It’s not every day that a cardiologist starts her own CPG business. It’s also not every day that a doctor thinks food, not medicine, may be the cure for her patients.
“The way we approach heart health doesn’t make sense,” says Klodas. “We prescribe people pills without addressing the root of the problem. So we end up with waiting rooms full of people who continue to feel bad.”
The root of the problem, which many have discovered before her, was poor diet. Not just a bad diet, but one lacking the key ingredients for, in this case, heart health. And for a small but not insignificant share of patients, statins don’t work, they’re not tolerated or people just don’t commit to taking them as regularly as they should; some don’t like the idea of taking drugs at all.
She acknowledges “people don’t eat poorly on purpose; they just don’t know what to do.”
Enter Anytime Sprinkles.
Klodas’ father was a physician while her mother ran a bakery. “So I’ve always been aware of both sides of this equation,” she says. Seeing growing evidence that diet had to be a part of the heart-health solution, back in 2013 she created Anytime Sprinkles, granola made with almonds, walnuts, oats and cranberries. “Sprinkle it on yogurt, fresh fruit, a salad or whatever you like for great taste and great health, any time,” her promotions say.
The idea slowly grew into Step One Foods, Eden Prairie, Minn., which quickly grew into bars, two oatmeals, a smoothie mix and a pancake mix. All focus on four heart-healthy ingredients: fiber (which binds and removes cholesterol from the body), plant sterols (which reduce cholesterol absorption), omega-3 fatty acids (which regulate receptors that remove low-density lipoprotein from the bloodstream) and antioxidants (since heart disease also has a component of inflammation). All contain no preservatives, additives, colors or flavors.
Klodas participated in, but did not direct, a study by Mayo Clinic and University of Manitoba involving 18 men and 36 women, published last year. “80% of participants eating Step One Foods twice a day lowered their bad cholesterol in just 30 days, proving this is an effective way to naturally lower LDL (low-density lipoprotein, or ‘bad’ cholesterol)” she says.
“No other food company has applied this level of pharmaceutical-like research to prove a connection between food and a health outcome,” she claims.
With heart disease historically the leading cause of death in the U.S. and 94 million Americans with high cholesterol, there should be a significant market for her products.
Step One Foods grew 250% last year “and was able to help improve heart health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular events for 25,000 people,” according to promotions.
Klodas is still a practicing physician and still prescribes statins and other drugs for heart disease. “I devote 50% of my time to my practice and 100% of my time to Step One Foods,” she jokes. “It’s important for me to stay connected to the medical community but I also feel a part of the food industry.”
Becoming part of the food industry was another education. There was quite a bit of food science she needed to learn – things like water activity and shelf life, plus all the tangential/functional ingredients needed to create stable end products. Then there was the regulatory side of the business. And the business side.
Despite a clear understanding of how much of the four key ingredients she needed to get into each product, she needed to create formulations that could be formed into bars, smoothies, etc. Moreover, “the products had to taste good or people wouldn’t eat them,” she acknowledges.
And while like many food entrepreneurs, she made the first batches in her kitchen, she now has a network of contract manufacturers.
“I learned from my practice that 90% of my patients want to solve their health problems with diet and lifestyle changes,” she concludes. “We need to make it easy for them. I hope I have.”