Q&A with Amit Mehta of Unived Sports, a vegan supplement company
This week I’m chatting with Amit Mehta, founder and CEO of Unived Sports. Unived Sports started in 2010 in Mumbai, India. Amit has been vegetarian since birth and an experienced athlete, he saw a need for plant-based supplements. Nearly 6 years later, Unived Healthcare continues to grow and offer quality supplements that are totally cruelty-free.
VOA: Amit, thank you so much for talking with us! I first heard about you and your work through our mutual friend, Kuntal Joisher. How did you two meet?
Amit: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, Jessica. Appreciate all the work you are doing at VOA, it motivates and inspires companies like ours. Roughly four years ago Kuntal was just beginning his Everest planning, and he spoke with a few climbers who suggested he look into taking CoEnzymeQ10 (CoQ10) as it would help him acclimatise better on the mountains. At that time (2012) Unived had just entered the market with a few products, and CoQ10 was one of them. Kuntal was looking for CoQ10 options on the web and came across our website. He says he was shocked, then pleasantly surprised, to find an Indian company – certified by the Vegan Society UK – based in the same city as him, and making various plant-based supplements, one of which was CoQ10. Kuntal immediately purchased our CoQ10 and a few other products, and after a few months of using them wrote to us with his appreciation for our work. From there on our relationship strengthened as we share many passions, love for the outdoors, love for animals, and we lead a simple & healthy plant-based lifestyle.
VOA: How amazing was it to hear the good news that Kuntal finally completed his goal of summiting Mount Everest?
Amit: Incredible, the whole journey has been incredible. The first year was full of excitement, as it was the first attempt. I remember we had invited Kuntal and his family to our office, and had decorated our entire office in cotton to mimic the snow in the mountains. Everyone was super stocked and we were following the progress on the pulse. Then, of course, we heard of the expedition being abandoned and we were all really sad as we knew how bad Kuntal wanted it. The second year overall preparations were much better, in terms of training, nutrition, planning and so on, as there were a few learnings from the first attempt. Hearing of the avalanche brought everyone to a standstill and I think there was just a great amount of relief around to know Kuntal was safe and was coming home. Due to the nature of the loss from the avalanche there was more relief surrounding safety than there was disappointment. We were not sure if there would be a 3rd attempt, but, Kuntal is a determined guy and he would have gone as many times as required until he made it to the top. So, inevitably, year three came about and off he went. Seeing his picture up top with the Vegan & Unived flag was incredible, a big triumph for everyone, for the vegan community, for his friends & family, and most importantly for Kuntal himself, who has sacrificed a lot to achieve his dream.
VOA: Who are some people who inspired you to start Unived Healthcare and how did they inspire you?
Amit: I grew up in a lower-middle class family. My father was a weak kid and often got bullied in school. By the time he reached college he was determined to get stronger and so he joined the local gym. He was soon hooked, and muscular. He earned the title of Mr. Bombay, as a vegetarian & natural body builder. I was a terrible student in school, the worst of the three siblings. I failed in most of my subjects, and that drove my mother crazy. Like all families, we too had a system of punishment if we got poor grades in school – my father made me do pushups and pull-ups, and since I was such a poor student, that only meant I was exercising every day! He would say that if I was not getting smarter in school then no one would give me a job, so he may as well make me stronger at home, and I may get hired to carry someones briefcase for them. That was the true beginning of Unived. My punishment turned into passion, I joined the gym at a young age of 13, was the fittest kid in school & college, ended up playing soccer for school, college, university, and post graduation decided to turn my passion into work.
VOA: You were born in India and you’ve done quite a bit of traveling. What are some insights you have about how people around the world perceive veganism?
Amit: I am not sure if veganism, in its true sense, is really understood by people, even those who suggest they are vegan. Across the globe there is a big focus on the dietary aspect of veganism, and rightfully so, perhaps, as it does have a tremendous impact on the persons physical & mental wellbeing, as well as on the sustainability of our planet. But, that is just one part of veganism, and if one begins to peel the layers and really go deeper then one will see that apart from following a plant-based diet there are many other personality alterations that can be made, which can have a profound impact on the person, their community, and the planet. To me, being vegan is first being kind – kind to people & animals. If one cannot understand and practice kindness, oneness, then there always remains a violent string within, and then there are instances in life which trigger that string, and the regretable outcome is violence, either in actions, or language, or both. It is an ongoing and lengthy process to subdue this emotion, as we are humans and no matter how strong we are with our beliefs there are experiences that make us angry and hence provoke a reaction. But if one can master the ability to respond, instead of react, then it is a step closer to ahimsa (non-violence), and true veganism. Yes, taking the first steps of giving up meat, dairy, leather, and making many obvious & necessary changes, but thereafter we must continue the journey and go deeper to find true inner peace and spread the same peace on to others.
VOA: How did the sports you played help you develop Unived Healthcare?
Amit: Being involved with weight training, soccer, and yoga since an early age really give me an insight into what the body experiences when it is under stress (exercise). I began to notice how good I felt on days when I had eaten healthy the previous day, and how low I felt on days when the previous days food (nutrition) was poor. This got me interested into the role, and therefore – impact, that food & nutrition plays on overall health and sports performance. After living through a lot of this from a ‘consumers’ perspective, it only made sense for me to get behind the desk and begin working in the kitchen on scientific and vegan nutrition products.
VOA: What are some challenges you faced creating an entirely vegan line of supplements?
Amit: When we started we became the first nutraceutical or dietary supplement brand in India to pursue an entirely vegan line of products. The beginning was tough. We were ridiculed in the industry as most people thought it was a was a futile exercise for us to climb this tree. Dairy consumption is massive in India, so it was a big exercise for us to educate our suppliers on what Vegan was and why we didn’t want any raw materials to be mixed with or processed with dairy, not even ghee. Majority of brands here use gelatine capsules (pig fat + cow bone) and hence keep their costs low, but we use plant-based capsules which are nearly seven times the cost. We invest a lot in our raw material to ensure it is plant-based but also that it is of the highest quality. Sourcing vegan ingredients has been a challenge, as well as sourcing the right ingredients of the right quality. One of the biggest challenges was offering a plant-based Vitamin D3. It took us two years to set this up, but today we are the only company in India offering a 100% lichen derived Vitamin D3 ~ and we have been innovative with the formulation by suspending it in organic cold pressed extra virgin coconut oil (a good fat) as Vitamin D3 is fat-soluble. Our customers love the product.
VOA: What are some of Unived Healthcare’s most-loved products?
Amit: I would say our Vegan Vitamin D3 (D-veg), Raw Pea Protein (Lean), Algae DHA (Ovegha), Algal Calcium (CalDveg), Raw Coconut Vinegar, and our High Fiber Soup (Fybur) are some unique formulations that we have developed. Our sports nutrition line is also much appreciated and much loved as we have developed a plant-based line of products for endurance athletes (runners, cyclists, swimmers) like endurance gels, salt capsules, pre-during-post mixes, recovery brews and more.
VOA: What about your personal favorite products?
Amit: I consume Lean (Pea Protein) and D-veg (Vitamin D3) daily, also use our Raw Coconut Vinegar in my cooking, and am constantly testing products that are in R&D either during my runs or during cooking at home 🙂
VOA: Can you recommend any products for long hikes or backpacking trips?
Amit: If you have a long hike planned, it is best to eat well the day prior to your hike, and to get enough sleep ~ these are the two most crucial things you can do to prepare for a long endurance activity, good food and good sleep. On the day of, if you have time before you start, then make sure you eat a good breakfast before you head out. During long hikes I like to carry Salt Capsules with me, which I use based on the sweat rate ~ if it is hot and the body is losing salts then I’ll pop a few in. I usually fill my hydra-pack with RRUNN During, which is a vegan isotonic mix that offers carbohydrates for energy, electrolytes for rehydration, and two unique ingredients for fluid-uptake and cellular stress protection. I sip on this every 25-30 minutes. A couple of hours in if I’m getting hungry, I either snack on some nut-butter or I take maybe half a gel. Typically, one gel through a good 5 or 6 hours without any solid food, and during that time just liquid hydration with some nut-butters is enough to keep one going. Once done, it is really important to take a recovery product, I use the RRUNN Post which is a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio, along with curcumin, ashwagandha, vitamin C, and electrolytes ~ this ensures the body’s glycogen levels are back up and gives 10grams of pea protein for muscle recovery.
VOA: What are you most proud of with your accomplishments with Unived Healthcare?
Amit: I’ve always found myself swimming against the tide. With Unived, there were a few things I wanted to do and I was not willing to compromise on them – building a plant-based line of results oriented products through original in-house research, building a young team and growing up together, and creating a brand that is honest, transparent, and trustworthy. We have built this basket, everyone who has joined us came in as a fresher with zero prior work experience – and has learned, grown, and still is part of our team, and Unived is known as an honest & trustworthy brand today. Of all the things I’ve done in my life, accomplishing Unived is by far the one that I am most proud of. We have come a long way, but we have a long way to go!
VOA: What are some dreams you have for Unived Healthcare in the near and far future?
Amit: My immediate goal & desire is to have Unived products available in the US. We are looking for importers & distributors, and are also considering online availability via Amazon-USA. We have a lot of interest from American consumers who write to us, and I know that our products will do very well in your country. We have consciously built a high-quality product line with the intention of entering US markets. The far future will see us enter a few new verticals and a few new markets. The ultimate dream is to build Unived into a global home-brand known for quality plant-based nutrition products.
VOA: I know you recently completed a 25k trail race. What’s been your favorite race so far?
Amit: I’ve run a few trail races in the last couple of years, and each has had it’s own charm. What is beautiful about running trails is that you are always amidst nature, and even if you run the same trail a few times you can continue to keep exploring new things, unlike when you run road races. Next month we are running Ultra-Trail Koh Chang in Thailand, and that will be yet another beautiful 70km trail experience, in a different country. It’s hard to pick a favourite race, as each is its own experience, and each experience, is beautiful.
VOA: What are you hoping for in the year 2017, personally and globally?
Amit: My biggest goal for 2017 is to have our products available in the US, and I think we will be successful in achieving this.
Find Unived on the web:
Follow Amit here:
Thanks so much for everything you do, Amit, and for taking time to chat with me!
Stay tuned, because Amit has very generously sent me some of the RRUNN pre-during-post mixes that I’ll be trying out and reviewing on an upcoming hike.