By Anna Lardinois, Startup Storyteller
Qasim and Asim Khan were raised to think of food as medicine.
While their friends fought coughs with cold syrup and treated sports injuries with splints and prescription medications, the brothers were treated with remedies from their mother’s kitchen cabinets.
The family, originally from Pakistan, embraced the natural remedies that have been used in Southeastern Asia for more than a millennium. Key to this practice is the turmeric root.
Known as the Golden Spice, turmeric has been a part of the human diet for thousands of years. The root, which is the key ingredient in curry powder, is used for medicinal purposes around the world. Curcumin is the component in turmeric that has been proven to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
According to Qasim Khan, in the East people consume on average 10-15 roots a day, due to a diet that heavily relies on turmeric for seasoning. The same is not true of Western diets. In 2017, the brothers decided to bring the power of turmeric to their Wisconsin home, in a way that fellow Cheeseheads would embrace.
The pair launched ZYN, a line of low calorie, low sugar beverages that are infused with Vitamins C and Zinc, as well as curcumin, the key healing component in turmeric. The products, powdered daily wellness drink mixes and ready-made drinks, come in a variety of flavors. The first bottles of ZYN appeared on the shelves of Outpost Natural Foods in January 2018. Today, ZYN drinks are found on shelves across the nation.
Headquartered, manufactured, and packaged from the Milwaukee area, ZYN has deep roots in Wisconsin. “We are trying to bring all of our supply chain to Wisconsin. I’d say 90% of our supply chain is now in Wisconsin,” Qasim said.
The exception is turmeric.
“Turmeric is similar to wine,” Qasim said. “There are regions in the world where grapes grow better, the same thing is true with turmeric. The best turmeric comes from India. It’s been grown in this region for hundreds of years. Our supplier and the collective of farms have been around for decades, so that’s where we get our turmeric.
“All of our formulations start with nature. With how our ancestors used it and practiced it. Then we layer on what we’ve seen from the scientific or medical research community on ingredients that are important to maintaining a balanced, healthy lifestyle.”
The brothers make an ideal team. Born just 13 months apart, the co-founders have spent much of their lives by each other’s sides.
“We’re both driven people,” Qasim said. “We bring different skill sets to the table. When you put them together, they’re contiguous. We have different ways of approaching things. I think that is extremely helpful because it leads to what we feel is the right decision because there’s quite a bit of exchange on how to do it. We’re rowing in the same direction; how we get there is a little different.”
With their shared value of the natural practices, becoming a Certified B Corporation was a clear goal for the company.
Earning a B Corporation certification is a labor-intensive process that requires time, expense, and a great number of third-party verifications to prove the company is adhering to the strict certification standards. Equally rigorous was the process ZYN took to have the company’s products classified as “non-GMO verified.”
Qasim said these verifications “help us meet our goals and drive us to do better.”
“When we went down the path of starting a business, we were very set on trying to build a business that did two things: made money, but also did good things,” he said “That has been our building block, and that idea has been a building block since the inception of our company. Having been raised in a different culture and seeing how family and giving back and taking care of Mother Earth is a critical part of our lifestyle, we wanted to incorporate that into our company.”
That commitment to sustainability is evident in the company’s newest product. ZYN will roll out a 12-ounce drink packaged in easy to recycle aluminum in November.
“We are excited! It tastes great in the new formulation we did. We went even cleaner. We took out all of the added sugar. The only sugar in there is very little from the juice and flavors,” Qasim said.
ZYN plans to expand its product line in the future.
“We take what cultures in the other parts of the world have practiced for thousands of years and try to harvest those that are backed by science and bring them to the West,” Qasim said. “Turmeric is something that we will continue to go down the line in terms of developing more products. Right now, we have the drinks and drink mixes. We plan to provide more food items made with turmeric.”
To watch the growth of this Milwaukee company with Eastern roots, follow ZYN here.