Raising the bar: 10 questions with the BR-based creator of Pranam Superfoods bars

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Growing up in India, Joseph Francis payed close attention as his parents used plants, roots and spices to treat everything from burns to the common cold. “These remedies have been used for centuries in India,” says Francis, a neuroscientist and professor at LSU whose new side hustle aims to bring plant-based nutrition to the masses. His Pranam Superfoods antioxidant bars contain only organic, all-natural ingredients that aim to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Offered in four flavors–blueberry, pomegranate, mango and yumberry–the bars are available locally at multiple grocery stores as well as online.

We asked Francis about how the idea for his bars came about and how they might be able to help improve our health–one breakfast at a time:

Joseph Francis

1. What inspired you to launch this line of nutritional bars?

In the past few years, plant-based diets and natural remedies have come to the forefront of health and wellness, but what many people don’t realize is that for thousands of years, man has been going to nature as a source of health. Growing up in India, I would see my parents use plants, roots, and spices for different ailments. Many families pass these remedies along from generation to generation. My wife, who has a doctorate in nursing, believes in holistic health and the use of alternative practices (yoga, meditation etc.) concurrently with modern medicine to promote health and wellness. She was using a specific plant-based diet to improve her health and she motivated me to pursue this whole venture. I already knew the benefits of antioxidants so I decided to learn more about various plants, fruits and spices. I started reading research articles and books to learn the benefits of many of the ingredient that are in our products. I wanted to combine as many ingredients as I could into one product to get the most benefit.

2. Tell me about the process of finding the perfect recipe and bringing the bars into production and finally to market. 

Our kitchen at home was where everything started back in December of 2016. We did not start out with a bar in mind. We initially started with drink using ground blueberries and started adding ingredients, which included spices,that had many health benefits. We were just using the mixture as a supplement and wanted to find ways to make it palatable. There was much going back and forth and tweaking things to make it just right. We made a spread out of it initially which can be eaten on toast. When our kids said they liked it, we realized we had something. We looked at various ways that we could use this recipe. There is a lot of trial and error involved when trying to produce a product. We asked friends, family and coworkers to taste what we had. We were surprised at the overwhelming amount of positive feedback we received. We knew we had to market this in some way. We then decided the route we should go is to make bars. We sought advice and feedback from many people. We then found out about the Incubator at LSU, which gave us the motivation and confidence to go ahead with this venture. It is a lot of hard work, and we do not have a large budget. We make calls and do demonstrations in stores, and there is lots of legwork involved. Our product is handcrafted and packaged at the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator. My team works tirelessly to get the product out. With God’s grace, we launched our bars in December of 2018! We truly believe that our faith got us to this point. It was almost as if God was putting the right people and opportunities at the right time in our lives.

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3. What makes these bars a smart alternative to other snacking options, and what sets them apart from other bars on the market?

Pranam Bars are unique in that they have a high concentration of superfoods. Superfoods contain antioxidants like vitamin C and E, polyphenols, etc., which are essential for keeping the body healthy. Antioxidants protect your cells from damages caused by free radicals. Free radicals are harmful to our cells and our body because they can cause oxidative stress and inflammation, which has been shown to be the cause of many illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and other chronic diseases. We believe that plant-based foods are rich sources of antioxidants. We use an organic blend of fruits, nuts, spices, roots and cereals to provide a highly nutritious antioxidant bar. It is all natural, organic, vegan, non-GMO, gluten free, dairy free, with no binders, fillers or chemicals, and most importantly … delicious.

4. What are some of the specific nutritional benefits that they offer?

  • Our bars are one-of-a-kind, handcrafted antioxidant bars made with all organic and natural ingredients including a unique blend of cereals, fruits, roots, spices and nuts, and they do not contain any binders or fillers or anything artificial.
  • They provide 150% of the daily required amount of Vitamin C and 130% of Vitamin A from natural sources and not from added chemicals.
  • They feature quinoa, one of the two cereals that contain all the nine essential amino acids that are protein building blocks.
  • They are low glycemic index antioxidant and protein bars because of the unique blend of fruits, nuts and spices and may facilitate the cellular utilization of glucose, which research shows is necessary for good health.
  • The ingredients used in the bars may improve your microbiota, as it contains prebiotics, which might help with digestion.
  • High amount of polyphenols in the antioxidant bars may protect against free radical damage and may reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.
  • They do not use any binders, high-fructose corn syrup or anything artificial.
  • Every single ingredient used in our bar is carefully chosen with utmost importance and understanding of its unique health benefits.

5. Where are the bars sold? 

Since our launch in December of 2018, we are currently in 13 locations in Louisiana. Pranam Bars are currently sold in Baton Rouge at Maxwell’s Market, Calvin’s Bocage Market, Alexander’s Highland Market, Bet- R Market and Calandro’s Supermarket. We are also in stores at Gonzales and Lafayette. Our locations can be found on the Pranam Superfoods Facebook page. We are looking into different opportunities, but anyone anywhere can purchase them on our website, PranamBars.com,  or from Amazon.com; they are Amazon Prime products.

6. How has the response been from customers thus far?

We have had a tremendous amount of positive feedback. People love the unique, exotic taste and say it is unlike bars they have eaten. What is awesome is that kids and adults alike love the bars. As parents, we know the difficulty of getting kids to choose healthy snacks.

7. Which flavor has been the most popular so far?

We have blueberry, pomegranate, mango, and yumberry. Our most popular flavors are blueberry and pomegranate. It is really based on personal preference. People generally gravitate toward the fruits they are familiar with and like to eat.

8. Any plans for expansion (new flavors, different products)?

It has been two months since we launched Pranam Bars, but we look forward to the future with gratitude, hope and faith. We have many products in mind and we are excited to bring them to the market soon!

9. Tell me about your research focus at LSU and how it relates to your work with these bars.

I am a neuroscientist and have been studying inflammation of the brain in chronic disease for the past 23 years. Even though I study chronic disease, my focus is on inflammation of the brain in heart failure, hypertension and post-traumatic stress disorder. I use animal models to study human disease and have been funded by the American Heart Association, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense. In the last decade, I have been working with blueberries and have published several scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals. The antioxidant in blueberries have been shown to reduce oxidative stress and decrease inflammation in animals and humans. Currently, I am funded by a grant from US Highbush Blueberry Council to study the effect of whole blueberry powder in Major Depressive Disorder patients. This clinical trial is being conducted in north Louisiana.

10. Is there anything else you want to mention?

We are a family-owned business. My wife and children all play roles in the company, and branding and marketing are done with the help of our strategic partner Joseph Tucker. Our Pranam Bars are handcrafted and locally made. We are currently relying on word of mouth and social media to get the word out about our product.

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