613The product is now listed in Planet Organic, Whole Foods Market and Revital, along with a growing number of independents. They’re also available through Suma, Tree of Life and Marigold.

Whitehead describes typical customers as being “predominantly in the mid 30s to mid 50s age range, often vegetarian, but also people looking to increase their protein intake for dietary or health reasons – for example older men who are suffering from muscle wasting, or who have difficulty absorbing protein.” People also like the product’s flexibility, he says – “lots of people add it to their cooking and put it on sauces and so on.”

The product comes in a 400gm pouch – offering 20 servings – with a retail price of £22.

Main picture: The whey protein is sourced from small organic dairies in Germany’s Schleswig-Holstein cheesemaking region