We are thrilled to bring the UK-based brand Rawvelo to The Feed platform. They specialize in crafting a great-tasting, 100% natural, plant-based endurance nutrition for athletes who care. Enjoy this long-form interview with co-founder Jason Evans on the approach to making Rawvelo and their “no compromise” mission.
Q: What’s the story behind the development of Rawvelo?
It feels like a long journey, yet it’s only been five years now since we first started out.
At the time I was working as a documentary filmmaker, spending a lot of time traveling away from home, which was quickly becoming an unsustainable lifestyle with a young family. I needed to make a change and with strong encouragement from my wife, took a leap of faith into the unknown.
The basic idea behind Rawvelo was simple. As an everyday amateur athlete, I could never understand why sports nutrition generally tasted awful and was full of crap synthesized ingredients. I thought ‘Hang on a minute, surely there is a better way of doing this. Surely it can be done differently, be functional, natural, and actually taste good!’.
My co-founder Duncan and I looked at the sports nutrition market and realized that the vast majority of what was on offer was just not good quality food. It didn't tick the boxes of what you would expect to be in a good diet. It actually ticks all the wrong boxes of what would normally be considered healthy. It just served to meet the end goal of instantaneous performance enhancement - and that didn't sit comfortably.
It felt like there was an opportunity in the sector for something that was taking the idea of really good, healthy eating and transferring that into sports nutrition. To create a brand based around the principles of all-natural, healthy clean label [products]. Getting as far away from all of the chemical additives, highly processed refined sugars, and lab-manufactured additives. While trying to do it all with the cleanest, healthiest ingredients that we could.
We then worked with an amazing nutritionist, Dr Claudia Gravaghi, to develop those ideas before setting the business up. It was our sole ambition really, to have a business based on the foundation of creating sports nutrition that is about the long-term sustained health of the individual and the long-term sustained health of the planet. Thinking seriously about things like nutrient density, supply chain and packaging, and all of those things that you need to ensure quality and sustainability.
Q: Was there a specific problem in the sports nutrition world that you were looking to solve?
Without being too controversial, we feel strongly that a lot of the industry, particularly the mass market side of the industry at the cheaper end of the supply chain, has been very clever at building a business model based on some quite loose scientific claims. Claims that go a long way in supporting the use of really cheap ingredients to make their products.
For instance, maltodextrin. Now, I'm not denying the fact that these ingredients work and produce the desired effect for the most part, but there is also an element of using marketing to bolster that belief and pseudoscience to show that that's the best and only way to do things. If we look at the overall health of general populations these days who are consuming those kinds of ingredients daily, possibly not even knowing they are consuming them in things like bread and breakfast cereals, then it is clear that there is a huge issue here.
Highly processed and refined food diets are probably the greatest hidden health catastrophe we’ve ever faced. Even greater than that of smoking. So we made it our mission to do things better. It didn't take a lot of research to work out that you can. It’s just a slightly more complicated and more expensive approach.
Sports nutrition is often also very removed from what’s consumed in people's everyday lives. It has become acceptable for brands to manufacture sports nutrition products that completely disconnect sports nutrition from food, whilst aligning more with pharmaceutical products. It’s all about the desired performance outcome, not individual health.
For some, thinking of the short-term gain alone, this may not be an issue. But we’ve seen a change in how people look at what they’re consuming over the past decade - one that has put the entire supply chain in the spotlight. More and more people are looking both at exactly what’s in the products they consume, as well as the provenance of these ingredients. This has also led to widespread change in dietary choices and people looking for alternatives, seen most obviously in the rise of plant-based eating.
For us, we see our products as a food source that’s fit for a specific purpose. They should be enjoyable to consume, without compromising flavour and ingredients. It should be something you look forward to using, not something to be forced down just to keep you going.
Q: How can your product, a more natural and real food-based product, essentially match the performance of what we see in the industry today?
If you look purely at macronutrients, our Energy Bars, Energy Gels, and Hydration Drink Mixes match that of most products on the market. If they’re compared to the more recent performance products featuring much more elevated levels of carbs, then yeah, we can't compete with that. But the question for us is whether we actually want to compete with them.
In terms of performance value, we don't aim to compete in the race to develop products designed to help you absorb more and more carbohydrates per hour. The main reason for this is that –while there is a place for that in the top-end of elite sports– we don't believe this gain applies to the vast majority of people who consume sports nutrition.
Firstly, that level of carbohydrate consumption just isn't suitable for everybody - often causing gastrointestinal issues, even in many top athletes. Secondly, it’s only beneficial to those who are already at a very, very high level in their chosen sport and are looking for any marginal gains they can find to help them compete. We believe that for 99% of people, it's just not a necessity or even advisable.
Q: How would you show people that a real food-based product can be just as functional and performance-supporting as others?
The proof that they work is the fact that they are being used by elite athletes to perform at the highest level in multiple endurance sports. Our products have been used in all three Grand Tours, not officially, but there are Tour de France riders using our products. We have people achieving incredible feats across ultra-endurance events using our products, including record-breakers and national champions. So we see the proof that they work in what people are doing using the products.
In terms of real food, the bar we set ourselves with all of our products is that they should never have more than five to eight ingredients. All of those ingredients should be ones that you recognize and that you should be able to buy at your local health food store. If you want to, you should be able to make all of our products in your home kitchen, including our gels.
Q: What would you say makes Rawvelo special?
We just give a lot of thought to everything we do and stick to our principles regardless of how much more difficult that may make things for us. We have a 100% no-compromise approach to what we do.
For instance, our method of pressure pasteurization is something that we're one of the only brands to do in the market. We're certainly the only brand in this country (UK) that uses it. It effectively means you can make something without having to use any preservatives in it whatsoever but for it to still have a long shelf life. It uses immense pressure to kill bacteria rather than heat like normal pasteurization does. This means that the nutrients in the ingredients are not destroyed as they are by the heat of traditional pasteurization. It’s a process used widely in the fresh deli foods industry.
Another example would be our Energy Bars. All of the ingredients are specifically selected not just because of the macronutrients they provide, but also because of the hundreds of micronutrients in there as well. These ingredients have a long history of use as endurance foods. For instance, dates have been used for thousands of years as an energy food in many cultures. They were even handed out to Roman soldiers as energy food before battle. That’s sports nutrition for the ages.
These micronutrients also aid with recovery and one of our core beliefs is that by supporting good recovery, sports nutrition improves overall performance as well as overall health. Win win.
Q: Is there anything else you would like people to know about Rawvelo?
Despite ‘Velo’ being in the brand name, Rawvelo is not just for cyclists. That is certainly where the brand originated from because that’s the sport we personally know and love, but our products are used by athletes across many endurance and adventure sports. They are for anyone who wants to spend time outdoors being active and using nutrition to support and maintain that. Many of our customers even put our bars in their kids’ lunch boxes as a healthy snack.
Lastly, I just want to underline how seriously we take our no-compromise approach across everything we do as a business. That's down to sourcing the best quality ingredients that are organic wherever possible, our fully recyclable packaging for all our products, our localized production to reduce transport emissions, our supply chain traceability, our support for local grassroots activities, being a proud member of 1% For The Planet and pledging to give back one percent of our annual revenue to support initiatives helping to repair our broken planet.
At the end of the day, the natural world around us provides both the playground for us to enjoy being active as well as the ingredients we use in our products, so doing right for the environment is an endurance challenge none of us can afford to give up on.