A newsletter about branding, startups, and mission-driven companies aiming to make the world a better place.
👋 Welcome to For The Love, so happy to have you all here!
Today we’ll be discussing:
The world of functional mushrooms
A roundup of new launches this week, including a new drink straight from the Rubyverse
Cards for humanity to emerge from quarantine
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💣 For The Love of Startups
Coffee has become so ingrained (pun intended) in our culture it’s become the Xerox of afternoon breaks and casual meetups, whether you’re drinking actual coffee or not.
Seven out of ten Americans drink coffee every week, with 62% consuming three cups every day on average.
And it makes sense — we’re stressed, overworked, and need that extra boost of energy.
But what if that daily drink you’re consuming could be more?
What if it wasn’t just a rush of jittery energy for three hours, followed by an inevitable crash?
“We are addicted to it. But we're all underserved by it. And I love a cup of coffee. But I also know within 90 minutes, I want another one,” says James Beshara, founder of Magic Mind.
“If that's all I'm drinking, I know that by 2 pm, I'm still going to be tired. And I need to drink another one and another one. And if you ask anyone, do you have great energy? Nine out of 10 will say no. And yet we have this thing that we spend hundreds of millions of dollars a day on — coffee.”
Magic Mind makes “the world’s first productivity drink” which is centered around an unassuming ingredient:
No, not the psychedelic kind. (But more on that later.)
Because of benefits like increased immunity and focus, there’s been 50% growth in functional mushroom products over the past year — making those two mustachioed video game plumbers super early adopters.
There’s a catch to mushroom functionality. Unlike with coffee, you’re not going to feel the effects immediately, they take a few days to kick in, and also, importantly, require consistent use.
Rainbo, a line of mushroom tinctures, even has a handy guide for integrating mushrooms into your daily routine.
What better way to add a new habit into someone’s daily routine than attach to an existing one?
Where Magic Mind “is meant to be consumed as a supplement alongside your current morning routine,” other brands like Four Sigmatic, Taika (who we discussed in the last issue), and Everyday Dose are combining the two — actually adding the mushrooms to a coffee drink.
That also has the added benefit of masking the very strong earthy, funky flavor of the mushrooms.
You may have seen MUD/WTR, who bill themselves as “your new morning ritual,” on Instagram, although one wonders how new it is when they’ve just switched out the source of caffeine, even though it does lower the dose, from coffee beans to tea leaves.
So what are these life-changing mushrooms, and do they actually work?
Mushrooms have been used medicinally for centuries in China, but most clinical trials on mushrooms have not progressed past the animal testing phase. That makes the jury still out on any FDA-supported claims.
Taika co-founder, Michael Sharon, explained why they are cautious about making too many claims about the benefits of functional mushrooms:
“The FDA has been sending warning letters to a bunch of mushroom companies for making claims. There's definitely a lot of players who are touting mushrooms as a kind of a cure-all or miracle ingredient. Food supplements, in general, are not really regulated at all in the US, so I think there's bound to be cases where there's going to be companies and brands touting their products as miracle cures for cancer.”
There are three mushroom varieties included in many of these drinks — Lion’s Mane, Reishi, and Cordyceps.
The cordyceps found in many consumer products are lab-grown, given in its naturally occurring form it is rare and therefore expensive.
That’s because its creation process turns caterpillars into zombies.
“It propagates itself by infecting one specific insect: the ghost moth caterpillar. Upon entering its gut, the mushroom slowly kills the caterpillar, then “mummifies” its body, until there is nothing left but a long, tube-like mushroom. Finally, a stalk bursts out of the caterpillar’s head, ready to infect any other caterpillars in the vicinity, like something out of the Alien movies.”
Why they don’t use this fact in advertising any of these beverages is anyone’s guess.
What’s so compelling about these mushrooms is that they promote focus, not just the buzzy energy of caffeine.
James Beshara explained to me:
“Magic Mind has Lion's Mane mushrooms and Cordyceps mushrooms. And what is really fascinating about both of those as a drink that's built for productivity, more than just energy, it’s energy plus cognition, plus balance or lack of stress. And anyone that's had one too many cups of coffee, they know that that's not productive, even though they're wide awake or alert.”
Like coffee beans, not all mushrooms are created equal. There’s actually a lot of controversy around what makes a “good” functional mushroom.
This controversy is around two things — how and where the mushrooms are grown.
There are two parts of fungi — the fruiting body and the mycelium. What we usually think of as a mushroom is the fruiting body, and most of the studies that have been done on mushrooms focus on the fruiting body so that’s where most of the trials indicate the positive effects are.
So you’d think all the mushroom-focused brands would use the fruiting bodies as their main ingredient, right?
Tonya Papanikolov, founder of Rainbo, suggests you need to consider:
“Is it a mycelium only product? Or is it a fruiting body product? Or is it a biomass product? There's a lot of controversy within the mushroom field around fruiting body versus mycelium. We go with the fruiting body — that's where the literature shows it to be the most active, not in the mycelium.”
Kal Freese, Taika co-founder, explained to me:
“Broadly when we're talking about mushrooms, there are two categories, there's the mycelium, which is kind of its roots. And then you have the fruiting body, which is what people colloquially would typically call mushroom, which is the thing that you eat. And what many companies do, is that they grow these like functional mushrooms on what they call biomass, which is typically either oats or rice. So they grow these mushrooms, and then they take that whole clump and dry it, and process it. So they end up with this mushroom powder that's a mixture of mycelium, fruiting bodies, but most of it is starch. And that's obviously significantly cheaper to produce.”
The problem with that is that most of the mushroom content in that drink of yours and all the functional benefits that go along with them, well, they’re not there — because the bulk of the content is often whatever starch they were grown on. And it’s mostly mycelial mass, so not the fruiting bodies whose benefits have been studied.
MUD/WTR’s ingredients list organic “mushroom blend” which includes Chaga, Reishi, Lion’s Mane, and Cordyceps mycelial biomass cultured on organic oats. How much is mushroom versus biomass isn’t disclosed.
Why wouldn’t all brands just use the fruiting bodies, instead of mycelial biomass?
Well, that’s where things get a little complicated...
Around 85% of mushrooms for commercial use are produced in China. One of the US’s most famous mushrooms experts, Paul Stamets, believes that commercial Chinese mushrooms contain heavy metals (despite not providing any substantive evidence). He says that mushrooms need to be produced in the US.
Only it’s too expensive to produce mushrooms in the US on a commercial scale, so instead, they produce mycelial biomass.
Notably, he has his own product line produced in the US, which has been surrounded by some controversy around its high starch content and very low active ingredient content.
Interest in mushrooms and their functional benefits are only rising. Especially given Oregon’s recent legalization of psychedelic mushrooms for clinical use, treating diseases including depression and drug addiction.
This is a different use case than JP Morgan banker Gordon Wasson had in mind when he kicked off the psychedelic movement in America after a trip to Oaxaca. His encounter with MarÃa Sabina, a Mazatec Indian, inspired a 1957 Life magazine article “Seeking the Magic Mushroom.”
The more prevalent, and the more potential for profit there is, the more mushrooms will be studied, and the more proof we’ll have (either way) about their functional benefits.
As more products flood the market, just make sure you know what you’re consuming.
If you’re hoping for a psychedelic trip, or an energy boost, for that matter, I don’t think oats will do the trick.
🔥 For The Love of Newness
Ruby is a new organic, low-sugar hibiscus drink. And a whole universe, well, “Rubyverse,” as well. Text 414-404-6940 to find out which Rubyverse character you are.
Staff is a new line of functional products (aka boring things for your home), starting with plungers and hangers made less boring.
Instead of mushrooms with your morning coffee, Deloce suggests espresso with your evening martini.
For an easy home upgrade, Boxi by Seminhandmade makes “cabinets for kitchens, bathrooms, and every room” — like Ikea, but better.
OffLimits and Salt & Straw collaborated on cereal ice cream, which I’m taking as an invitation to have ice cream for breakfast.
GEM, a line of plant-based bites stocked with superfoods, vitamins, and minerals, just launched Sleep and Calm bites. (Use code FORTHELOVE15 for a discount, if you order.)
🔍 For The Love of the Details
Despite my great relief that we are nearing the end of the pandemic through the help of vaccinations, I’m still very anxious about one thing:
Talking to live humans.
Did anyone else forget how to do that?
I mean, they say it’s like riding a bike, but as I learned during quarantine, apparently you can actually forget how to do that.
My husband had to reteach me.
(Pro tip for anyone teaching a little kid. Skip the training wheels. Just start without peddles and work your way up to coasting.)
On the other hand, I may need some training wheels when it comes to meeting up with people again — which is why this caught my attention:
I’m all over these cards given that I don’t know what else to kick off a post-quarantine conversation with other than, “What month is it again?”
I don’t want my paralyzing fear of just blurting out, “Can I hug you?” to the new people I meet to get in the way of basic pleasantries — so I’m thinking this will help me reintegrate back into society.
Thank you for being part of For The Love!
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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.