Active Root launched their ginger-based sports drink a few years back and have followed it up with a gel that aims to reduce plastic waste.
Adding a second string to your bow as a small company has its bonuses and challenges. Pete caught up with Active Root’s George Ashley to find out how their GelMix came about.
What made you decide to make an Active Root gel?
Gels in endurance sport are a useful nutritional tool in terms of function and convenience. There are many issues with these products though. Gels wrappers are a source of litter on trails, roads and especially at races. Even if the gel wrapper is binned, most of the packaging is not recyclable. Many riders also get sticky fingers or handlebars after trying to open and use the gels. Most annoying.
For any rider, the taste is very important. Some gels do not taste great. With Active Root Gel Mix, because only use simple and natural ingredients are used, our gels taste awesome.
All Gel Mix products are based around ginger, so your stomach is completely settled when shredding out on the trails.
Once you had made that decision, what happened next?
Everyone involved at Active Root put their heads together and thought about how we can make a ginger gel product that tasted great, was easy to use and could help the environment. Most gels are single use, so that was one feature of standard gels we wanted to avoid. Many people in the ultra-running community routinely use soft flasks for hydration and nutrition products.
We have adapted this idea for the road and MTB markets. Gel Mix is a powder that you mix with water in a soft flask, to produce a gel mix that is customisable. You can have as many or as little servings of gel as you like.
We also knew the flavours had to be compatible with ginger, and taste great in a gel mix format also. We brainstormed some flavour ideas, and liaised with the new product development at our manufacturer to create some samples.
Who is involved in that process and what do they do?
The soft flask idea was put forward by Active Root employee James, who has a lot of experience in off road and hill running. We all knew the gel market was in need of some innovation due to the issues it was facing.
Active Root co-founder Will oversaw the development of the samples and branding, and we all played a big hand in the tasting and assessing of the products and flavours. Many a weekend run and ride were used to test the taste, ease of preparation, and function of the new products. The best flavour of the first batch to be tested was Cacao, Ginger and Peppermint. This ended up being our launch flavour.
How much of the development process is done in-house?
Unlike the core range of Active Root products, much less ‘DIY’ prototyping was done in the development of the Gel Mix range. We have a great relationship with our manufacturer’s development lab, so that helped a lot. Most of the in-house development revolved around making sure the ‘scoopie’, the plastic scoop used to fill the soft flask with Gel Mix powder, fitted the soft flask which we were going to brand up and use.
What did you know you did and didn’t want to do with Gel Mix?
Gel Mix had to be a revolutionary product in a market place that needed some major changes. We had to address the plastic waste and sticky fingers issues with current gels. These two problems could be solved at the same time by moving to a powder and soft flask combination. The soft flask is completely reusable and fits perfectly the back pocket of a cycle top. The powder/soft flask format ensures no riders get sticky fingers.
The other requirement for Gel Mix was to deliver the benefits of ginger to the gel market. Many people get gel-induced nausea when riding, so Gel Mix had to be a gel product to combat this issue.
We did not want just another gel product.
How does the process differ from making the Active Root powder?
The Gel Mix products are made by the same manufacturer and are dry powder, so the process is relatively similar. Of course, there are some differences as the Gel Mix contains maize starch to enable the Gel Mix consistency, when water is added.
How important to you was reducing plastic use with GelMix?
Helping reduce plastic use was very important to us. It’s a major issue with the gel market. The endurance sport community as a whole is moving in a more sustainable and green direction and MTB will be at the centre of this.
How many prototypes did you have before you settled on the production Gel Mix?
There were a few different powder types we tried in sample form before settling on the current Gel Mix range. You never just pick the first one.
Beyond prototypes, what form did your testing take?
Apart from the getting the powder right, the other major component was getting the delivery system correct. We spent quite a bit of time making sure the ‘scoopie’, that comes with any Gel Mix tub, was the right size and fitted the soft flask smoothly.
Did you have any outside help for testing?
Once we had a delivery system and powder flavour, we were happy with, we turned to our trusted ambassadors. Active Root has a good number of ambassadors in the MTB world. Additionally, we have road cyclists and distance runners. The feedback from the ambassadors was overwhelming positive, in terms of both taste and functionality.
How did you choose the name?
We wanted a name that clearly described what the product was and what it did. We like to think that the MTB community think ‘ginger’ and ‘stomach settling’ when they see the Active Root. The ‘Gel Mix’ brand needed to convey that it’s a gel, that is not quite a gel. The product is a powder that you mix with water to produce a gel mix, so we thought the name was accurate and easy to remember.
The first time we used the delivery system and the powder to put it all together as a finished product was satisfying. The other favourite moment was getting great feedback from MTBers, such Adrian Beale, one of our ambassadors, on how good and revolutionary the Gel Mix product is.
No disasters per se, but it was frustrating that is took so long to develop such a great product.
Anyone to thank?
We would love to acknowledge the efforts of all of our ambassadors and customers in the MTB world who have tried or used Gel Mix on their rides. Without their help, our job would be impossible.