Viitals Specialty Bakery's new and growing line of health- and allergen-minded products takes aim at a new niche for healthful baked products.
Though it fits the description, Ivan Nikolov, founder and owner of Viitals Specialty Bakery, Tampa, Fla., doesn't like to call his line of ultra-healthy baked snacks meal-replacers.
“I don't like to use that term because it implies that the products are an alternative to a meal. They aren't alternatives to a meal, they are meals, just in the form of a snack,” he says.
Nikolov, a decorated former natural body builder and nutrition aficionado, believes that people sometimes avoid snacks because they are worried about health or diet. His intent in formulating his snacks to include a balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates and fiber is to transform the snack from an elective food to a necessary meal.
The Viitals line of products consists of muffins and crackers, each in a variety of flavors. They are all gluten-free, no wheat products are kept on the premises and none are allowed to come through the door. The line is also nearly devoid of the eight major allergens, save for whey protein. Only the muffins use this dairy component, but it is nearly lactose and cholesterol-free-a cross-flow microfiltered whey protein isolate that, at 0.16g of lactose per muffin, is hypoallergenic, though not vegan. The protein in the crackers is derived from sprouted brown rice, so they are fully vegan.
The product line also uses extremely low glycemic index, all-natural sugars as sweeteners. “I wanted people to be able to sit down and have a balanced snack/meal without being worried about allergens or anything else to raise blood sugar level, or cause energy crash” Nikolov says. “We don't even use sugar in my formulations, so as to keep my snacks offering steady energy levels. We don't want to go to the length of saying we are sugar-free, but I avoid high glycemic index. For instance, I use agave nectar as a sweetener for the crackers because of it's low glycemic index.”
A sugar alcohol- erythritol-is used to sweeten the muffin line. The sweetener is listed under total carbohydrates on the label, but Nikolov suggests that sugar is a misnomer for the sweetener. “The FDA insists that it be listed as a carbohydrate, but sugar alcohol is a grouping phrase used by the chemists, it doesn't cause any change in the blood sugar level. Also, each gram of the sweetener contains only 0.2 calories.
The company uses small amounts of high-oleic safflower oil to help with the moisture retention and flavor richness. There also are small amounts of fat coming from the flax used in the muffin formulas.
Nikolov doesn't want to stop at muffins and crackers. He is currently working on a gluten-free bread, feeling there is a dearth of choices in the market. He eventually wants to get into cookies and brownies, taking the indulgent snack 180 degrees into balanced meal territory. Also on the horizon is a raw snack bar. “Like the other Viitals products, the bar will contain a balance of protein, fiber, carbohydrates and fat. The only difference is the products won't be exposed to high temperatures, so the natural enzymes in the ingredients will remain intact. That would be a product that's even one level up from what I'm offering now, in terms of health.”
Viitals Specialty Bakery is in its infancy, but has growing brand recognition among the health and allergy conscious in Florida. Still a small business, Nikolov faces difficulties sourcing his specialty ingredients. Some might even have only one source, and buying single bags of such products instead of pallets or trucks strains the pocketbook as well as supplier relationships. “People have accommodated me so far, though. Other than the higher cost because I use unique products, I cannot complain,” he says.
To ensure his products aren't prohibitively expensive to the consumer, Viitals Specialty Bakery is operating at a small margin, focusing more on brand development than profit. The Viitals line appears in 10 Tampa-area specialty grocers, and sells online nationwide. Nikolov hopes to work with a distributor to expand his products' reach, and plans on expanding his storefront and retail businesses in the form of ultra healthy bakery cafes, complete with organic coffees and teas.
Though certainly niche, Viitals Specialty Bakery has taken a proven healthy eating market and uncovered a new avenue-the snack as a balanced meal-to deliver it to health-minded consumers.