Why top athletes like boxer Sarita Devi and cricketer Mayank Agarwal vouch for this sports nutrition startup
A mechanical engineer with an MBA in international business, Vijayaraghavan Venugopal has more than 17 years of work experience. But work and business development are not the only things that keep him busy.
A passionate sportsperson, Vijay is one of the fastest amateur marathoners in the country, and has participated in sub-3-hour marathons five times in major cities across the world like Boston, Chicago, and Berlin.
As is with every sports regimen, behind the actual feat there is a great deal of training and preparation involved. And the cornerstone of this prep is, without a doubt, a diet supplemented by adequate nutrition. Not just for professional athletes, but also for the fitness-conscious millennials in India, sports-centric nutrition has emerged as an immediate need.
While there has been a steady increase in demand, the same cannot be said for brands catering to this market. And Vijay’s personal experience is a testament to this.
“Being a runner myself, I have bought products from abroad that would help me with my runs,” he says adding, “I completely agree that India needs a sports nutrition brand for the Indian athlete”.
This vacuum in the market for an OTC nutrition company to build a strong brand in India and address the needs of active living between the age of 25 and 45 led Vijay to launch Aeronutrix Sports Products Private Limited along with Varun Khanna in 2015.
Interestingly, it was a chance encounter that brought the two together. Vijay had in the past worked with Varun's father, Satish Khanna, while at Lupin. And when the two happened to meet, they both got talking about sports nutrition in India, Vijay's passion for running, and the fact that both of them are Virgos.
One of the fastest-growing nutrition brands in the country today, its flagship brand Fast&Up is catering to performance needs in sports and intelligent nutrition supplements for an active lifestyle. It is also endorsed by some of the top athletes in the country including World Champion boxer L Sarita Devi and Indian cricketers Mayank Agarwal and Priya Punia.
The product - backed by Swiss technology
Originally launched in Switzerland in 2007, Aeronutrix Sports Products made its way to the Indian market in 2015. It’s flagship brand Fast&Up, headquartered in Mumbai with presence in cities like Bengaluru and Hyderabad, is backed by innovative Swiss technology and effervescent science aimed at promoting ‘active living’, claims Vijay.
“Our products are the first of its kind and never seen before in the Indian market,” chimes in Varun, a graduate in biotechnology from the UK, with over ten years of experience in the field of healthcare, information technology, and biotech.
“This includes India’s first effervescent range: ‘Reload’ – hypotonic electrolytes, ‘Vitalize’ –multivitamins, ‘Activate’ – for pre-workout, ‘Recover’ – for post-workout, in addition to other products such as ‘Energy Gel’ – rapid energy gel and ‘BCAA’ – during a workout,” he adds. The average pricing is Rs 350, with products ranging between Rs 215 and Rs 2,990.
Interestingly, the idea behind the brand was birthed by the belief that active living is important for the well-being of an individual. Today, millennials are increasingly becoming conscious about their health and well-being, and are willing to splurge on it as well.
Reports indicate that around 36 percent of this population use one or the other fitness app, and another 45 percent consider healthy living a priority.
These stats coupled with the fact that there is a rising sports culture in the country makes for just the right environment for a brand like Fast&Up to thrive in India. More so, as the brand doesn't directly compete with anyone else in the market. Although, indirectly they compete with energy drink brands, sports nutrition brands across the country such as Gatorade, Enerzal etc, says the founding duo.
“Fast&Up has started with one thing – interactions,” explains Vijay. “We started attracting our first consumers in the running community through sampling, peer recommendations, and amplifying the use of digital marketing.”
From cricketers to footballers
Not just the top guns from the running community, today Fast&Up is associated with some of the popular national and international athletes from various sports segments like cricket, soccer, kabaddi, cycling, and athletics.
“Fast&Up is associated with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for the strategic supply of essential products to its various teams and all its bodies including the India International Team (Men and Women, ODI and TC),” says Vijay, adding, “The brand also supplies nutrition products for IPL, Ranji Trophy teams, Pro Volleyball League, TN Premier League, Pune FC, IBC Pro Boxing I league, Pro Kabaddi League and many more”.
In addition to this, the sports nutrition brand caters to some of the biggest running events powered by corporates like the Airtel Hyderabad Marathon and Tata Mumbai Marathon.
For a clientele of this stature, brand presence is undoubtedly a huge aspect. And founding duo Vijay and Varun are well aware of this element. Their brand, which is currently selling both online and offline, has its own ecommerce website, and the products under this flagship are available on all leading e-marketplaces.
“We are also aggressively growing in the retail space with a focus on specialised nutrition stores, MTOs, and pharmacies. We are focusing on our omnichannel strategy to get the Fast&Up to every active Indian across India. Today, Fast&Up is available in 2,000 stores across India,” adds Vijay.
The 18-month plan
Starting with just four people, Fast&Up has since grown to a team comprising more than 50 members. The brand, backed by investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, has grown over 40 percent year-on-year, securing funding from investors like Sixth Sense, Kotak Fund, and Tek Friday.
In all these years leading up to this phase for the sports nutrition business, one major hurdle along the way was creating awareness on effervescence, says Vijay. This is besides the need for awareness on the topic of nutrition itself.
“Till today, nutrition supplements are considered to be only protein based,” quips the founder. “But thanks to social media and more awareness, the misconception is slowly reducing, and people are more knowledgeable. They love to research about nutrition, diet, and supplements before consumption.”
It is this awareness and rising consumer interest that are proving to be a boon for sports nutrition brands in India like Fast&Up, which is not only picking up in terms of popularity but also growing its customer base.
“Since our inception, more than five million Indians have experienced Fast&Up,” says Varun, before letting us in on the next phase of their brand (which if his words are any indication is going to be absolutely promising).
“Next 18 months are the most exciting phase for us,” he shares. “Being the official nutrition and energy drink partner to some incredible events and athletes, we are working hard to create noise and the upcoming months look extremely exciting with some super products being launched and more incredible news to be shared with the active India,” he says.
(Edited by Megha Reddy)