By Darren Paltrowitz, Founder, No Place Like Long Island - www.paltrowitz.com
Founded after purchasing Naturade in 2012, Claude Tellis and Kareem Cook had more than business in mind when launching VeganSmart. A line of all-in-one nutritional shakes, VeganSmart holds its own from the pack in not only having delicious offerings, but having them vegan, non-GMO, plant-based and high in both fiber and protein. The California-based company also offers its shakes in seven flavors -- including Chai and Cookies & Cream -- and not just the standard Chocolate, Vanilla and Strawberry.
I had the pleasure of speaking to VeganSmart co-founder Claude Tellis via e-mail. Tellis made some excellent points about why a vegan – or mostly-vegan – diet is both sustainable and smart. More info on the brand and its founders can be found at www.livevegansmart.com.
At what age did you take an interest in vegan fare?
Claude Tellis: At 41. Before this, I ate the standard American diet. My dad was a doctor, and he ate meat and other animal products, but exercised regularly, and as a result was in decent shape. Unfortunately other members of our family though haven’t been as fortunate – they have developed diet related illnesses, such as Type 2 diabetes. One of my uncles had both legs amputated, then not much later after that, I had another uncle who lost a leg due to complications from diabetes, and then a cousin, who got diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at the age 43. That’s when I started taking diet/health much more seriously because I didn’t want to be next.
Are you fully vegan?
Our partner John -- goes by the name of BadAssVegan -- is a vegan I met through my business partner, Kareem Cook. When we realized that John, a guy just like us, has been vegan for years, we thought, “Let's partner and learn from him.” John understood our mission and helped teach our audience how they can incorporate veganism into their daily lives. I am not a vegan. When I’m on the road, from time to time, I may eat a non-vegan pizza. While it's unpopular to say it in the vegan community, it is a daily struggle for me. That’s why I always say, “If you can't be 100% vegan, then be a partial vegan.” If you find it difficult to be 100% vegan, you're not alone, but just know that it shouldn't stop you from consuming a mostly plant-based diet. Which is our reason for launching VeganSmart. It’s not only perfect for vegans but also ideal for anyone trying just to eat healthier and cleaner.
What inspired you to learn about vegan options?
When we, Kareem and I, realized that there is a link between diet and diabetes, cancer and heart disease. It is important for us to inspire those that suffer from chronic health conditions, to dig deep and realize that 100% restoration of health is possible.
Two other sources also motivated us! The second, is the documentary Forks Over Knives. Once we watched the Netflix documentary, I knew that veganism -- or consuming a mostly plant-based diet -- could be the answer to preventing and treating most cardiovascular and diabetes diseases. The facts and stats were irrefutable.
Veganism aside, have you always been interested in eating healthy?
No. In high school, I played a lot of sports, so what I ate never really affected my weight. I loved sports and still do, but it wasn't until recently that I saw a link between diet and health. Even with all the diet and nutritional information out there, the obesity epidemic and pre-diabetes epidemic is rising, especially in urban areas and through the country. And most of these diseases are completely reversible.
Do you feel that there are any misconceptions about the vegan lifestyle?
Yes, one is that vegan food doesn't taste good. We at VeganSmart are committed to reversing that narrative with our tasty nutritional protein shakes.
For someone who favors unhealthy food, what's the best way for them to start eating healthy?
Start with two simple changes and focus on the things that you already eat. Go pescatarian for six months. Start with seasonings that you already eat. Eat smaller portions every three hours and try to cut sugar, refined carbs, and alcohol. Start with a VeganSmart shake for breakfast. I mix two scoops of VeganSmart Vanilla powder into a blender with organic blueberries, strawberries, water, and ice. For lunch, I grab a salad with veggies and maybe seafood. For dinner, I’ll do a fajita, no bread or chips. Then grab a chocolate VeganSmart as a little sweet treat.
As you start feeling better, incorporate 30 minutes of exercise into your day as well.
Word is that you and your business partner met as students at Duke. When did you launch Healthy Body Products in relation to when you met?
Kareem and I met in 1991. We started Healthy Body Products in 2002. We bought Naturade in 2012 and launched VeganSmart in 2013.
The journey for us has been all about addressing the obesity crisis in the U.S. – 85 million people. The more we learned, the closer we moved to vegan diets because the more fruits and veggies you eat, the closer you get to a healthy lifestyle.
How would you describe VeganSmart to someone who hasn't yet tried any of your products?
Clean, tasty breakfast or snack. Instead of a doughnut, bagel or breakfast sandwich, make a fruit smoothie. We taste better and you will feel better.
Do you have a favorite of the product offerings?
Chocolate VeganSmart with ice and water. Vanilla VeganSmart with strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, ice and water.
What's coming up for VeganSmart in the near-future? More flavors? Partnerships with more celebrities?
We just launched a subscription box program that will deliver our delicious and nutritious protein powders directly to consumers’ doors, on a monthly basis. When you subscribe, the first two servings are free. After that, the fee is $49.99 per month, which is a reduced rate of 32% from the average price of our 30-serving jug. The variety of flavors includes Vanilla, Chocolate, Wild Berries, Chai, Cookies & Cream, Peaches & Cream, Strawberry Shortcake and Chocolate Raspberry. We also have a seven-flavor Starter Pack for $16.99, which is a fun way to find out what your favorite flavor is if you are new to our offerings.
We have partnerships with BadAssVegan (fitness enthusiast) in a signature flavor, Strawberry Shortcake; we’ve also teamed up with Tia Blanco (champion surfer) in a signature flavor (Peaches & Cream) and rapper Styles P (member of The Lox with Jadakiss) for his signature flavor Cookies & Cream. And there are a few additional celebrity deals in the works, so, stay tuned!
Is there a particular goal you're working towards at the moment for VeganSmart?
Reversing pre-diabetes in the world. Focusing on the most vulnerable in food deserts and in urban and rural communities, by giving them easier access to healthier and more affordable options through our subscription service, www.livevegansmart.com.
When not busy with VeganSmart, how do you like to spend your free time?
I enjoy playing tennis, spending time with wife and daughter, and catching up with fraternity brothers -- Kappa Alpha Psi -- and international travel to China and Europe.
Do you have a favorite vegan dining spot?
Crossroads in L.A. is my favorite.
Finally, any last words for the kids?
Be smart, and rock with VeganSmart!