Sara Bonham is the scientist and co-founder behind Perennial, an LA-based progressive health science startup that takes a modern approach to adult nutrition by harnessing the power of plants for healthy aging. Sara developed Perennial’s first product, a nutritional beverage tailored to keep us at the top of our mental and physical game as we age.
We are excited to share her journey as there is a huge void in the market for something like this.
Why did you decide to make this sort of beverage?
No other food and beverage brands are championing aging
We saw a huge void in the market. More so, no one else is innovating for today’s thriving adult >50 and taking advantage of all the incredible advancements in nutrition and food science, particularly leveraging the unique properties of plants for longevity. Visit any grocery store today, most of the food and beverage products are targeting millennials, new moms, or convalescent care. Indeed, the adult nutrition aisle is a sad place, one that most people don’t even venture down unless they’re convalescing or not well, and we thought there was an opportunity to reinvent this. More so, we saw there was nothing for the healthy, active 50+ person at the top of their game. In fact, only 1% of global innovation targets our modern elders! Contrast this with the fact that 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day and are aging like no generation before. Thus, I wanted to create a beverage that married plant-based nutrition and health science in a convenient, tasty and smartly designed format.
When I look at my parents in their 60s, they are aging much differently than their parents. We see the incredible potential of life after 50 today. And while this generation accounts for more than half of all consumer spending, no food and beverage brands are designed for them. With Perennial, we wanted to be the first brand dedicated to championing aging and personalizing nutrition for the body and brain of this consumer. We believe in leveraging the endless possibilities of plants to unlock the keys to aging well. My co-founder Brent Taylor formerly co-founded Beyond Meat and saw that >50s were very interested in plant-based for health concerns, but no brands spoke to them.
What is your background?
My expertise is in manipulating plant-based inputs
The protein, fiber, etc for better-tasting food that offers greater digestibility/functionality, with a focus on preventative wellness are what we focus on. I am a native of Canada and have degrees in Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry (McGill University), with a graduate degree in Biological Engineering (University of Guelph).
This isn’t my first business venture. During college, I started a business selling customized tea blends (for detoxing to menopause!) and have always been very passionate about nutrition/wellness. Prior to co-founding Perennial, I worked at General Mills, which taught me a lot about how to scale a food business, operational complexities and how to build a good company culture. I was also a resident at IndieBio, the San Francisco-based life accelerator that incubates companies and founders with the goal of positive change. There I leveraged my food chemistry and biological science background to perfect using plants in replicating the taste, functionality, texture and nutritional parity of cow’s milk, an experience that is integral to Perennial’s creamy non-dairy formulation today.
Earlier, I developed biodegradable packaging from plant protein & sustainable materials that were used across Asia and Europe to reduce plastic bag waste. Among my career highlights was presenting my research on sustainability to Prince Charles, and being awarded “Fierce Female Founder” in Canada. After initially pursuing pre-med at University, I became convinced that innovation through our food system has the greatest potential to impact the global community.
What was your research process in Perennial’s formulation?
Today’s active adults want simple, balanced nutrition
but may not be getting it consistently from their diet. They also want to maintain optimal digestion, stay mentally sharp and curb their hunger, all while trying to keep their cholesterol down. Perennial is a great mini-meal or snack on its own (served best over ice), a nutrient-dense addition to the morning meal, whether in a smoothie, oatmeal or coffee.
When diving deeper into the development process, it was important to me that each 8 oz container of Perennial had the same base nutrition (and a similar taste) as a glass of milk, with 8g of complete protein, vitamin A, D, iron, and calcium, but without the bad stuff like cholesterol, lactose, saturated fat, and 40 percent less sugar than milk. Perennial has a pleasing vanilla almond flavor, not the chalky taste and artificial ingredients of some plant-based drinks in the $4 billion nutritional drink category. All of the leading adult nutrition brands today contain milk as their base ingredient, so matching the taste and nutrition (with plant protein and nutrients) was important. From here, I went beyond what animal protein could offer and tailored the product to what a 50+ person cares about: brain health, digestive function, immunity, and muscle health.
We blended four plant proteins
To create totally digestible protein we blended four plant proteins (most plant proteins are only 60-70 percent digestible). Cognitive nutrition is critical to this demographic: 69% of baby boomers say they care more about staying mentally sharp than they do about physical aging, so we took this into account when developing Perennial. Lastly, we fortified each 8oz serving with the vitamins and minerals the aging body doesn’t get enough of from food, according to the USDA, with a strong focus on select micronutrients that enhance the absorption of one another in the body. These include vitamin D & calcium, omega-3 DHA & vitamin E, vitamin B12 & B6, fiber…to name a few. With all these benefits, one should really feel the difference after a month of drinking Perennial daily, hence why we offer a 24 pack and a money back taste guarantee.
Plants have endless possibilities
Plants are amazing in product development from both a taste perspective and nutritional profile. By blending multiple plant proteins and nutrients we can deliver a nutritional composition that extends beyond what dairy-based nutrition drinks (even milk) can provide our body. Additionally, plants have no cholesterol or lactose which affect us more as we age. As it stands today, 65% of the world is lactose intolerant, and that doesn’t take into account the increase in lactose intolerance as we age, so we need better non-dairy nutrition solutions. Lastly, plants have this ability to be good for the gut microbiome; an emerging area of science heavily linked to longevity.
Which of Perennial’s ingredients are key for longevity?
Optimized for longevity
I would say everything in this beverage was optimized for longevity and has a purpose. We took a curated approach to adult nutrition, rather than an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach.
For starters, Perennial was smartly designed to target gut health (in combination with a whole-food diet). Also, having plant protein from different sources helps promote increased diversity of gut bacteria (microbiome) that research links to healthy aging. Indeed, leveraging multiple plant proteins in specific ratios also allows for 100% digestibility of the non-dairy beverage and supports muscle health because of the presence of all essential amino acids (aka protein building blocks). More so, Perennial’s prebiotic fiber is at a level of fortification (3.2g) that enhances calcium absorption and is good for digestion. Fiber is critical to good health and most people don’t get enough of it. Fiber has been known to have the same impact as intermittent fasting on the body.
The product also supports bone health and muscle maintenance, which are other factors of importance as we age (we lose between 3-8% muscle mass each decade after age 30).
Perennial’s blend of micronutrients for brain health is critical for longevity (i.e. DHA omega-3, with choline, natural vitamin E, vitamin B12) as these ingredients work together not only to support your brain’s physical wellness but also to maintain cognitive functioning. Lastly, we added a proprietary vitamin and mineral composition personalized for optimal absorption in the body, which is key to longevity since we lose a lot of digestive enzymes and stomach acids as we get older.
What is the impact you are hoping for it to have?
Championing and innovating
The long-term impact is for Perennial, as a brand and product platform, to manifest into a global ethos synonymous with championing and innovating for today’s thriving modern elders and their second act. We are reinventing the archaic adult nutrition category with modern, plant-based products that are convenient, great-tasting and backed by health science to champion the >50 consumers and extend healthy human lifespan.
Perennial tastes great. I put it in my coffee in the morning. How important to you was the taste experience?
‘Taste is King’ as I like to say.
This was the absolute most important thing to me when developing Perennial’s almond-vanilla non-dairy nutrition drink. The goal was to make it taste clean, smooth (not chalky) and satisfying enough that you could use it as a mini-meal when on the go, for replenishment after a workout or as a nutritious smoothie base in the morning (check the recipes on our website!). I spent two years tirelessly working to get all the levels of nutrients at the right ratios and making it taste great on its own and not overpowering, so it’s also versatile.
Other products on the market are heavily flavored or sweetened with monk fruit, or artificial sweeteners/sugar alcohols (i.e. sucralose, xylitol), and we made a conscious choice not to do that. Instead, we leveraged proprietary blending techniques to deliver a clean taste in a convenient, on-the-go format. We find many people love Perennial chilled or over ice, and since it is entirely shelf-stable it can go with you anywhere for a nutrient-dense drink throughout the day as a mini-meal, post-workout recovery beverage, or folded into your favorite milky drinks.
What were some of the challenges you had to overcome in making it? It seems so complex to make a shelf-stable product like this.
Who are you thinking will most benefit from the product?
An active adult >50 who wants to stay at the top of their mental and physical game as they age and consume food and beverage products that have ‘clean ingredients’ but still fit conveniently into their daily routine, without ever sacrificing taste!
So much better tasting
Many people enjoy the benefits of Perennial as supplemental nutrition when they are on the go because it is both shelf-stable (no refrigeration required) and small enough to easily fit into a purse/gym bag/your car’s glove compartment. Thus, when you are in a pinch for time or want something satisfying to replenish after working out, it has enough protein, vitamins, and fiber to even act as a mini-meal (only 140 calories). After sampling to over 300 women this weekend in Beverly Hills, California we heard people say Perennial: “is so much better tasting than [they] expected for a nutrition beverage” and “more versatile than other nutrition drinks.”
Our almond-vanilla non-dairy drink also is great for those who are adopting a more flexitarian diet, are lactose intolerant or trying to cut down on cholesterol but care deeply about staying mentally sharp (avoiding dementia) as they enter their second act. One man locally here in Manhattan Beach, California who is in his 60s loves drinking Perennial while he does writing sessions for his next big novel as each 8oz bottle of Perennial has 32mg of DHA (omega-3s), folate, choline, and vitamin B12 to support brain health.
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.