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Michelle Obama is taking on a new role as the co-founder of PLEZi Nutrition, which aims to market food and beverages for kids that are both tasty and healthy. The company, which announced its launch Wednesday, is starting with a line of low-sugar, nutrient-dense kids’ drinks made from a fruit-juice blend.
“I believe there is a way to build a successful company and do it right for our kids,” Mrs. Obama said during remarks at the Wall Street Journal Future of Everything Festival on Wednesday. “I’m putting some skin in the game to put this theory to the test,” she said.
As first lady,Mrs. Obama promoted healthy habits with the Let’s Move campaign, which addressed nutritious school meals and asked food companies and restaurant chains to commit to lower sugar, lower salt and lower-calorie options.
“I’ve learned that on this issue, if you want to change the game, you can’t just work from the outside. You’ve got to get inside,” Mrs. Obama said. “You’ve got to find ways to change the food and beverage industry itself,” the former first lady said.
The launch comes at a time when about half the young children in the US don’t eat fruits and vegetables daily, but most consume an excessive amount of sugary drinks. While pediatricians have long called for limiting sugar and sweetened juices, the majority of families do not follow this advice and some products advertised as healthy may still contain lots of sugar or sweeteners.
To address this gap, there’s an increasing focus on changing the food supply to offer healthier versions of the products consumers like. “A wave of investment is now directed toward more nourishing and authentic foods,” says Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and Professor of Nutrition at Tufts University, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.
“We are not going to solve today’s nutrition crisis with yesterday’s solutions,” said Mozaffarian, pointing to the critical need for innovation and entrepreneurship. “It’s terrific to see a leader like first lady Michelle Obama in this innovation movement,” Mozafarrian said.
Mrs. Obama will not be the face of the PLEZi Nutrition brand. Her plan is to work behind the scenes to help navigate the mission to drive changes in the food supply.
The company’s first product is a line of kids’ drinks called PLEZi, which has about 75% less sugar compared to top brands of fruit juice, and no added sugar. Fiber is blended into the beverage as well as nutrients such as potassium, magnesium and zinc. The drinks come in flavors including Sour Apple, Blueberry Blast and Orange Smash, and will be sold at retailers including Target and online at Walmart. A four-pack of 8 ounce drinks will cost just under $4.00.
There are plenty of skeptics who will question the benefits of marketing kids’ beverages, and Mrs. Obama, as well as his partners and advisors, are well aware of this. “While we know that water or milk is always the best option for kids, and we’ll continue to recommend that first, kids who are used to drinking soda or 100% fruit juice daily are not going to easily make that switch,” says Dr. Shale Wong, a pediatrician at the University of Colorado School of Medicine who is on the PLEZi advisory committee. The company’s approach is to meet parents where they are, at a time when kids consume 53 pounds of added sugar a year.
“Innovation must happen from within the food system if we’re going to ultimately make the kind of change that will create a healthier environment for kids,” says Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. “We certainly applaud Mrs. Obama and everyone who’s trying to innovate in the food system to create these healthier options for our kids and families,” Brown said.
PLEZi Nutrition is incorporated as a Public Benefit Company that will invest 10% of profits back into initiatives that promote kids’ health. PBCs are for-profit companies that operate to produce a public benefit in a responsible and sustainable manner.
PLEZi Nutrition will operate with integrity, transparency and accessibility, Obama said. “Ensuring great taste, because kids have to want it. Driving change through innovation and always, always putting children’s well-being first.”