When Dominic Chandler, the co-founder of new wellness company Killa Vanilla needed something to help cure his sweet tooth, he wasn't going to leave it to chance. Instead, he created a product specially designed to kill sugar cravings, based on emerging neuroscience from the US and the concept that finding a balance is better than extremes.
We spoke to Dom and co-founder Chris Huntley-Gordon about their product and their journey so far.
Tell us about Killa Vanilla’s mission?
To put people back in control of their sugar cravings!
How did Killa Vanilla come about?
In 2018, after receiving a grant from the EU, we were working with a business building olfactory devices for the medical industry when we came across some early research that indicated vanilla-based scents could help control sugar cravings. So we were already working with scent and its effects, but it wasn’t until we trained for the British Indoor Rowing Championships it took a significant turn.
Dom was competitive as a heavyweight but was at the lower end of the weight category. He realised he could win if he became a lightweight but was struggling to get to the required weight because of his intense sweet tooth! Dom built a prototype of Killa Vanilla, lost 8kg in 16 weeks, and became British Lightweight Champion.
Dom created another prototype for Chris. He used it to help stop his sugar binges which were instantly undoing a week of hard work dieting and exercising. Chris’ cravings were brought on by certain triggers, such as having a rubbish day and wanting to feel better about himself. Killa Vanilla provided a boost in willpower (which is finite and becomes eroded throughout the day), helping him avoid indulgence in sugary foods.
These experiences coincided with the publication of breakthrough neuroscience that explained what was really going on when we used the product.
Tell us about the sciency behind Killa Vanilla? How does it work?
Advances in neuroimaging technology prove that signals from the olfactory (scent) and gustatory (food) systems converge in the orbitofrontal cortex (front part of our brain), where they combine, interact, and influence each other. This creates the ‘cross-modal sensory compensation effect’ where indulgent scent stimulates the reward circuitry in the brain in the same way eating sugary food does; diminishing the desire to consume indulgent food. This was proven last year in independent trials, providing evidence as to how Killa Vanilla was satisfying our sugar cravings without ingesting calories!
What’s been the response you’ve had so far? Has there been a ‘lightbulb moment’ where you knew your business had the power to change lives?
The first lightbulb moment was when the peer-reviewed research was published. Previously, we knew that the prototypes of Killa Vanilla worked for us, but we couldn't explain how or why. Once the data behind the independent trials were released and the 'cross-modal sensory compensation effect' was proven, we knew we had a product that people would believe in and that gave us the confidence to launch the business.
The second one came two weeks after we first launched. One of our first customers gave us an amazing review and then bought two more for her best friends; a week later she bought two more for her mum and sister. Validation from real-life customers doesn't get much better than that.
What has been the greatest challenge to your business so far?
The biggest challenge we face is education. The concept of using scent to have physical and physiological effects in this way on the mind and body is completely novel. Some people have long been convinced of the connection, but it's only with recent improvements in neuroimaging technology and our understanding of multi-sensory regions in the brain that we've able to explain how and why it works. It is our job to take this ground-breaking research and articulate it in a clear way that allows people to use it to help themselves.
Do you think wellness has become a way of life for your consumers?
Definitely. We believe it will become even more so considering these difficult times. What we love about Killa Vanilla is that it's neat and convenient. Carrying Killa Vanilla around with us is essential as we live in a world where excess sugar presents itself everywhere. It is also part of a balanced lifestyle allowing us to treat ourselves when we want, but giving us the willpower to avoid indulgence.
On a personal level, what is your mantra in life?
To enjoy what we do for a living and derive meaning where we can. The most meaningful and fulfilling purpose in our lives has been helping other people.
What advice would you share with anyone wanting to launch a new business?
Have ownership and belief in your product or services. We’ve had to be patient, persistent and relentless in getting Killa Vanilla to where it is now. So in a nutshell, resilience is key.
What are you most excited to discover at this year's Balance Festival?
We are very excited about the high-intensity interval training across the boutique studios! We do a lot of this type of training when we train for the Indoor Rowing Championships. Gets the heart racing!
Find out more about Killa Vanilla on their website or Instagram.