Ethan Lewis, diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 12, founded GlucoBrands only 11 years later. The company produces a portable, inexpensive, tasty, fast-acting glucose gel that people can take to quickly restore healthy blood sugar levels when they experience hypoglycemia.
Ethan recently talked to Diabetes Health publisher and editor-in-chief Nadia Al-Samarrie about the life track that brought him to create GlucoBrands.
Nadia: How did you get started in the food manufacturing business at the age of 16?
Ethan: I grew up in the Northeast and spent a lot of time in Cape Cod, where everyone eats clam chowder. I grew up eating the classic soup crackers that people eat with chowder, and, frankly, I saw that I could create a better version at age 16-an all-natural soup, salad, and snack cracker. And it was diabetes-friendly because, after all, I had been diagnosed at the age of 12 with type 1.
Nadia: What made your crackers different?
Ethan: They were handmade, with lots of love, of course. They were crunchier and fresher than saltines, and they had three different flavor varieties that really complemented soups and were great for salads. They were lower carb, as well.
Nadia: How did you distribute your crackers?
Ethan: I would go door to door selling them to local gourmet stores, seafood stores, and restaurants. We couldn’t make the crackers fast enough. I had a team of 10 people who were helping me make them. The product was very well received, and I had a great time building up the business and learning how to start a food business at a young age.
Nadia: When you went to college, did you study business?
Ethan: I started with business in school, but ended up focusing on advertising and PR.
Nadia: Did you create GlucoBrands because you didn’t care for the other fast-acting glucose products on the market?
Ethan: Glucose gel is the fastest way to treat a diabetic low. It’s the easiest to consume. My issue with it was that I had a full-time job at the time, and I couldn’t afford to go to the store to replace the gels I had used the night before. So I figured that if I had that problem, other people were having it, too. Besides, the gels that were available were hard to use, hard to carry, and, frankly, didn’t taste good.
Nadia: Are your products primarily fast-acting glucose?
Ethan: Yes. Our first and best-selling product is GlucoPouch, a 15-gram glucose gel designed to raise low blood sugars fast. We sell it in a three-pack for $5.95, although the price is lower if you order in quantity. Right now the only flavor is Mandarin orange. People say it’s easy on the stomach. Sometimes when you have low blood sugar, you get upset. So you want a fast-acting glucose to be nice and easy on the stomach and smooth going down.
GlucoPouch is a one-ounce gel, so it’s nothing to drink it all down easily. We call the whole package “Grip, rip, and sip.” You grip the pouch, rip off the top, and sip down the gel, and you’re done. There’s your 15 grams of sugar in a couple of swallows, as opposed to having to chop up four or five glucose tablets.
Nadia: What’s it like being an entrepreneur who also has to deal with diabetes? Walk us through a typical day.
Ethan: A typical day is waking up and putting my diabetes care first. Well, I should say, life first, diabetes second. But you have to have good control and a good attitude to pull it off. After that, every day centers on the office. We’re always looking to grow GlucoBrands, spread the word about it, and get it into the hands of more people who have diabetes.
Of course, like everyone else, I love to eat. I eat five or six small meals throughout the day. I’m constantly keeping an eye on my blood sugars and constantly fine-tuning my control. I’ll be the first person to tell you that I don’t have perfect control, but I have good enough control that I can go out and take on challenges of running a business.
Nadia: Do smaller meals give you tighter control?
Ethan: My meal schedule really stems from a nutrition program I designed for myself, which includes really cutting down on carbs. It’s not an extreme low-carb program, but it does cut a lot of them out.
Nadia: Are you on a pump, or do you use multiple injections?
Ethan: I use pens. I don’t have a pump, and I’m not on a continuous monitor. I simply take injections. I end up taking around eight to 10 shots a day, but the pens really provide me with great freedom and flexibility to completely control my blood sugars. I’ve been on a pump before, and I think pumps are great for a lot of people, but for me shots seem to work a bit better.
Nadia: Your packaging is soft, so it fits easily into a purse and seems easy to carry when cycling or exercising.
Ethan: Yes. I never really liked the hard structures of tubes of tablets and tubes of gel. They’re not that easy to put among the things you take when you’re going someplace or doing something. GlucoPouches are flexible and strong enough that I keep mine in my back pocket. You can sit on them all day, and they’ll be fine. You can also keep them in purses and backpacks. My rule of thumb is wherever I go, I need have at least one or two in my pocket just in case.
Nadia: I’ve read that you donate a percentage of your proceeds to different organizations. To which organizations do you donate, and why?
Ethan: We actually let our customers choose where they want to donate a portion of the proceeds from every purchase they make directly through us. A customer can donate a portion of the proceeds to the American Diabetes Association, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, or the Diabetes Research Institute. These three are really stand-up organizations in the diabetes community. At the end of the day, we are all in this for the same reason, which is to find a cure or help make life easier in the process.
Nadia: Thank you, Ethan.