Written by: Stuart Foxman
When Ju Young Yoo, was studying in Toronto to become a naturopath, he shadowed a number of health care practitioners. He noticed that a lot of people don’t like to take their medications. “There’s a concept of pill fatigue,” he says. In fact, he says studies show that 40% of adult Canadians have trouble swallowing pills.
Yoo became interested in the power of vitamins, and realized that getting people to use them can be a hurdle too. He was never a fan himself. Sure, there are plenty of gummy varieties on the market, which are easier to take. But he says they’re typically full of sugar and gelatin. “They’re not a clean product,” Yoo says.
So he took a break from his studies, and with childhood friend Elton Tang decided to see if he could build a better vitamin. The result is SUKU Vitamins (sukuvitamins.com), which the partners started working on in 2018 and launched in April 2019.
Yoo has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of British Columbia, specializing in analytical and theoretical chemistry. He says SUKU is about “vitamins redesigned”. He worked with a team of food scientists and researchers to come up with made-in-Canada gummy vitamins that are sugar-free, gelatin-free, non-GMO, free of artificial colouring and flavours, and bursting with great taste.
SUKU wants to make vitamins that people would take consistently, and make vitamins fun. The product packaging, which includes vibrant colours, doesn’t have a pharmaceutical look. There are seven products in the SUKU line to date: multi-vitamins (adult and child varieties), vitamin D (adult and child), and three special formulas designed to enhance the health of skin, the quality of sleep, and the radiance of complexions.
The products are already in more than 100 stores nationally, and are also sold via The Shopping Channel. Sales have come largely through word of mouth, as SUKU has yet to ramp up its promotional efforts.
“We’re scaling fast, and trying to expand product lines and start on marketing,” Yoo says.
A few months after SUKU started, Yoo started to get timely support from LaunchYU (launchyu.ca/). That’s York University’s entrepreneurship unit, which assists founders and their ventures at the school and in the community.
LaunchYU, which is part of Innovation York, helps entrepreneurs to develop and grow their businesses. That happens through learning about all aspects of entrepreneurship, connecting with mentors, and networking with potential partners and funders.
Thanks to LaunchYU, Yoo got involved with the first ever YSpace Food Accelerator, and SUKU became part of the 2019 class.
It was also through LaunchYU that Yoo met the York Angel Investors. With the right advice, “We were able to structure the business in an attractive way for people to invest in.” SUKU is trying to pitch to various angel group, including the York Angels.
Yoo says the most fun about this business stage is the innovation. “Whatever we do now is new.”
Given the pace of starting a business and the need to stay sharp, Yoo is also a SUKU customer. He takes the restful sleep vitamin. “I love it,” he says. “It tastes good, and it guarantees I get a good night’s sleep.”
Photo credit: Zlatko Cetinic, Images Made Real