If revenge is a dish best served cold, Dzarrin Alidin and Nathaniel Loe are serving delectable vengeance ... against high calories. The long-time friends and former track-and-field athletes (“You cannot tell just by looking at us now,” jokes Loe) broke into the sports nutrition market in 2013 with protein powders, and recently widened their repertoire to low-calorie ice cream.
The duo founded LushProtein after noticing that most protein powders sold here were imported and thought the nascent local sector could use a home-grown alternative. They experimented with whey-based and vegetarian protein powder formulas, and used the winning recipes to grow a steady business across Malaysia and Singapore.
“We wanted as much protein per serving as possible with little to no fillers in the formulas,” says Dzarrin about the extensive range of products, which comprises no more than a handful of ingredients. “Many imported protein powder varieties were heavy and sweet but we tailored ours to suit local taste buds, using the purest of ingredients.”
Nutritionists from their manufacturer and whey suppliers advise them on formula compositions. Alongside standard flavours such as mango and vanilla are Chocolate Dinosaur, Honeydew, Teh Tarik and Bandung. By selling their products directly to gyms, fitness studios, pharmacies as well as via an online store, LushProtein minimises the need for middlemen and transfers savings back to its customers.
“As functional as they are, protein powders are not something you get excited about,” says Loe. “Most customers have a higher goal in mind. It is a means to an end. We were looking for new ways to get people excited about nutrition, and decided on protein-based ice cream since we already have the core ingredients.”
Calli, which stands for low calorie, is a separate entity from LushProtein as it targets an entirely different market. That the low-calorie ice cream found favour with the sports nutrition crowd was not unexpected, but the brand has achieved widespread popularity among the general public.
“We developed almost 20 flavours and brought in focus groups for blind-tasting sessions against ordinary ice cream,” continues Loe. “To achieve low-calorie formulations, we needed to cut out as much unhealthy fat, sugar and carbohydrates as possible. We went through many iterations to get the strict nutritional value we wanted without compromising on taste and texture. The focus groups began preferring Calli as we refined the recipes and could not believe ours had only one-third the calorie count.”
Cane sugar still features, of course, but unlike most brands on the shelves, it does not rank within the top three ingredients used in making ice cream. Whey protein forms the building blocks of the four flavours that Calli manufactures, with distinguishing ingredients for a deeper taste. In Caramel by the Sea, sugar is caramelised and balanced with fine sea salt while Earl Grey Teh sees the tea leaves carefully steeped to extract a heady bergamot flavour. Belgian chocolate and D24 durian flesh impart richness to the Choc-o-lot and Durian Durian flavours respectively. The latter has the most calories, but even that scoops out to an insignificant 390 calories per pint.
The trouble with low-calorie food is the tendency to make up in volume what one gains — or loses, rather — in calories per serving, since such bites are typically lighter on the palate. No risk of that here, for Calli’s texture is markedly denser and lush as less air is pumped into the ice cream. While you could polish off an entire pint in a single sitting without damaging your waistline, chances are you would be satisfied after fraction of the way through the tub.
“It definitely attracts a different market than the proteins (protein powders),” says Dzarrin. “Not to generalise, but when we mention protein powders to women, many tend to give us a wide berth. The opposite is true with ice cream. My wife works long hours and tends to snack a lot, so Calli is a healthier option for her. Older people love it too since its low glycemic index does not spike their blood sugar.”
In fact, the only ones who are less than ecstatic about ice cream at the moment are the founders themselves.
“I thought selling ice cream was a dream job but now I cannot look at it the same way,” confesses Loe.
“It is definitely a job hazard, having to eat our way through mounds of it,” says Dzarrin. “But I still savour the reviews by people who love Calli, especially those who had to abstain from regular ice cream due to health reasons, but can enjoy ours.”
Calli ice creams retail at RM29.90 per pint and are available at Fuel Athletics, Vitruvio Gym, Village Grocer and Ben’s Independent Grocer (BIG). They can also be ordered on Grab Food and Honestbee, as well as online at eatcalli.com.
This article first appeared on May 20, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.