Opinion Columns & Blogs

Just the B.R.A.T. you need

The Toepfer family: Greg holds Tripp, Ilsa holds Cara, and Reese holds a carton of the family product, B.R.A.T.
The Toepfer family: Greg holds Tripp, Ilsa holds Cara, and Reese holds a carton of the family product, B.R.A.T.

Around 50 A.D., a Latin poet named Persius Flaccus wrote: “The stomach is the teacher of the arts and the dispenser of invention.”

I make note of this in light of Greg and Ilsa Toepfer and the product they’ve developed, Organic B.R.A.T. Here’s their story.

In November 2007, the couple’s two daughters, Reese, then 3, and Cara, then 1, came down with the stomach flu. The family’s pediatrician suggested the couple feed the girls a diet of bananas, rice, applesauce and toast (B.R.A.T), a home remedy that’s been known to soothe upset tummies for generations.

The problem was, the girls craved milk — a no-no when diarrhea and nausea are involved — and didn’t want the solid foods. So Greg and Ilsa ran the ingredients through a blender and found that the youngsters liked it.

Greg, a radiology technician at Sierra Vista Medical Center at the time, and Ilsa, then a home-school teacher, looked for a commercial liquid version of B.R.A.T. and couldn’t find anything on the market.

That was the proverbial “AHA!” moment.

Ilsa says she was amazed that the B.R.A.T. diet — a concoction her mother had used with her and her sisters as kids — had never been trademarked.

Having unwittingly discovered an unmet need, the Toepfers put a ™ behind the name Organic B.R.A.T. and formed a company, B.R.A.T. Diet LLC.

As most entrepreneurs know, there’s a moment of truth in taking their creation forward; it’s called financing.

The Nipomo Mesa couple figuratively gulped, held hands and jumped, maxing out credit cards, cashing in their 401(k) funds and even selling a car to finance research, development and marketing for their product.

Now, if it’s true that timing is everything, it may also be true that it’s who you know when it comes to plotting successful strategies in capturing a niche market. In this case, the Toepfers’ timing couldn’t have been better, and they couldn’t have come within the orbit of a stronger marketing maven than Karen L. Borie.

Borie is a competitive force of nature. Her hustle in volleyball, softball, badminton and basketball earned her Outstanding Athlete of the Year honors at CSU Long Beach, and her curriculum vitae includes being a former national sales manager for Nestle.

She has also consulted with dozens of organic food companies in marketing their products nationally. One of those companies is Van Nuys-based Power Brands.

Power Brands scientists went to work on the Toepfer’s formula, tweaking it by adding electrolytes, vitamins and nutrients, while dropping gluten and lactose components as potential allergens.

After they came up with various flavors such as chocolate-honey, vanilla and cinnamon-toast (the toast has been eliminated because of its gluten), the product began shipping to distributors and retailers in July.

By September, the Toepfers’ creation had won the New Products Showcase Award for the Most Innovative Product at the Natural Products East in Boston — an event that draws some 3,500 vendors.

Today, Borie has commitments from 4,000 outlets nationwide to carry Organic B.R.A.T.™

Now, I’m not here to flog the product, but here’s something to think about: an oncology unit in Lancaster in Southern California has found that Organic B.R.A.T. calms the stomach and reduces nausea of those undergoing chemotherapy.

And as local pediatrician Dr. Rene Bravo notes: “In my 20 years as a pediatrician, this is one of the best products I have seen. It could easily be helping sick children worldwide.”

I like that the company has pledged 10 percent of its profits to children-oriented charities such as Feed the Children, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, among others.

And, aside from the relief that Organic B.R.A.T. provides those with gastrointestinal problems, I like that necessity led to invention and that a niche is being filled — even in the face of a poor economy.

Call me someone who looks at life through sepia-tinged Norman Rockwell lenses, but that’s can-do American ability in my book.

Bill Morem can be reached at bmorem@thetribunenews.com or at 781-7852.