Ottawa entrepreneur looks for right blend of health and taste in new smoothie product

Soothie
Jackpine founder and Soothie creator Liam Mooney on the beach in Mexico where the Monday evening forecast is decidedly not-snowy.

Liam Mooney’s efforts to become a leaner business owner ​– literally and figuratively ​– have prompted the founder of Ottawa branding studio Jackpine to launch a separate venture devoted to helping time-strapped Canadians get healthier, one drink at a time.

Up until 18 months ago, Mooney says, he was a creature of “poor habits,” especially when it came to eating. Overweight and a self-confessed sugar addict, he also discovered during a routine physical that his junk food-laden diet had saddled him with a fatty liver.

Mooney decided to completely overhaul his lifestyle and rearrange his entire business model to put his health first. The local entrepreneur has shed 100 pounds, feels better than ever and says Jackpine is “growing like crazy.”

Part of the process of getting healthier included experimenting with different mixes of raw fruits and vegetables that he threw into a blender ​– produce such as spinach and kale and various berries that were low in sugar and loaded with fibre and nutrients.

“I didn’t know what to call them,” he says. “They weren’t smoothies; they weren’t a juice.”

At first, Mooney needed to eat his creations, which had the consistency of “wet straw,” with a fork and spoon.

“The vegetables just wouldn’t break down,” Mooney explains during a phone interview from southern Mexico, where he’s vacationing at a beach resort.

“I would share them with people and they’d be like, ‘I feel really good, I like the way this tastes, but it’s a real pain in the butt to consume.’”

Mixing it up

Eventually, he swapped his $40 blender for a high-tech Vitamix machine that turned his fruit-and-veggie combos into a much smoother, more drinkable concoction. He began adding new items – flax and chia seeds, hemp hearts and various spices – into his recipes.

“The key is using whole food, plant-based and focusing on vegetables, berries and options that are nutritionally dense,” he says. “These are as raw and as real as you can get.”

Soon, his friends were asking him to whip up his special blends for them, too, and suggested the marketing and branding expert put his skills to work promoting them.

“At a certain point, everyone kept asking me to do this and do more of it,” he explains. “They thought, ‘Hey man, there’s an opportunity here.’ I agree with them. I think there’s a huge appetite – no pun intended – for plant-based, whole-food, nutrient-dense options that are easy to integrate into your life.”

"I think there’s a huge appetite – no pun intended – for plant-based, whole-food, nutrient-dense options that are easy to integrate into your life."

Unlike traditional smoothies, Mooney says, his beverages aren’t filled with fruits high in natural sugars such as bananas and figs.

“You’re essentially, in many cases, getting like a thick soda,” he says of your typical smoothie. “It’s not necessarily focused on getting you the right nutritional profiles. Someone who’s making a smoothie in that context thinks the only way to make it interesting or palatable is to make it as naturally sweet as possible.”

Riffing on the soothing sensation he felt after consuming his blends, Mooney christened the new venture soothie.ca. According to the website’s tagline, soothies will make customers “feel like a cucumber” – which, Mooney assures OBJ, is a very good thing.

“I had a really hard time explaining to people how it made me feel,” he says with a chuckle, already anticipating the slogan will raise a few eyebrows.

“It really does make you feel like a cucumber … As soon as I consume a soothie, my whole day has been reset. I just feel soft and relaxed and centred. Everything starts to feel better. My skin feels amazing when I consume a soothie.”

Locally flavoured

Mooney has enlisted local nutritionist Amy Longard and well-known Ottawa chef Michael Frank to come up with new recipes he hopes will tickle consumers’ taste buds while nourishing the rest of their bodies.

One of his favourites so far? A blend of spinach, Swiss chard, lemon, raw ginger, raw turmeric, water, blueberry, chia seeds, hemp hearts and cinnamon, a spice he can’t get enough of. Mooney extols the virtues of cinnamon with the zeal of a revivalist preacher.

“Cinnamon is an amazing spice,” he says. “If somebody thinks they need to put sugar in something to make it palatable or interesting, they would be very surprised to see how dynamic and interesting cinnamon is.”

If all goes according to plan, soothie fans will be able to purchase their favourite mixes online early in 2019. Ingredients will be shipped frozen in dry ice, either in a thaw-and-add-water format or a finely chopped, ready-to-blend version. Each package will be designed for about a 20-ounce serving, which Mooney says is the equivalent of about five cups of vegetables.

Mooney is also looking at getting his mixes distributed in bricks-and-mortar retail outlets in Ottawa, with hopes of expanding to other markets soon.

“We’re just going to see what kind of traction we can get,” he says of the self-funded venture.

Since the website went live just over two weeks ago, more than 100 people have signed up to be alerted to “soothie parties” planned around town starting in mid-December. Those who attend will be able to sample different recipes and help determine the planned initial menu of five to 10 recipes.

Noting the global market for sports drinks alone is in the tens of billions of dollars, Mooney is confident soothies will catch on with increasingly health-conscious consumers.

“I believe in this and I know it’s going to work,” he says. “I think there’s huge potential.”