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Former Olympian Sees Gold In the Protein Drink Market

NEXT PROTEINS INC.

CEO: David Jenkins.

Financial data: Does not disclose.

No. of local employees: 12.

Investors: David Jenkins and Shawn Sherwood have invested $7 million in product development and in creating a patent umbrella.

Headquarters: Carlsbad.

Year founded: 1988.

What makes the company innovative: Next has developed a low-calorie carbonated protein drink called Xapp that it’s protecting through a collection of patents issued in major beverage markets throughout the world.

Key factors for success: The company has built a solid reputation through its previous products, which include Designer Whey protein powder, featured on “The Biggest Loser,” and Detour protein bars.

Health and fitness have played major roles in David Jenkins’ life, for as long as he can remember.

“I’ve always been fascinated by athletic performance enhancement,” said the three-time Olympic Silver medalist, founder and CEO of Carlsbad-based Next Proteins Inc.

But now he’s focusing more on brains, not brawn.

Jenkins is building an intellectual property portfolio of interlocking patents for what he says is the world’s only carbonated protein drink, a product called Xapp.

His ultimate goal is to license the drink itself or the technology to a major carbonated beverage company who can take the brand worldwide. His plans sound lofty, but his record of inventing and then selling protein products over the past three decades shows it’s possible.

Tumultuous Track Record

Originally from the British West Indies, Jenkins came to Southern California in the 1970s while training for the 400-meter relay.

“British food at the time was pretty horrendous — heavy foods, very high in fat,” he said. “I had never before been exposed to the low-carb, massive vegetable diet, and I was stunned at how beautiful the produce was here. I could see what a difference it was making for me. I became fascinated by diet.”

But diet wasn’t enough. Jenkins said he started using anabolic steroids in the late 1970s to keep up his athletic performance. His involvement in drugs threw his life off course — eventually leading to a steroid-trafficking arrest and a 10-month stay in 1988 in the Boron Federal Prison Camp in California’s Mojave Desert.

Once out of prison, Jenkins said he started Next Proteins as a way to “prove to the court” that he could turn his life around.

After a series of smaller nutrition products, he launched what would become the company’s flagship product, Designer Whey, powdered protein that landed major visibility and eventually a branding partnership from NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.”

Designer Whey, which hit the market in 1993, continues to be a top-selling powdered protein in the U.S., according to the company. In 2011, Jenkins sold the Designer Whey business to Designer Protein LLC, a Carlsbad-based subsidiary of Athena Wellness Brands LLC, for an undisclosed price.

Jenkins’ second product, launched in 2002, is the Detour protein bar, which is also on the shelves at hundreds of retail stores in the U.S. — everywhere from GNC to 7-Eleven. Jenkins sold that brand in 2006 to Forward Foods LLC, a Minden, Nev.-based company formed by Detour management from Next Proteins and a New York private investment firm Emigrant Capital. At the time of the sale, Next Proteins valued the Detour retail brand at about $50 million.

Now Focusing on the Fizz

Around 10 years ago, Jenkins and a business partner Shawn Sherwood decided to work on another product, this one focused on the protein beverage industry.

But they soon identified a major hurdle: “If we wanted to get a lot of protein in a drink, it just didn’t taste great,” Jenkins said. A discovery at UC San Diego caught their attention and gave them an idea.

UCSD researchers in 2009 announced that they had discovered that the carbonation found in seltzer was actually being tasted on the same group of taste buds that detect sour flavors.

Jenkins and Sherwood added fizz to their drink, which downplayed the bad tastes. “We put some carbonated water into the protein drink and it tasted a lot better,” Jenkins said. “There was no bad aftertaste.”

He’s shopping the concept around to big soft drink companies. And in the meantime, the company is building up a patent portfolio in countries, including China and Russia, which covers everything from ingredient combinations to how the drink is manufactured.

“Patents are not something that’s usually found in the food industry,” Jenkins said. “There are a lot of trade secrets, but not a lot of patents.”

Nonetheless, he’s got the patent route to avoid being copied, in the hopes that he can hold the exclusive license to the drink around the world.

“This could go beyond fitness,” he said. “A product like Xapp can be tremendous for starving population.”

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