Swirlit’s journey from the dental clinic to the beverage aisle
With better-for-you options taking centre stage in the beverage market, entrepreneur and registered dentist Angie Lang saw an opportunity to help her patients take better care of their teeth.
Swirlit is a range of tea-based and botanical oral health drinks designed to aid the prevention of unnecessary dental issues such as decay, erosion and tooth loss.
Funding the project herself, Lang undertook extensive research into the beverage market as well as vitamins and mineral supplements, ultimately leading her to create the 99.9 per cent sugar free, pH neutral drinks.
Keen to give back to those who are disadvantaged she has also worked with Ronald McDonald House Westmead, Chris O’Brien House and SecondBite to help more people have access to better oral health.
Lang chats to Inside FMCG about her journey from the dental clinic to the beverage aisle.
Inside FMCG: First and foremost, you work as a dentist, so why did you decide to branch into FMCG?
Angie Lang: In dental practice, I treat dental decay and erosion every day. These are caused by sugar and acidity, even when people maintain good oral hygiene. Teeth become sensitive, the enamel is thinner, translucent, teeth chip easily, and the teeth look yellower. This affects the ability to eat and smile confidently.
It has been shown that sugary and acidic drinks cause more damage than sugary foods. Sure, we can restore teeth, but patients suffer discomfort, pain and progressive damage and this costs them time and money treating something that is preventable.
When a patient presents with dental decay and erosion they want to protect the health and longevity of their teeth, so we discuss ways to prevent it- this leads to a discussion on drink choices. When my patients asked what they could drink to prevent reoccurrence, I would tell them what we learnt in dental school: tap water and unsweetened tea were the only choices I could recommend to avoid further damage. My patients never loved the idea of being so restricted in their options.
In 2007, I thought maybe there was another drink in the market that I could recommend to my patients. I started researching and found that there was no ready-to-drink beverage that contained no sugar and no acidity. Sugar free drinks are often as acidic as their sugary counterparts. Even many bottled waters were acidic in the range that would dissolve tooth enamel.
My research led me to wonder if I could develop a RTD drink option that would fulfil the criteria of a drink that wouldn’t cause damage to teeth.
Ten years of research later, Swirlit was born.
Inside FMCG: How did you go about creating the drink without prior experience in the beverage industry?
AL: I read a lot, researched the beverage industry, manufacturing processes, ingredients, the impact of sugar, acidity and preservatives on shelf life, went to trade shows, and subscribed to beverage industry publications to discover trends and the emergence of functional drinks.
I researched ingredients that benefit oral health and studied their suitability for use in beverages.
In 2012 I found a food scientist in Los Angeles to help me with creating lab samples and product trails. I traveled there every month until the base formulation was decided.
While I had a formulation developed, I had to wait for the beverage manufacturing technology to evolve to produce such a product.
In 2015, I sold my dental practice (I still work there) and invested in H2Coco. This gave me an insight into the running of beverage business, from the back seat.
In 2016, at BevNet I met my mentor Jim Tonkin, US based beverage guru who’s launched hundreds of healthy FMCG brands. Notably, the founding board member of Zico coconut water, taking it to a Coca-Cola sale. Jim now sits on our Swirlit board.
Then in 2017, with the assistance of food scientists, I reformulated to remove artificial sweeteners and preservatives from my original formula. Flavour profiles were also developed to ensure that each ingredient is intentional from a functionality perspective. Again this took more research and trials. It’s been a challenging and fun experience.
Inside FMCG: How does this drink help oral care?
AL: Ultimately, Swirlit is a beverage, but by virtue of containing no fermentable sugars and being pH neutral, it won’t cause dental decay or erosion, when compared with sugary or acidic drinks.
Each ingredient is backed by science for their benefit in oral health. This includes vitamins, minerals, prebiotics, plant and tea extracts.
Swirlit also contains plant based xylitol and erythritol which are recognised for their ability to prevent dental decay. Xylitol neutralises acids and hydrates the mouth better than water.
One of the special things about Swirlit is the way that it makes the mouth feel. It has a silky smooth texture which leaves the mouth feeling moisturised, but also keeps the functional ingredients in the mouth for longer.
Inside FMCG: So tell me about your target market?
AL: Health conscious consumers, professionals, and the convenience buyer.
People that are into fitness and wellbeing, that are looking for an alternative to tap water, or that have been advised by their dentist to avoid sugary and acidic drinks. They are looking for a refreshing drink after their second coffee for the morning, and wants a healthy pick me up in their busy day. They are into facts not fads.
Inside FMCG: Have you plans to further develop the range?
AL: The current flagship range harnesses the functionality of the special ingredients, and delivers a unique advantage in the functional drink space. It’s the powerhouse for oral health functionality, you can feel it.
We have an innovative pipeline of beverage ranges to serve the broader needs of mainstream consumers. Each maintains a better-for-you positioning when it comes to oral health, but caters to different use occasions and ages.
Swirlit products are available from select cafes, select BP’s, service stations, convenience stations, health food stores, independent grocers and online.