Austin-based brothers Lucas and Noah Kraft have an ambitious vision to make cleaner, healthier medicines for your gut. They’re starting with one of the most common over-the-counter medicines: Tums, or antacids.
Wonderbelly, their new startup, launches today with the first of their offering — a non-GMO antacid made without talc, dyes, and other unnecessary chemicals. It’s just the beginning for the duo though, who plan to release a suite of over-the-counter meds targeting digestion.
Lucas Kraft, now 31, has a personal connection to the business. He battled an eating disorder for over ten years, which led him to develop GERD and Barrett’s Esophagus, both of which he had to remedy with antacid medication. After consulting dozens of gastroenterologists, he was left feeling alone, and unequipped, on this journey, he says. “Some of the doctors are more empathetic than others. But largely, there’s not much more they can do for you than prescribe antacids. There’s not much information given either. So I realized I had to do this alone and educate myself.”
It’s been about five years since his diagnosis of Barrett’s Esophagus, a condition that results in pre-cancerous cells forming in one’s throat. Thankfully, Lucas has been able to keep it at bay, and is showing signs of improvement. But it came at one expense: eating bottles and bottles of antacids, namely Tums.
That’s what led him to do some research on the multi-billion dollar antacid market. Not only is it dated with little innovation, it also can have some unhealthy ingredients hidden in the formulations, such as talc. “I was aware of the Johnson and Johnson case regarding talc, and knew that this is something that could cause cancer. So I didn’t want to be eating that for the rest of my life,” Lucas says.
In 2020, he saw that the stress of the pandemic was resulting in more people developing acid reflux and digestive issues, including a relapse in his own condition. So he turned to older brother, Noah with the idea of a company that would take out the problematic ingredients in common digestion-related meds.
“When you think about it, this is an industry that’s really not changed much in a long time. So not only was the idea good, and I’m glad that it would help people like my brother, but it made sense from a business perspective as well. People don’t want to want to talk about these issues publicly. And we’re here to change that,” says Noah.
They went to the same manufacturer that makes the leading antacids in America, and asked for a cleaner product. They were told no. And when they demanded it be non-GMO, they were laughed at. But the two persisted, defying expectations. “We were basically told it can’t be done,” Noah says. “Yet, here we are with a non-GMO antacid.”
The same determination is being applied to the packaging. Given they have to be mindful of FDA regulations and a host of guidelines, they couldn’t just pick any eco-friendly alternative to plastic. “Paper definitely was not going to pass the humidity test,” Noah jokes.
So, they settled on aluminum cans that can be recycled easily. “When you walk down the aisle, everything, you realize, is packaged in plastic. We didn’t want to be a part of that. It’s literally thousands of containers of plastic, and that doesn’t even include prescription meds,” Noah adds.
They’re plastic-free, and the mailers used to ship the products are made with recycled paper.
To build this new company, the Kraft bothers also consulted multiple experts, and brought many onboard, from renowned gastroenterologists to the former head of a leading herbal supplement brand to Johanna Hunter, a veteran of the pharmaceutical industry who serves as their VP of Product and Manufacturing.
“We were very clear that we wanted to create a product that’s just as effective as its conventional counterpart, and to do that, we needed experts to help us get there,” says Lucas. “I have tried a lot of the natural alternatives on the market. And unfortunately, they don’t work as well. So we’re launching with a product we know is just as good and effective, but we are open to including more natural ingredients down the road.”
While for Lucas this has been a personal health journey leading him to start Wonderbelly, but for his brother, and many others, reflux and heartburn are weekly ailments that Lucas says are growing among Millennials. “Spicy food has become very popular, and then there’s stress. I don’t need to tell you about that. We all have that in our lives. So, many younger people are dealing with this now, compared to before.”
And that’s what they want to highlight through their marketing: ailments of the gut are not taboo, especially if so many Americans are experiencing them. They’ve launched a blog on their website, aptly titled “Guts and Butts” which is defined as “a community that’s not afraid to talk about the hard sh*t.”
Noah hopes that Wonderbelly is for antacids what Casper was for mattresses, or Warby Parker was for glasses — direct-to-consumer brands that transformed the image of otherwise static industries. Although they hope to sit alongside the conventional OTC brands one day in retailers across America, they’re starting with the direct-to-consumer model, to have a better connection with their customers.
While their product is pricier, it’s the ingredients, Noah explains, that require them to price it higher: “When the big brands are looking at costs, they’re discussing a difference of cents, or even a penny. Because, it’s a game to the bottom and who can make it cheapest. For us, it’s about the ingredients and the impact, so we’re looking at an additional dollar, for example, instead of a few extra cents.”
And they think that it’s worth the extra cost, especially for something taken routinely. Wonderbelly comes in three flavors, which Lucas attests are far tastier than any other antacid on the market. Noah hopes that, in the future, these might be found more conveniently where heartburn arises — at your favorite taco stand, or burger joint.
“Again, it’s about normalizing these issues,” he iterates.
We know heartburn and reflux happens. But are we ready to talk about it as a society? Wonderbelly aspires to start that conversation.