Lee Labrada, founder and chief executive officer of Labrada Nutrition, Houston, knows a thing or two about what health and fitness-conscious consumers need in their diets. From 1985 to 1995, Labrada competed as a professional body builder, winning the International Federation of Body Building and Fitness Mr. Universe title and placing in the top four for Mr. Olympia seven times.
With the launch of Lean Body On the Go, Labrada Nutrition released a protein-, fiber-, vitamin- and mineral-fortified, sugar- and lactose-free beverage in a taste profile set to appeal to all consumers.
“We really pride ourselves on the taste of Lean Body, which I think is one of the things that has propelled the company,” Labrada said. “The products don’t taste like nutrition products. They taste like melted ice cream … It tastes like something people are used to drinking in everyday life.”
Available in Vanilla Ice Cream, Chocolate Ice Cream, Bananas & Cream and Strawberries & Cream flavors, Lean Body On the Go contains 25 grams of Labrada Nutrition’s LeanPro lean muscle protein, 17 percent of the daily value of fiber, and 22 vitamins and minerals. The product also was formulated to be lactose free for easier digestion, Labrada says. Lean Body On the Go is packaged aseptically in a 14-ounce resealable bottle for convenience.
“What I wanted the Lean Body drink to accomplish was fast, nutritious, convenient and what we call ‘functional food’ on the go,” Labrada says.
With its taste and nutrition profile, Lean Body Go the Go lends itself to any age group or demographic, he adds. “Anybody that’s looking to keep themselves lean, to feed lean muscle tissue and to keep body fat to a minimum,” Labrada says.
Building a beverage
When Labrada retired from body building in 1995, he had a huge fan following, and he realized that the market for sports nutrition left a lot to be desired, he said. In 1996, Labrada, with the help of food scientists, decided to formulate a meal replacement powder, which was the first product for the Lean Body brand, and began Labrada Nutrition.
The Lean Body meal replacement powders were packaged in individual serving-size packets. The user would take the packet, mix it with water and shake it up. Since then, Labrada Nutrition’s beverage options have changed with consumer demands.
“The evolution of functional foods has gone from powders being mixed at home by the health enthusiasts in their blenders to more convenient forms that are available in packets, such as meal replacement packs, which is just tear open and mix,” Labrada says. “Then it evolved into bars, which is basically just peal and eat. Now, it’s evolved further into ready-to-drink shakes. I believe that these ready-to-drink functional foods are positioned now to go into the mainstream because people are looking for healthier alternatives to junk food.”
Lean Body ready-to-drink shakes initially launched four years ago in an 11-ounce format that contained 30 grams of protein.
“We found that it was too much protein concentrated in too small of a package,” Labrada says.
The company’s next step was to redesign the package and introduce a 17-ounce drink containing 40 grams of protein. The 17-ounce Lean Body Hi- Protein Milk Shakes resonated with athletes, body builders and health enthusiasts and moved the brand into channels such as GNC, The Vitamin Shoppe, 24 Hour Fitness gyms and other gyms, health food stores and convenience stores, he says.
Labrada Nutrition further evolved the brand to fit consumers’ needs by introducing the 14-ounce Lean Body On the Go shakes. Lean Body On the Go shakes were formulated to contain fewer calories than the original Lean Body shakes. One of the trends that drove the move to a lighter formulation and convenient package is the obesity epidemic, Labrada says.
“People are constantly turning to convenient foods,” he says. “They don’t want to prepare foods at home. They want to grab and go. This is the perfect item for convenience stores, supermarkets, delicatessens and places where people are looking for something that is fast and healthy instead of a hot dog or hamburger.”
With the convenient nature of the product, the company is aggressively pursuing distribution in convenience stores and expects to see growth from it. Labrada Nutrition products currently are distributed nationwide, with its strongest markets in Florida, California and the Northeast. Labrada Nutrition also ships products out of the country.
To promote Lean Body, Labrada runs extensive sampling programs and advertisements in national fitness publications. In addition, Labrada publishes an e-newsletter called the “Lean Body Coach” that goes to more than 60,000 people weekly. The e-newsletter provides nutrition information as well as fitness programs.