A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

NKU alum Josh Young develops Vegy Vida, a tasty way to get kids to eat their vegetables

By Lizzie Kibler

NKU Magazine

For parents, the daily struggle to win the vegetable war with their kids is real. And let’s face it, losses far outnumber wins for moms and dads. Waged since the beginning of time, mealtime skirmishes have shown no sign of a cease-fire — that is, until Josh Young (’11) added a revolutionary new weapon to parents’ dinner-table arsenal.

Young was studying business administration at Northern Kentucky University when he decided to develop his idea of Vegy Vida, an all-natural dip that helps children enjoy the taste of vegetables. But he had one key caveat: He wouldn’t resort to using artificial ingredients or sugar in developing his product.

“Kids don’t eat enough vegetables. And kids who don’t eat vegetables become adults who don’t eat vegetables,” Young says. “There was a lot of research that showed that when you covered vegetables in sugar, kids would eat them, which doesn’t help anybody.”

Photo by Scott Beseler, NKU Magazine

Rather than searching for a flavor to mask the presence of vegetables, Young discovered an ingredient in cucumber extract that actually removes unpleasant flavors while improving the taste. The extract, referred to as the “bitter blocker,” changes the way bitter compounds in food and beverages interact with taste receptors in a person’s (and especially little persons’) mouths.

“I found a way to use the bitter blocker to take away the bitterness of veggies so kids would eat more of them,” he says. “That’s important, because kids actually have three times more taste buds than adults do.” A study conducted by the University of Western Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, backs up this claim with a finding that adolescents are more sensitive to sucrose or sweet flavors.

With the help of NKU’s INKUBATOR, a cross-campus initiative that enables students from different backgrounds to connect and start a business together, Young was able to have the foundation in place to start his journey.

“It was a good experience,” Young said. “And it made you think about the business, and made you make sure you weren’t putting energy and funds toward something that isn’t viable.”

Soon after Young graduated from the INKUBATOR, he received an opportunity to collaborate with Brandcraft, a consumer-centric product development company focused on ideas that benefit the health of our communities and individuals’ well-being.

The collaboration was a perfect match for Young, who wasn’t interested in health-washing. He wanted to focus on making a health-food product that’s actually, well, healthy.

Photo by Scott Beseler, NKU Magazine

“When you’re developing food and beverage products, I think the tide is turning,” says Young. “Throughout the last 15 years, the focus hasn’t been on health. It’s been on how cheap you can make a food product….We wanted to make food and beverage products that are truly healthy.”

In food industry circles — like the ones Young moved in with his previous job — consumers’ desires to eat healthier is on every formulator’s mind. Unfortunately, “healthy” isn’t a clear-cut term, and there’s a lot of confusion about what’s nutritionally beneficial and what simply looks good on a package. Some companies use the “healthy” term a little too loosely for Young’s liking, touting a product’s healthy-seeming qualities to influence buyers’ decisions at the grocery check-out.

Working with Brandcraft, Young was able to partner with the best veggie defenders—moms—to develop a product that was both tasty and healthy. Having parents taste test the product was important because they were going to be the consumers of Vegy Vida.

It’s safe to say Young’s brainchild is a success. Vegy Vida dips are available in five different 100 percent all-natural flavors — made especially for kids. They contain absolutely no sugar, GMOs or gluten. Brandcraft is working to get Vegy Vida into as many as 8,000 grocery stores by the end of the year.

Armed with their new “weapon,” parents will be able to win the dinner battle. 

This article appeared in the Fall-Winter 2017 issue of NKU Magazine. It is reprinted by permission. 

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