Feb. 18—GRIFFIN — The University of Georgia's Food Product Innovation and Commercialization Center (FoodPIC) helps small businesses and entrepreneurs make their mark on the food industry through research, formulation, prototyping and more. With a focus on small businesses and entrepreneurs, FoodPIC is committed to helping its clients hone their products, efficiently and economically.
Lova Naturals Beauty Repair is one of these products. Creators Sallie and Lorenzo Nicastro, both lifelong food scientists, launched their collagen peptide powder in 2019 as a result of their mutual passion to deliver natural products that are "truly effective, noninvasive and affordable."
What inspired the Nicastros to create this product? The proof is in the pudding. While working in product development for the Kraft Heinz Company, Lorenzo Nicastro was eating six pudding cups a day, and the job was beginning to take its toll.
Charged with researching how to reduce the amount of milk in the pudding formula and add more sugar, Nicastro noticed that he was gaining weight. He began reading books about nutrition to help manage his weight, turning to tomes like Bill Phillips' "Body for Life" and Robert Atkins' "Diet Revolution."
Through his personal research, Nicastro found a new passion and changed his career path. He began working with products and companies that focused on nutrition and promoting health, like Naked Juice and EAS, a sports nutrition company that specializes in protein supplements, a precursor to his entrepreneurial venture.
Each unit of Lova Naturals Beauty Repair includes a 30-day supply of collagen peptide powder in individual stick packs. The Nicastros purposefully created Beauty Repair as a flavorless supplement to prevent "flavor fatigue."
"Individuals have put it in coffee tea or whatever beverage they prefer, and, consuming one pouch per day, you can start seeing results in a month," Nicastro explained, adding that the company has clinical results to back up the reported benefits of their Beauty Repair product.
"We said, 'OK, if we're going to launch something, we want to ensure that there are clinical trials behind our products,'" Nicastro said. "Many competitors with collagen peptides may not have clinical trials on the specific collagen peptide that they offer.
"We did our evaluation, and we came across a collagen peptide that was engineered to actually reduce wrinkles and improve hair, as well as reduce cellulite and improve nails. Currently, there are five clinical trials about the peptide we use published in peer-reviewed journals."
Naming their company after both of their sons' middle names, Lorenzo and Vance, the Nicastros are dedicated to their mission of bringing this new product to the market while giving back to their community and beyond.
After doctors at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia operated on one of the Nicastros' sons in 2016, removing a 6-pound mass attached to his liver, they wanted to find a way to support the hospital that helped their child. They found an avenue to do this by selling products through the hospital's fundraising platform, SHOP for CHOP.
"If our consumers go on that site, they get a 20% discount, and all of the remaining profits go to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia," Nicastro explained.
This year, Lova Naturals also has given aid to individuals in Ukraine through an organization called the Knights of Columbus. Nicastro set up a donation system similar to SHOP for CHOP, with consumers using a coupon code to donate to the organization.
"This money goes directly to the people," Nicastro said. "There's no third party getting a cut of it. It's all volunteer, and it doesn't go through the government or anything. Since they have Knights of Columbus in Ukraine, they're handing out goods to people in need."
James Gratzek, director of FoodPIC on the UGA-Griffin campus and a long-time colleague of Nicastro, reached out to him for advice on what equipment would help bring in new clients.
Coincidentally, Nicastro was in the market for a new producer for his product. With rising costs due to pandemic production and supply chain delays, Nicastro made a deal with Gratzek.
"With the equipment that many contract manufacturers use, the minimums that many of them run are 1 million stick packs," he said. "For somebody who just started a business, or is in the early stages of producing a product, that can be very costly. So I said, 'If you can get stick pack equipment, and you can make smaller runs, there is an opportunity for many entrepreneurs, and I'd be more than happy to be your first customer.'"
Small-scale production runs are one of FoodPIC's defining services. Producing a smaller amount of product comes with a reduced production price, opening the door for small and local businesses to test and bring their products to market.
Smaller runs also enable the innovation center to pay greater attention to detail in production, ensuring that the product is of the highest quality and market value possible.
After finding equipment that could produce a smaller run, Gratzek was able to offer Lova Naturals production runs of 10,000 stick packs, and the deal was set.
The first production run of Lova Naturals Beauty Repair at FoodPIC is planned for late spring.
For more details on services provided by FoodPIC, visit foodpic.uga.edu.