A newsletter so sweet it's un-bear-able

I'll be here all week.

A newsletter about branding, startups, and mission-driven companies aiming to make the world a better place.

👋 Welcome to For The Love. I hope you all had a restful holiday season.

Today we’ll be discussing:

  • Tackling sugar one gummy bear at a time

  • A roundup of new launches this week, including a lot of high profile rebrands some better than others

  • The FDA is going to some strange lengths to get you to watch what you eat

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✌ For The Love of Doing Good

In the last week of December, the government released the US Diet Guidelines, which dictate nutritional guidance for the next five years, influencing food stamps, school lunches, and American diets.

Noticeably absent? The 4% reduction in sugar consumption recommended by the panel of scientific advisors they had appointed.

So the current guideline remains at 50 grams per day (in contrast to WHO’s recommended 36).

Which is still less than the 77 grams the average American consumes.

But it’s a new year and 43% of New Year’s resolution-makers are determined to eat healthier, which usually means less sugar.

Like an ever-growing Marvel Universe, more and more DTC brands are here to help. 

SmartSweets bills themselves as, well, smarter sweets. Specifically, they’re the “#kicksugar candy”. Their mission statement alludes to not just a candy brand, but a movement:

“We trust it's possible to live in a world where candy doesn’t always equal sugar, and where words like guilt, permission, and indulgence no longer carry weight. We believe we can enjoy candy just as we enjoy life — to the fullest.”

Their branding is bright and playful, and like their ideals, their candy is represented on packaging larger than life. It’s not a peach ring, but an art form. 

And it’s true, these are not the sugary-treats you grew up with. They have a whole page dedicated to their non-artificial, non-GMO ingredients articulating their commitment to creating better-for-you candy. 

They contain all-natural flavors and coloring (no Yellow #5 to be found) and plant-based fiber to up their nutritional content. Their gummy bears have 4 grams of sugar, compared to 14 grams in your childhood favorite Haribo, and 9 grams of fiber to Haribo’s 0. 

Not that anyone was eating Gummi Peaches for the Fiber.

Most importantly, that sugary flavor comes from ingredients like monk fruit, as opposed to, well, glucose syrup. They “believe candy can taste great without the weird artificial stuff or added sugars.”

What’s bad about added sugars? 

This Harvard Health article sums it up well:

“Sugar occurs naturally in all foods that contain carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables, grains, and dairy...Plant foods also have high amounts of fiber, essential minerals, and antioxidants, and dairy foods contain protein and calcium. Since your body digests these foods slowly, the sugar in them offers a steady supply of energy to your cells.”

But when you strip away the nutrients and fiber, as with added sugar, it’s digested quickly leading to a spike in blood sugar, which in the short term leads to tiredness and hunger, but in the long term can have a much more serious impact.

" The effects of added sugar intake — higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease — are all linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.”

Conversely, sweeteners like monk fruit extract and allulose both have a sweet flavor but don’t spike blood sugar levels when consumed. 

The same can’t be said for Isomalto-oligosaccharides, also found in SmartSweets.

Behave, the newest player on the gummy bear scene, clocks in at just 3 grams of sugar, and boasts an even more concise ingredient list, using monk fruit and chicory root fiber as sweeteners. 

Their site even has a cheeky jab at their competitors. (Although despite the artificial sounding name, it is found naturally in fermented foods).  

Like Smartsweets, Behave’s brand is bold, colorful, and fun (as a candy brand should be), but where Behave’s branding really sets itself apart is in it’s decidedly grown up aesthetic and attitude.

Also, they feature people! Eating candy! And not just any people cool people. 

Their bold palette is matched by their messaging, eschewing “shop” for the commanding “buy some candy.” There’s even a Millennial-pleasing nod to 80’s video games, exclaiming “choose your player,” in this case sweet or sour. 

While speaking to adults, as their FAQ’s note, they are also kid-friendly:

“Hell yeah, kids love us. Give this to your kids, friends, parents, grandparents, grizzly bears...(jk don't feed gummies to bears, that's basically cannibalism).”

Whereas Smartsweets imagine a world free of “indulgence,” Behave wants you to embrace it, with the tagline “We’re good so you don’t have to be.” 

While both brands are good options for getting your candy-fix without a Haribo level surge in blood sugar, that doesn’t mean they’re “health food.”

Tonya Papanikolov, a holistic nutritionist explained: 

“These are good options. They have better quality ingredients. They're companies that seem to care about working with chefs and not using highly processed ingredients. But ultimately, it's not an apple — it's not a whole food. And so I would just encourage people to look at their habits with sugar a little more closely.” 

Registered Dietician, Dara Godfrey also believes it’s important to keep in mind that while it may contain less sugar, it’s still candy:

“With many health food products on the market, the notion of ‘healthier’ option often leads their consumers to eat more of their products since they claim it’s a healthier option.”

Which is a legitimate concern given that each packet is the size of an M&M’s fun size pack (which by my estimation contains about three M&M’s) — so not unlikely you might reach for a second…or fifth.

Also, these healthy ingredients don’t come cheap. One pack of Behave is $5. SmartSweets is $3.29. For the same price, you can get a pack of Haribo gummies that’s almost 3x the size.

This is significant because the population suffering most from diabetes and related illnesses, those that need to cut down on sugar the most, are lower income. In 2016 around 18.5% of people who earned less than $24k suffered from diabetes.

“We always knew that communities of color really over-indexed in diabetes. And that was always part of our strategy that we really wanted to help in terms of accessibility, and affordability,” Sugarbreak co-founder and CEO Scarlett Leung told me.

After a close friend was diagnosed with diabetes, Scarlett “saw how it completely turned his life upside down. He worked in the spirits industry, and he ended up quitting his job...having a piece of pastry involved days of planning, and he'd feel so much guilt having it and he'd have to work out afterward, even though he was taking insulin shots. So the idea of creating products and tools to make blood sugar management easier for someone like him was really exciting.” 

And those products come in the form of three all-natural supplements: Resist (which blocks sweet taste to curb sugar cravings), Stabilize (blocks carb & sugar absorption), and Reduce (supports healthy blood sugar levels).

Scarlett told me:

“The way we designed the three products were really around those pain points that my friend experienced and other people struggling with prediabetes and diabetes voiced, which is, by the way, one-third of the US. And rates in the rest of the world are also growing because of changes in lifestyle, eating habits, and stress.” 

Each of their products employs natural ingredients like Banaba Leaf (“that speeds up transportation of glucose from the bloodstream into your cells”) that have proven efficacy in clinical trials. The science tab on their site has a breakdown of how the ingredients work, as well as referenced clinical studies. 

They’re so confident that their products work that they encourage you to put them to the test through a partnership with Levels, a glucose monitoring app.

Their branding represents this commitment to science through a clean aesthetic, but the use of a signature bright color for each formulation keeps it approachable it’s trusted, not medicinal.

Scarlett explained:

“We didn't want something that was screaming ‘I'm struggling with sugar,’ or anything like that. It’s really just something to be helpful and make people feel empowered...our products are all really colorful because I wanted it to be an uplifting, empowering message.”

Like with low-sugar candy options it’s important to keep in mind your overall habits and health there is no magic cure to getting healthier, aside from the unfortunately boring answer of eating healthier.

As Dara Godfrey said:

“Supplements shouldn’t be looked at as a quick fix solution to long term health, but rather, as part of a balanced lifestyle that includes whole, unprocessed foods, daily activity/exercise and a focus on mental health and wellbeing.”

🔥 For The Love of Newness

Immi is the new plant-based, high-protein, low-carb instant ramen you wish you had in your college dorm room.

A VERY misguided attempt at remaking Mahjong launched. I’ll spare you the website and direct you to this takedown instead. 

The CIA has a new logo, which as far as I can tell are the letters C-I-A photoshopped onto a Joy Division album cover. 

Burger King unveiled a charming rebrand featuring an old logo (from the 60’s) and a new font called Flame.

GM has a new logo and it is...new.

🔍 For The Love of the Details

Why is there a lady in a drinkable yogurt bottle on the FDA’s website? 

Is she meant to be wearing a bottle, like clothing, or is she an anthropomorphized bottle?

They could have made her into a bottle with legs, like a recyclable Mr. Peanut. 

And why is she label forward? Wouldn’t her back be where the label is?

And how does Jamie Lee Curtis feel about this? Is this woman regular? She seems pretty happy to be (in) a bottle. 

Jubilant, even.

I like that they made her 8 grams of sugar she’s aspirational, yet achievable.

Thank you for being part of For The Love! 

A few more things...

Is there a topic you think I should cover? Or a funny ad I can dissect? I’d love to hear from you! You can email me at info@ajasinger.com, respond to this email, or drop it in the comments ⬇

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Written by Aja Singer, a brand and creative strategy consultant interested in all things startup, mission-driven, and community. Born in Canada. Based in Brooklyn. You can also find me on Instagram and Twitter.