Hello Biohackers! We are so blessed to get a chance to know more about Luv and its products. Despite their busy schedule Ilya Gorodisher (Owner of Luv) agreed to do the interview and answer our Q and A. Susanna and Ilya Gorodisher have been enjoying life together for over thirty years. Their LUV story began when they gained hundreds of pounds in the ’80s. They were sucked in the “fat is bad” theory and avoid high-fat foods. So this is how Ilya tries to find a way of making a product like ice cream, chocolate, and candies without the added sugar. They also made other products like chocolate chips, chocolate bars, and baking mixes. Sugar-free, soy-free, totally plant-based and dairy-free, dark, mysterious, and yet not bitter. Today Ilya Gorodisher will tell us more about their story, their company, their products, and benefits for us to LOSE THE SUGAR AND FEEL THE LUV!
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Q: Hi Ilya, Can you tell us a little bit about yourself the company, mission, and vision? How did you come up with the brand name Luv?
A: Both Susanna and I have struggled with weight all of our lives. Back in the 80s when we met in college in Boston (she was at Boston University; I was at MIT), low-fat diets were all the rage. The “Fit or Fat” books were the 80s blueprint for weight loss: lots of high impacts, high calorie burning aerobics coupled with ultra low-fat diets. As college students, fast food was our downfall. Egg McMuffins were the rare treat that we could afford, both financially and fat-wise. So Susanna came up with a homemade alternative: a non-fat English muffin with a slice of lean Canadian bacon, egg whites, and Molly McButter. The latter is an all-chemical, all-carb powdered butter alternative that tastes exactly as appetizing as it sounds.
On the rarest of occasions, we would splurge and Susanna would use REAL butter on the sandwich. I would pine for that every time, longingly asking: “did you make it with luuuuuuv?” In the 80s, love became inherently synonymous with butter or fat. It tasted oh so good to our deprived palates.
Fast forward to Valentine’s Day 2012: Susanna is an ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) certified personal trainer. I am a Ph.D. research scientist with 25 years of experience. I am running over 30 miles a week, sores, bleeding nipples, perpetual aches in my joints. I am the heaviest I have ever been. And now my blood pressure and blood sugar are about to place into the Type II diabetic category. I am within 1-2 points. Susanna takes me off sugar and all the “fun carbs”. She has a body of literature suggesting diet is the key, diet of natural high fats, very low carbs, moderate protein. But on the bright side: no more running required. Some walking, more weight lifting, more my style.
By the summertime, I drop from size 42 pants to size 36/38. My blood sugar is under 100. My blood pressure is controlled by pills. But I am miserable: I miss ice cream, I miss chocolate, I miss beer. Yes, in that order. “Honey, I cannot be expected to lead this life of kale!”. That cry from the heart is met with a very pragmatic response: “You are a Ph.D. research scientist for a Fortune 100 company. You play in a laboratory all day, synthesizing, purifying, compounding. Here is your list of allowed natural ingredients: organic stevia, inulin fiber, and the like. Indigenous people in South America have been using some of these for centuries instead of sugar. Go to town. Make your own ice cream with these instead of sugar.” I took these words to heart. I bought a little 2-quart ice cream maker on eBay. And went to town. The summer of 2012 saw me take over our kitchen island and the stove. I have experimented for 3 months. Each experiment was a delicious failure. In their 1987 “Ice Cream & Dessert Book” Ben & Jerry (yes, those Ben & Jerry) make an insightful observation: no matter how weird of an ice cream concoction you make, as long as it is delicious people will eat it, I am paraphrasing and adding to that “if it’s free, it will be gobbled up”. That summer I was starting my 23 years at 3M Corporate Science Research Materials Lab. Building 201. On 3M campus Building 201 was fondly referred to as “Ivory Tower”. That is because to the rest of the troops we were the Dreamers of the Corporation, the impractical research scientists working on far away unrealistic topics. 201 does not see many catered meetings. There is no coffee with donuts. Lunches during meetings can be counted on one hand per year. Within 201, the 4th Floor was the Island of Misfit Toys. On the 4th floor, we were too weird to fit in even with the lower floors. And, by the time the news of leftover meeting food reached us on the 4th floor, it was too late. 3M Siberia was my home for 31 years. I had an instant unfed audience of peers. Grateful and blunt. Not picky, but critical. A perfect flavor focus group. Ice cream froze like a rock? No matter. It would be devoured. And critiqued on the spot. Another benefit to the floor: we were as international as the United Nations. My closest friends were Colombian scientists who shared a lab with a Pakistani scientist. In our running days, our lunchtime 4-mile loop took us past a Correctional Facility until Carlos observed one day that to the authorities we are the Axis of Evil: A Russian, a Pakistani, and a Colombian. But the bottom line was, I had instant access to flavor preferences and opinions of a huge chunk of the world. By October we had a winning formula, half a dozen recipes, and a genuine quandary of what comes next. We both had successful careers, more than just meaningful jobs. Susanna had her personal training business, a studio, and clients whom she adored. We had no desire to quit any of that to pursue a pie-in-the-sky dream of a high failure rate crapshoot that is the food industry.
In early November we hosted an Election Day Party for our closest friends. We worked our little 2-quart machine 3 weeks straight and had about 25 pints of politically themed flavors. 5 pints were reserved as the Grand Prize for whoever predicted the Electoral College results are the closest. By the end of the evening, all 25 pints were gone and we had to issue an IOU to the winner. Oh, and the consensus was that we should quit whatever we were doing and make this sugar-free, all-natural ice cream. The audience was 100% Susanna’s clients and my 3M colleagues. Later that November we visited our son who was following my footsteps at MIT. We rented an AirB& B in Porter Square and hosted a Whole Foods catered Thanksgiving Dinner for his friends stranded in Cambridge for the holidays. We found ourselves in the geographical origin of American gourmet ice cream. Flashback to the late 70s/early 80s: the birth, arch, and demise of Steve’s Ice Cream in Davis Square in Cambridge. Steve’s was the first “slow foods” approach to a high fat, artisan, ultra-premium ice cream. In fact, Alice Waters was allegedly one of the potential buyers when Steve’s was for sale. Out of Steve’s concept came Ben & Jerry’s who combined Steve’s concept with Penn State Dairy School recipes to create their franchise. But more importantly, from Steve’s came Gus Rancatore to open Toscanini’s, pretty much on MIT Campus. Tosci’s is an institution and so is Gus. NYT calls it “the best ice cream in the world”. That’s a NY publication speaking of a Beantown eatery, mind you. Regardless, Gus is responsible for countless aced exams by countless MIT students who have been cramming at Tusci’s for the last 40+ years. Plus a pound or two we now carry. When I asked Gus how come nobody makes all this – sweeping a wide arm arc across his flavors, his response was “because nobody has figured it out yet.” Then he squinted at me and asked “why you have, haven’t you?!” I nodded and Susanna and I saw the light. It was just a glimmer. Neither one of us was quitting what we were doing. But on weekends, if all cards fell into place, we could rent a space in a communal commercial kitchen and get a commercial batch freezer to churn ice cream… and make a few pints for a few bucks to help offset MIT tuition payments. At least that was my plea. “We’ll work a few hours every other Saturday, make a hundred pints or so…Only if things fall together naturally, Susanna replied. We are not going to force anything. If it is meant to be, it will happen. It happened. By Valentine’s 2013 we had a tiny space rented in a kitchen incubator. A tiny batch freezer turned up on eBay in Owatonna. A McDonald’s franchise owner was getting his Micky Dees out of the ice cream biz. River Market in Stillwater, our home coop, and Tailor Made Nutrition in Woodbury (a store dedicated to customers with immune system issues and severe allergies where Susanna has been shopping ever since her Celiac diagnosis ) wanted to carry our ice creams and vegan nice creams without even trying them. But what do we call it? We were high fat, low carbs, zero sugar. LUV is what we craved since the 80s… the FAT! The healthy fat. We have been LUV all along. LUV is what we are. Oh, and during our first in-store demo at River Market on Valentine’s Day 2013 we sold out. 85 pints. Valentine’s Day was Thursday. It took us two 12 hour days preceding the weekend to make those pints. River Market ordered 80 more and wanted us to sample again Tuesday for the senior citizen 10% off discount day. “We are going to need a bigger boat” – for some reason Chief Brody’s words surfaced in my brain.
Q: What’s your favorite part about working on the idea of making a product like ice cream without any added sugar and why? What is unique about your product?
A: In 2012 when I began trying to make our ice cream the term “keto” did not exist, at least not in the popular culture. Outside of a few like-minded: Atkins dieters, Dr. Lustig, and biochemically driven nutritionists, bodybuilders, and anti-sugar activists few appreciated the concept of low carb eating. And the idea of making a sugar-free, all-natural low carb ice cream was greeted with skepticism by some and with puzzled bewilderment by most. Why reinvent the wheel? Why isn’t the regular fat-free ice milk good enough? We already have 1/3 sugar ice creams. Meanwhile, the best commercial ice cream machine manufacturers like Emery Thompson were proclaiming that making ice cream with sugar is impossible. Nothing inspires a researcher like summoning science to do what’s been declared impossible. Applying concepts from chemistry and materials science to make hereto tasty treats healthy and guilt-free is especially gratifying. And prior to the summer of 2012 never have my scientific experiments produced yummy, ready-to-eat results in less than an hour. But the biggest inspiration, the sweetest payoff is watching a child’s face light up when she or he tries nice cream or ice cream. Pre-covid we routinely did in-store demos, sampling LUV to consumers. When a 4-year-old with skin so pale and fragile, it’s translucent walks up inquiring about polysyllabic ingredients no 4 years old should be able to pronounce (Does it have casein? Does it have carrageenan?) and then hearing “no”, looks up at mom “can I have some?” gets an affirmative, it is precious. And seeing a child’s face light up with an obviously rare smile upon tasting a treat, well, that makes my eyes water. To say it is gratifying is to say nothing. It makes it all worthwhile. LUV was and is a keto pioneer first and foremost to make something that I could eat. Susanna and I envisioned a product and when it wasn’t available on the marketplace, I worked hard to create it. One example of that is how our chocolate chips and chunks were born. We needed a vegan (dairy-free), sugar-free, soy-free, and gluten-free chocolate to make nice cream flavors like orange coconut with chocolate chips. Coconut flavors could not tolerate that stuff among their ingredients and all the existing sugar-free chocolate was maltitol-sweetened and contained soy and milk. So, I had to make our 80% cocoa dark chocolate from scratch. It was a necessity. Desperation is the mother of invention or something like that). And LUV chocolate was born in 2013, created by a guy whose experience with chocolate was limited to eating it since before he could walk. We do not use any shortcuts to make our ice creams. We use only heavy organic cream, no milk, so our ice creams are naturally lactose-free. Lactose is milk sugar, and when The cream is separated from milk, it is essentially 100% fat, no lactose-containing milk. LUV was the first to make keto ice cream. And even now when several other larger manufacturers offer their versions for the keto community, we stand apart. Folks who have tried all others still prefer LUV for flavor, creaminess, and sweetness profile. Our ice creams are ready-to-eat out of the freezer; they do not have to be thawed out in a microwave or for 15 minutes on a counter. Unlike some brands, we do not add ANY sugar of any kind to our ice creams.
Q: What are the biggest challenges that you’ve encountered when you started the business and how did you deal with them?
A: I think for us it was finding the time. Other resources too, but at first, with two full-time jobs and a kid in college, it was time, then money. We consciously did not leverage equity or take on investors. We remained closely held, rolling over all the profits back into the business. That part is common to many small businesses. The other common part was learning that creating novel products is a rare treat that comes only after a very long and boring meal of paperwork, compliance, production, and packaging. The thing that we love to do – to play with food – is the 5% to 10% reward you get to do at the end of a day and only when all the other business-critical stuff is done. All the small business owners know that they will tell you about it, but until you are lucky enough to be successful, will you experience that aspect of success on your own. You do not own your time. Your business owns it. Initially, – remember, this is now nearly 10 years ago! educating people that “sugar-free” didn’t mean “fake”. In so many minds, there was an implicit equivalency between “sugar-free” and “artificially sweetened”. Early on we had a winning all-natural sweetener formula. It wasn’t sugar. And explaining that various plants naturally produce non-sugar sweeteners was not intuitive. Many were skeptical of this fact; after many years of brainwashing by the sugar lobby, what they heard was counter-intuitive.
We had to break through that. Another challenge back then was making the argument that a calorie is not a calorie. Calories derived from empty carbs (sugars, simple carbohydrates, starches, – all the “fun carbs” as I like to call them) – are bad. Nearly half of them are immediately stored as fat. A definitive quantitative study of de Nuovo lipogenesis carried out a few years ago traced the isotope-tagged sugars through the digestion cycle and followed them to their natural, new body fat resting place. Meanwhile, a diet high in natural healthy fats and low in carbs induces the state of ketosis. In ketosis, the body derives its energy from stored fats when the “easy” energy from carbs is stored as glycogen is depleted. If your goal is to burn body fat, ketosis is your desired metabolic state. So, a high-fat diet is good for losing fat. Try explaining that 10 years ago!
Finally, when you are new in business, you get a ton of advice. That free advice is a package deal: you get the spectrum from good to bad. Learning to weed out bad advice and just to say “no, thank you, that is not our way” could be hard for a Midwesterner. For example, we had been told many times to focus on one product and stick with it. For a creative person, that is an impossible challenge. We now have over 100 SKUs in LUV but that number could’ve been double that. Pragmatism is the other boundary: we do have to focus on the practical and the scalable and the doable. Pragmatism is still the hard part for me years later. We cannot do it all and we cannot be everything to all people. Our lane is to make healthy lives a little sweeter and sweet lives a little healthier s& of course having fun doing it.
Q: Today many of us already started a Keto diet but there are times that we have cravings. How can your products help us satisfy our cravings?
A: LUV was created to provide guilt-free, sugar-free healthy rewards for those on low-carb or keto diets. Our products are not meant to replace meals. They are a prize for sticking with a diet, a treat with no perceived sacrifice. That has been our goal since day one when I did it for myself and my wife only. And that mission hasn’t changed. It expanded to other dessert types, other treats, but the target has always been to remain guilt-free and perceived sacrifice-free. Because if it does not taste great, people are not going to it as a reward. A special treat. A prize for winning a keto day. Our taste buds crave that ultimate combination of fat+sweet+salt. That is the nature of homo sapiens. By providing sugar-free sweets combined with high fat we eliminate the hunger and the craving. We leave the sodium low, but if you and your doctor are OK with it, add salt to complete the trifecta. Appropriately, LUV products should not spike blood glucose levels. Without any added sugar and most often without any sugar they will not promote hunger hormones. And the vast majority of LUV products are high fat, so they will satisfy the hunger, the yearning, the craving, the sweet tooth, the urge to nibble, peck, nosh, snack, but also to mindlessly gorge or binge. The fat will fill you up. You will not feel hungry after a LUV chocolate bar – it is nearly half fat. Same with ice creams, ice creams, and baked goods. So, satiety hormones will kick in fast, especially in a carb-depleted body, especially a body already in ketosis. Nobody should eat a pint of ice cream in one sitting. That is why LUV tagline at the bottom of every pint is “SCOOP RESPONSIBLY!”
Q: It’s really amazing that you are offering a make your own LUV ice cream and nice creams using a blender and a LUV blender kit. How did you come up with this idea and why?.
A: This is a great question. All of them are good and aim to the heart of what LUV is, but this one looks into our creative process. As you can probably imagine, since day one we have been hit with requests to ship our ice cream nationwide. However, that process is prohibitive and expensive, especially for a single small batch manufacturer. A big part of the reason is dry ice. Ice cream has to remain frozen and its freezing point has been depressed to well below that of water. The idea here is to make it scoopable out of a -10F freezer or 5F dipping cabinet. So, it cannot go on the ice, it has to go on dry ice. Dry CO2. Dry CO2 is considered a hazardous material by the US DOT. So, FedEx and UPS require appropriate packaging, labeling, and disclosure. So far so good. Dry ice is also not cheap: typically $2/lb and heavy. And you need lots of it to keep your ice cream from thawing out. So you are looking at 10 lbs of dry ice easily + special Styrofoam boxing + overnight shipping. Why overnight, you ask? Because dry ice sublimes (goes from solid to vapor phase) at a pretty good rate. The warmer the ambient temps, the steeper the thermal gradient, the faster the sublimation process. Look into what it costs to ship, say, a 30 lbs (you want to make it worthwhile when it comes to ice cream and gets several pints) overnight from 55109 to your neck of the woods. FedEx and UPS have handy dandy calculators on their sites. It will cost you easily a couple of hundred bucks. Now we get to the fun part: your carefully packed package appears to be smoking that’s dry ice subliming. And frosting over on the outside on the cardboard that’s ambient water condensing on the cooler surface (think dew). To a postal inspector that looks odd and suspicious. S/he looks at the box. It says “dry ice” and “hazardous”. Sure, but it should be investigated. Now your package is diverted to an inspection station where it waits its turn to be opened, examined, and reclosed. That causes a delay and now your box arrives a day late with the product soft or melted. If it doesn’t delay and melt, proximity to a -70C source (dry ice) will force ice cream to crystallize. It will get “freezer burnt”. What that means is that we like all ice cream makers fight the forces of nature to keep the nucleating solid phase from growing into large crystallites when we make the product. We trap air into it, we depress the melting point of water from 0C to -30C. But we cannot depress it to dry ice temps. (If we could, Big Food Inc would use that additive in ice cream much like they use propylene glycol, but that’s a separate story) and ship our ice creams on that mixture frozen rather than dry ice. So ice creams are not MEANT for dry ice. Dry ice is so cold that it will knock those tiny ice nuclei out of their suspended state into growth. You will get larger ice crystals in your ice cream if you subject it to dry ice. It will taste freezer burnt. Of course, you could insulate dry ice from the ice cream, adding more bulk, size, and weight further increasing the freight costs. All this was to explain why we do not ship frozen: expensive, and frankly unwise. Not worth it, no matter how much you love ice cream. If you can spend that kind of dinero on a pint, fly yourself over to LUV and get one for seven bucks. But that is not a practical answer for most people. Sure, I tried explaining the Big Soda does not ship their end product across the country. They ship syrup. To a bottling plant. Where they carbonate water, add syrup and bottle. Because shipping water from one end of a country that has water to another end of the country that has water is expensive. And impractical. And if that water is now frozen, then it needs to be kept so in a frozen bulkhead of a refrigerated semi that is powered by a separate diesel engine and the cost of that is environmental suicide. Yes, we do care about the planet and about sustainability. But that is not a practical answer to most people. Again. So, early on, I devised an ice cream mix for a home ice cream maker. Just add water (for vegan/coconut mixes) and churn. And cream or half and a half to the dairy ones. Voila! Problem solved! Turns out, no. People do not want extra crap like ice cream makers littering their counters. They do not want extra small appliances in their already cramped living spaces with no cupboard space, no pantry place, or no pantry in the first place. They live in a tiny NYC apartment. They share a Chicago loft with two other people. They live in a college dorm for heaven’s sake! A sorority triple. They ain’t buying an ice cream maker. Not even for twenty bucks. Forget it. But even college students with roommates have blenders. I have long puzzled over how to make a mix that requires no special ice cream-making appliances. It has not been trivial. It required a lot of failures, a lot of time, and a lot of head-scratching as to why the necessary science failed me. But 99 experiments out of 100 ends in failure in the lab. And after 30+ years of banging my head against a wall, I no longer feel the pain. I am a very stubborn, some would say “obsessive” individual. I figured some stuff out. In the end, it is all about physical chemistry that I so hated in college and grad school. Just with a natural set of ingredients. Which we LUV. Have all the problems been solved? Nope. Our coconut flavors and sangria sorbet work pretty well. Chocolate flavors take a while to dissolve and are better heated in a saucepan with the added liquid. All of the mixes are best chilled in a fridge after dissolution and then whipped in the blender to make sure air bubbles remain trapped. That is one of the keys to making good ice cream – entrapping tons of air bubbles. But all of that is too much to fit on a blender mix package. But it turns out, LUV customers are experimentalists at heart. We get emails of what they like to add to our mixes, about how hard it is not to eat the mixes straight out of the packaging in the first place and how it is often unreasonable to wait until the nice creams harden in the freezer and sipping them cold is every bit as good. To our fellow experimentalists, we raise a glass!
Q: Among all of the products that you offer, which of these products do you personally use, and which of these products would you recommend?
A: To say that we use all of them is to say nothing. But use all of them we do. We do not eat every single one every day – no, far from it. But we do sample every batch of everything we make. It has to pass our palate first before it is packaged and distributed. But that is not a complete answer. If we zoom out for a moment and look at the origin of every product and every product line we make, it is always something that either Susanna or I (or our son Ian, and later our demanding loyal customers) demanded. We demanded it because we could not find something we needed in the marketplace. Or something existed but its ingredients were subpar or the taste wasn’t quite right and we thought we could do better. So, if you start from a place that everything we make was originally made to satisfy our own craving, our own needs, our own taste buds, then you start seeing a fuller answer to your question. Our personal likes and dislikes may coincide with some of our readers and clash with others. For example, we favor very dark chocolate. We do not like white chocolate. So, we make an 80% cocoa bar, and we do not make any white chocolate. Purely a matter of personal preference. So to those who prefer white to dark or even milk chocolate to high cocoa content bars, we would not recommend LUV chocolate bars. Susanna really loves our Hot Cocoa and Keto Brownie mixes. She spruces her morning coffee with a teaspoon of cocoa mix for a mocha coffee. The brownie mix recipe took her a while to perfect and now thanks to her we have to offer a dairy-free brownie mix also. That is her go-to dessert for every function to which she’s invited. Everything LUV is gluten-free, so with these brownies being dairy-free and sugar-free as well, practically everyone can enjoy them! Our Hot Cocoa mix is naturally vegan so people can add almond milk or coconut milk to keep it vegan, while folks like me can use a dash of heavy cream with water to lux it up. Same when it comes to frozen flavors. Some people loathe mint. I am one of them. I am forced to make mint under duress because Susanna loves it. She also formulated our coffee flavors because she prefers that over chocolate ice creams. To me, that is blasphemy. So, when it comes to blender mix flavors, folks should stick with what they like already and then try LUV analogues. While we are on the subject of blender mixes, some dairy flavors are tougher to hit (approximate what is in our pints) in a mix. Vanilla is proving one of the hardest. LUV supplies these dairy and non-dairy mixes to other ice cream shops in bulk. If you live in Sarasota, FL or Austin TX, or around Memphis, TN or in NH/Boston area, or in Idaho or a few places in Wisconsin, you might already know that. But in bulk, the flavor is easier to hit especially because those ice cream shops have commercial ice cream making equipment. Home freezers, on the other hand, all have different set temperatures and freeze the product slightly differently. But back to the question: we would recommend the product that the customer would normally use with sugar or had used with sugar prior to the keto diet. Then get LUV analogue of that product. Of course, another place to start is with our Sweet LUV™ sugar replacement that sweetens just about everything we make. It is a direct sugar replacement so if you take a teaspoon of sugar in your cup of coffee, then a teaspoon of Sweet LUV™ will do the trick. Same with baking: if you want to bake sugar-free and all-natural, substitute sugar with Sweet LUV™ in all your recipes.
Q: Why do you feel that someone should buy your products? Who is your target market?
A: LUV products taste great and that is why people should buy them. Above all, we make foods that taste great. There’s no sense in making something just to check a “sugar-free” box…it HAS to be worth eating. LUV is for those who want to give up sugar, for whatever reason. We want to make that transition as painless and as sacrifice-free as possible. At the same time, we realize how powerful the sugar lobby is in the United States and how deeply some people are conditioned to consuming sugar. Some will before not give up their sugar feeling there is nothing wrong with that stance. We do not feel it is our place to try to reason with those people or to seek out some common ground. Apart from that hopefully small group, our target market is everybody else who wants to give up sugar and live a healthier life. These are Type II diabetics. These are Type I, diabetics. Folks diagnosed with Candida do well on a low-carb diet that is facilitated with LUV products. But also those with autoimmune issues, those with a cancer diagnosis, Celiac disease, and those with food allergies. Lots of people! But one doesn’t have to be sick or suffering to benefit from LUV. It is gratifying that today’s youth are much more nutrition-conscious than we were at their age. They look at the nutritional labels, they seek out healthier and all-natural alternatives. They eschew sucralose, they smite saccharine, they abhor aspartame. They seek healthy, natural ingredients. And that is all they will find in LUV.
Q: Aside from current product offerings, are you working on developing new additional products? What does the product roadmap look like?
A: We are always working on new products. When I look around and see where sugar and artificial sweeteners reign, I don’t just see untapped market potential, I ask myself Is this is something that I’d enjoy were it not for sugar? This journey has brought us across the world of ice cream into the universe of chocolate (a fascinating place, more on that below), and into the bottomless world of soft drinks. Currently, all the sugar-free soft drinks on the market are sweetened with artificial sweeteners. Not just Coke and Pepsi, but all of their sweetened products. Not just 7UP and RC, not just Dr. Pepper and – well you get the idea. The world of keto soda boils down to just a single manufacturer whose products, frankly, leave us flat. They taste like Tab tasted when we were young. They taste fake and they taste off. They do not taste like a real thing. That is because their sweetener blend is inferior to Sweet LUV™. Because we taste just like sugar in ice creams and chocolate, we taste just like sugar in sodas. Granted we are biased, the granted taste is subjective, but our customers tell us LUV tastes BETTER. That is not just our opinion; that is the consensus of those who have tried LUV root beer. We had the bad luck to attempt to launch this product during covid when the aluminum can supply was squeezed by the pandemic, the costs skyrocketed and the availability was spotty. Packing lines were not dependable because of quarantine-related staffing issues. But now as we come out of the pandemic, LUV is focused on scaling our root beer into 750ml crowlers and eventually into 16oz cans by the truckload. We will be offering that product on our website soon and hopefully on Amazon this fall. Root beer was our first because of root beer floats: with LUV vanilla there is no better pairing or guilt or sacrifice. Just smooth refreshing pleasure. But not all of us out there want to be limited to root beer. Our next soda offerings (later this year will be cherry cola using botanical cherry flavor, followed by LUV grapefruit soda. We are working on lemon-lime, sour cherry (non-cola), and yes, cola. The cola is particularly tricky because of the religion-like Pepsi vs Coke schism among the aficionados. Ours is neither. It is a true cola. But it might be hard to peel peeps off Pepsi or clean consumers off Coke. We see LUV producing a wide variety of botanical sugar-free fruit-flavored sodas (strawberry, cherry lemon-lime, grapefruit but also wider into coconut lime, etc.) along with other traditional soda flavors like cream, ginger (beer/ale), and so on. Doubling back to chocolate from sodas, we are working on a white LUV chocolate, expanding into cherry-infused chocolate to add to the mint and orange-infused LUV bars. There are several other chocolate products in the making as well.
Q: What are the current goals that the company is focused on? What gets you most excited about the company’s future?
A: The most exciting part of a chocolate expansion to us is venturing from the world of chocolate chemistry and physical chemistry into botany. Pre-covid we purchased a small plot of land in Puerto Rico in hopes of introducing LUV customers to a fascinating world of cacao we have come to love. A couple of years out, we are looking into LUV eco-tourism. Visit LUV or a partner cacao farm in the morning, see how chocolate grows on trees. See what it takes to make chocolate by actually making your own chocolate the same afternoon. (This would be an expanded and more hands-on version of what we now offer at LUV Café in Minnesota). Soak in Puerto Rico, the only US location where cacao is grown commercially. Explore with us the problems PR farmers face and learn how we all can work with them to help. Immerse yourself into the universe of chocolate from seed to plant to mouth. Kayak and paddleboard on Puerto Rican beach the next day. Dive to watch the live movie that is the coral reef in the morning and make chocolate in the afternoon. Spend a few days in the middle of -20F Minnesota winter enjoying the 90s of the tropical paradise all while helping PR restore farming communities and agriculture. Our larger and most ambitious long-term goal is helping to transform the cacao/chocolate industry and make it more equitable for the farmer. Our long-term goal is to disrupt and upend the chocolate industry, to empower the cacao farmer using science and our unique technology.
Q: Finally, Is there anything you would like to tell us that we didn’t cover?
A: Because chocolate has become such a huge part of what we do, we are compelled to educate our customers about the social injustice of Big Chocolate. 88% of world chocolate is controlled by just 5 companies (Mars, Mondelez, Hershey, Nestle, Lindt, Ferrero, Meiji). These companies compete for the Forastero type of cacao bean, and less than 80% of cacao grown globally is Forastero. The vast majority of it is grown by farmers in Ghana and Ivory Coast often employing child labor and slave labor. And as shocking as that may sound, we shouldn’t be surprised by any of it. The history of chocolate is inextricably interwoven with the history of the sugar trade. And both are rooted in the African slave trade, the decimation of Native Mesoamerican lives and culture for centuries since Columbus’ 3 rd Voyage. Cacao is indigenous to a wider Yucatan region that encompasses modern Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, and parts of Mexico from The Caribbean and all the way to the Pacific coast. When the Maya and the Aztec growing cacao were exterminated by the settlers, they brought in African slaves to farm it. When the European demand spiked in the 18th century, it became cheaper for Cadbury to transplant Forastero (now grown from Brazil to Mexico) to West Africa where it still farmed to this day often under subhuman conditions. Cacao is a commodity, much like coffee, its sister crop. But because of the many more labor-intensive steps involved in going from a cacao bean to a bar of chocolate than from a coffee bean to a cup of java, the price the cacao farmer gets is nowhere near the fair market price. West African farmers are forced to sell all their crops to socialist-like Cacao Boards in their countries, often at half to 2/3 of the market price. The Boards then resell the beans to the Big Chocolate. Large producers thus feel distanced and insulated from the social pressures of migrant children and involuntary labor brought into Ghana and the Ivory Coast from the less politically stable and prosperous northern neighbors of Mali and Burkina Faso. Every few years Mars, Hershey, Nestle, Lindt, Mondelez (they now own Cadbury), and the like pledge to police their supply chain, to end child labor and slave labor, and every few years they fail on their promise and point fingers and the blame… This situation is still not public knowledge even though Washington Post, NYT, CNN and so many larger news & media outlets report on the plight. Yet, this is something that every small chocolate producer like LUV gets to know immediately and intimately. And even if our collective consciousness could overlook the horror and inequity of child and slave labor, what is left behind is a tilted and unfair market. All the affordable cacao is gobbled up by the Big Chocolate who thanks to their free labor are now able to produce chocolate at a substantially lower cost than the small guys. We at LUV are doing our part to educate the chocolate (a $100 Billion/8 million ton industry) consumer. But more than that, we are working to fight it using science and technology. We at LUV have pioneered a novel continuous method for producing chocolate. Chocolate is commonly made from cacao beans via a long series of batch processes. For large manufacturers, the batches are appropriately large. But they are still batch. And we at LUV can make some of those steps continuously which allows us to compete with the big boys in marketplaces like Amazon. Our grand vision – the one I alluded to in the earlier answer – is to work with the cacao farmer to vertically integrate production at their farm. That way, the chocolate intermediate they produce with us is much more valuable than the cocoa bean they currently sell. And it is now a much more convertible of a commodity that is more immediately useful to many more. It is like selling a carbon bicycle frame instead of a bunch of carbon fibers. Well, something along those lines. You get the idea. Puerto Rico and cacao eco-tourism is our small way to test our methodology and technology in the field before we take it to Africa. We are working to modify and reduce production methods to their primitive bare essence. That way what we do in our production with sophisticated tools can be done by a farmer in a field with little they have. We are reaching to laboratories at my Alma Mater, MIT, to help us develop the tools we need. They are good with stuff like that. The problem, as always, is finding The time. Finding time for LUV. Lastly, we want to circle back on our message of sustainability. A huge part of sustaining the planet that is often missed is sustaining us as humans. Human sustenance has to be healthy. Unhealthy people cannot enjoy life as fully. Please share LUV with the little ones in your life. So much of our illness is diet-driven and preventable! And preventable illnesses are just that…preventable!
Thank you so much for your time, Ilya. We are honored to be able to speak with you regarding your company and wish you the absolute best. For interested readers, please visit their website below.
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