An Italian delicacy, a fuel to power legions on the march and now a nutrition bar providing energy for cyclists and athletes – Veloforte takes panforte to new heights.
Marc and Lara Giusti launched Veloforte in the spring of 2016 and the range includes three bars, Di Bosco, Ciocco and Classico, and their Mixed Bites bags. Veloforte is handmade to provide the optimal balance of 100 per cent natural, performance enhancing carbs and essential proteins and fibre.
Marc is a seasoned rider, his last two big rides were the Rapha Manchester to London - a one-day 250 mile ride in 14 hours, and 800km with over 39,000ft of climbing across Majorca and Ibiza.
Their Veloforte recipe is based on Panforte and has been made by generations of the Giusti family. But how did Marc come to see this Italian cake as an aid to help power his cycling?
He said: “Around about the middle of 2015 I was trying to find some natural, wholesome easy stuff to use in training for various events and found it extremely difficult, or impossible, to find anything.
“Every single shelf had products that were largely synthesised products. Those that were apparently natural had no bang for their buck you had to buy 25 of them to actually get calorific value. I started looking at self making and it becomes a real faff, really quickly.
“But there was, in the biscuit tin, panforte, a traditional Italian delicacy now but it had much more humble beginnings. I discovered as I started looking into how I might start to some of this food is that way back, pre crusades, Roman Legions and others were using it as a fortifying dough. They went through the deserts and the lands they were marching through and were literally taking the nuts and the berries from the trees, and honey and so on and creating something of a paste that they would use to keep everyone moving and it didn’t go off. This then became a bit of a delicacy as they went through to different territories they discovered spices and ginger, cinnamon and herbs.
So fast forward 2,000 years and there is me looking in the biscuit tin and my family, who are from Florence, had always had a recipe for, as most families do, this and it’s grandma’s fiercely guarded secret. So we started just making stuff for me.”
The beginning of turning this in to a business started when Marc was taking part in the Rapha Manchester to London ride fuelled by his private stash of what became Veloforte.
He said: “Everyone around me was doing the age old gastric distress and gripping that the last thing they wanted to do was chug down another gel and so on. But I was fine and, by the end of the ride, I realised just what an opportunity and a simple answer to a very big problem this could be.”
Following on from this Marc and Lara, who has 20 years experience as a specialist CardioRespiratory Physiotherapist and understands what the body needs to fuel, sustain and recover from endurance exercise, developed a range of, essentially, prototypes of various different flavours.
They took them to Majorca where Marc was doing a multi-day event and started feeding 300-odd riders where it went down a storm.
Marc said: “We came back really buoyed with this idea. We started to refine the product and quite quickly Virgin got on the phone and said they were holding an event called the Virgin stride, which was from the Matterhorn to Mount Etna over 28 days, with 350 riders and could we fuel them all the way from the top to the bottom.
“We were presented with what became an extraordinary case history – we had never had so many people eat so much food for so many days in a row. So we set about this peculiar experiment and again it was overwhelming, I was getting phone calls from the roadside from people thanking me for no longer having stomach cramps, managing to go all day or not having to get claggy mouth.”
Fast forward from there, and after speaking to retailers, race teams, Olympians and athletes about their product all of a sudden orders were pouring in.
Marc said: “2016 was the year we were in Majorca and Italy and by the beginning of 2017 we were boxing up orders and sending them out. Literally, we stared in the kitchen and then in 2017 we had put ourselves into a facility in Kilburn. “The year of 2017, on a business level, was something of a test and learn. All of a sudden we had an incredible year, we had thousands of customers, all sorts of interest, sponsorship opportunities, product opportunities in new markets and investment and it all started to present itself. We rallied ourselves towards the end of the year to make 2018, what for us would be, our first growth year. We looked at our facilities, we upscaled and are in our third venue in Park Royal, London, and making everything out of that and using out original Kilburn facility as our ‘what should we do next kitchen’.”
Marc’s 20-year background in the advertising industry looking at brands and brand strategy and Lara’s medical career all helped them to launch the business but they were missing something and this was MD Steve Marson, who Marc met back in Majorca. Steve, who used to work for Halfords and has 20 years experience in cycle retail, looks after operations and commercial structure.
And 2017 was an even better year for Veloforte as they picked up a two-star for its ‘Classico’ flavour and a further one-star for its ‘Di Bosco’ flavour at the Great Taste awards.
Marc said: “We created a profile triangle for our brand which is performance, taste and natural. We feel that when you look at most of the industry, in the sports nutrition market, they all fail if not one but two of those things. It’s very rare to find a gel that tastes good and it’s certainly not natural. It doesn’t take very long to go through a whole host of products and ask those three questions and come up wanting.
“What we found in being able to answer those three things was people began to find what they were looking for.”
And Veloforte are not resting on their laurels and have major plans in the pipeline.
Marc added: “We have the three bars which are deliberately designed as endurance fuel allowing for a long form of exercise. We are looking at expanding into shorter form exercise as well as pre-training, pre-event and post event products.
“All of it will be from a common perspective of taste, performance and a natural solution to those scenarios. We have some collaborations with some pretty big brands – we are part of supporting Campagnolo launch their écoutez, we’ve worked fairly closely with the guys at Rapha and have a handful of other brands we will work with. We very much want to help people fuel better. We are branching out into other sports as well. We have had three polar expeditions this year, ultra running is becoming a big part of our audience base, we are now into Formula one teams and a number of race endurance series.”