Founder Amy Cohn — a media & tech exec and cancer survivor — has launched a next-gen food company that is redesigning our favorite snacks to help people manage diabetes and improve metabolic health. (this is from an article most recently in Startup Health)
You can’t sugarcoat the numbers: diabetes and other conditions related to chronic blood sugar imbalances are on the rise. Currently, 7.3 million people in the US have diabetes and 96 million people aged 18 or older have prediabetes. Besides diabetes, high blood sugar and metabolic dysfunction is strongly associated with heart disease, stroke, dementia, mood disorders, and the majority of cancers. A 2021 study estimates that 2.4 million deaths could be prevented just by reducing 20% of the sugar in processed foods. We are addicted to sugar, and this addiction is killing us.
Despite the clear and present danger excessive sugar consumption presents, it’s hard to cut it out of our diets. Some people lack access to healthier options because of food deserts in rural and lower-income areas. For others, it’s hard to change habits, especially since our brains naturally see sugar as a reward, which gets reinforced from childhood. We treat ourselves to something sweet when we’re down, or need a pick-me-up, or are celebrating, or got through something hard. And then there’s the fact that added sugars hide in so many foods, even those we view as healthy.
Even when consumers are motivated to consume less sugar — say someone with Type 1 diabetes or a health enthusiast — the options are limited, particularly when it comes to ways to still enjoy favorite foods without causing a blood sugar spike. Diabetes brands like Glucerna are ripe for disruption; they look and taste medicinal and don’t register as a treat. ‘Better for you’ brands of food might lower the sugar content, but are often high in saturated fat or low in the fiber your body needs to help balance blood sugar. Some protein bars come closer to achieving a low glycemic index, but don’t scratch the itch to eat a favorite snack, like a chocolate chip cookie.
Amy Cohn never thought she’d start a packaged food company. For years she thrived as a product manager, starting at Disney leading the product, social media, marketing, and community management team for ABCFamily.com. Her success there catapulted her to Head of Product & Digital Partnerships for the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), where she developed the product and social strategy for Oprah.com and the magazine, including the Emmy-winning Oprah’s Lifeclass. After OWN, Cohn moved from media to tech innovation and ultimately started a successful consulting company that worked with high-growth startups. Then, in 2020, she was diagnosed with colon cancer.
“My diagnosis changed everything. I had a deeper empathy for those with chronic conditions and discovered who is affected the most by certain diseases and why.”
This included learning about the link between metabolic health and colon cancer. People with Type 2 diabetes, for instance, have a 27% greater chance of developing colon cancer. She also discovered that there’s a growing number of people in their 30s and 40s diagnosed with colon cancer and that it is linked to rising obesity numbers and unhealthy diets.
During her recovery, Cohn knew it was important to eat foods that kept her blood sugar stable, but found herself disappointed with the options, especially if she wanted a little treat. Products from the diabetes aisle at the drugstore didn’t satisfy, plus, “they felt ‘otherizing.’ When something like that is sitting on your desk at work, it feels like a signal that you’re sick, or something’s wrong with you,” Cohn explains.
Her product manager brain kept ruminating on the disconnect she saw between the communities most at risk for conditions related to high blood sugar and their access to and engagement with good options to mitigate that risk. She thought of where she was raised in West Texas, and the farmers in her family who worked hard growing crops for other people but lived in a food desert. How do you help someone to take the first step towards habit change when it comes to their sugar consumption? What’s the lowest barrier to engagement with more balanced food? What food do people have the hardest time giving up but might consider switching out for a better alternative?
She started exploring the market, and talking to people with diabetes about what they missed eating the most. Their answer: cookies. Good cookies. Chewy cookies. Cookies that were like their old standbys. Cookies whose packaging didn’t scream “I have a chronic health condition!”
Cohn’s mission was clear: crack the better-for-you-cookie code. She brought together a team of experts, including Dr. Francine Kaufman, an endocrinologist and former president of the American Diabetes Association and Meg Moreta, MS, RDN, CDCES diabetes dietitian, to guide the nutritional balance; chef Aron Pobereskin, of Noma and Alinea, who oversaw the all important taste component; advisors such as Pat Turpin the founder of popchips and Roberto Pineda, a well-regarded R&D and baking innovation executive, among a group of other talented individuals who wanted to make the sweet dream of low-glycemic snacks that still taste like classic, familiar flavors a reality.
They tinkered, baked, tasted, and tinkered again. For many of these experts, it was the hardest project they’d ever worked on. It was one thing to get the nutritionals right and quite another to create a cookie that brought joy into someone’s day the way a cookie ought to. But after more than 150 production trials, their hard work paid off in the form of soft, chewy, chocolate chip, double chocolate, and peanut butter cookies, made with 3 grams of sugar, 10 grams net carbs, and 5 grams of fiber.
Under the Hood
Joydays is a next-gen food company that creates blood-sugar-balanced snacks that taste like familiar favorites. Their first product offering is low-glycemic cookies that contain 70% less sugar than the leading chocolate chip cookie and 75% less saturated fat than the leading keto cookie, while providing a good source of fiber. These cookies are diabetes-friendly without looking or tasting pharmaceutical.
While their initial target audience is people with diabetes or other health concerns who are trying to cut back on sugar, Joydays also plans to capitalize on the growing awareness around the importance of keeping your blood sugar level stable. Biohackers, fitness bloggers, and the health conscious know it’s better to avoid glucose spikes and actively seek out products that balance blood sugar levels. In a 2021 survey, 72% of consumers said they were trying to reduce their sugar intake, which has a huge impact on the $24B sweet baked snacking category.
“Healthy eating is really evolving from ‘general healthy consumption’ to solving for specific medical and health concerns and reducing sugar is at the top of many consumers’ minds,” Cohn emphasized.
Joydays officially launched their cookies at the end of 2022, going D2C through partnerships with diabetes organizations like Type One Together and Insulin For Life USA, among others, as well as retail partnerships with Central Market and Pop Up Grocer. In 2023, they look to expand their regional retail partnerships into mass market retailers, moving to 70% retail sales by the EOY 2024.
“Access has always been really important to me. I want to get these snacks into the places where people need a healthier alternative the most.”