Gwella and the Untapped Opportunity In Functional Mushrooms

A new company straddling both the functional health and psychedelic space with a consumer/retail first approach. Backed by a leading team of scientists, doctors, investors and experts across the wellness space, the company has full service creative, digital marketing, and e-commerce expertise, which is supported by a board with extensive knowledge of developing, marketing and distributing consumer products. 

We recently spoke with Gwella CEO Peter Reitano to learn more about mushrooms, both functional and psychedelic, and what the company has got planned for the future.

Gwella’s an interesting name, what does it mean? What’s your pitch?

Gwella means to health one self, improve or get better. 

We’re a specialist brand house producing mushroom-based wellness products, content and tools. Our products are tailored for consumers looking to explore the world of mushrooms, adaptogens and psychedelics; people who want to use these natural tools to support physical and mental health, and bolster cognitive performance. 

Why Mushrooms?

We’re a bunch of mushroom nerds. They can help solve some of the world’s biggest problems. They can clean up oil spills, neutralize environmental pollutants and regenerate ecosystems. They can produce biofuel. They can be used to create biodegradable packaging and replace plastic. And they have all sorts of health benefits for humans. That’s what we’re interested in at Gwella. 

Commercially speaking, there is a huge opportunity. The popularity of functional mushrooms has been steadily growing around the world. Its growth reflects consumer demand for natural plant-based products to improve health. 

Can you explain what you mean by functional mushrooms?

Functional mushrooms (e.g. Chaga, Turkey Tail, Reishi and Cordyceps) are non-psychoactive and each individual functional mushroom has its own specific benefits, including balancing energy levels, strengthening immune function, smoothing digestion, and a myriad of additional health benefits. The best functional mushrooms on the market are also ‘adaptogenic’, meaning they adapt to assist the body in times of low energy, fatigue, anxiety.

The functional mushroom market is a $24 billion dollar market globally, on track to reach $62 billion by 2023. Asia makes up a big portion of that right now but what we’re interested in is the future growth, projected to come largely from North America and Europe. 

We believe that the vertical is not even in the first innings of a multi-decade growth cycle, and in reality, we’re actually tapping into much larger trends in natural health and functional wellness products. 

Given their legal status in most of the world, how do you plan on commercialising psychedelics?

The majority of businesses in this space are focused on drug development and clinical treatment. We’re very happy that this great work is being done to help those suffering from serious mental health issues. These compounds will revolutionize the treatment of these conditions and save tremendous amounts of money when it comes to health care costs. 

But medical usage only scratches the surface of the potential of these compounds. In our opinion, legal psychedelic therapies in a clinical setting will be inaccessible to the majority of the population for many years to come. We believe more people will be helped through diligent self-medicating using the latest research as a guide, than in a clinical setting. 

We have a plan to output products, ancillary tools and educational platforms that enable the safe and effective use of these substances in a consumer/non-clinical setting. 

We have a concept called “plus six” – we’re building tools to bring people up from zero to plus six, not from minus six to zero. We’re not a medical company and we’re not fixing or curing serious health conditions.  

We’re interested in transformation. Our audience is the millions of people who use psychedelics to enhance their state of being, to get more creative, to improve cognition and to have profound life-changing experiences through altering their consciousness. Whether that’s through regular micro-dosing or occasional macro-dosing. 

As regulations change in different jurisdictions across the world, we’ll be ready with value-driven consumer products. We will leverage our supply chain, proprietary formulations, IP and consumer data into a new suite of products and tools for psychedelic consumers.   

10% of the population in the USA already use psychedelics. Like the early days of the legal cannabis industry, a growing reform trend has already been gaining momentum in Canada and the USA, with states like California, Oregon, Colorado, Vermont and Washington D.C. Eventually, we hope to see total acceptance so people will have the opportunity to explore alternative plant-based medicine and ethnobotany without fighting the law. We’ll be poised to take advantage of these changes as they evolve. 

As you’ve alluded to, things are beginning to heat up when it comes to companies getting involved in the space, what makes you different?

Three things; team, product, and action. 

We’ve been growing and cultivating mushrooms for a long time, building our own health and wellness solutions.  We’ve assembled an all star team of mycologists, product designers, food scientists, doctors, CPG brand builders and performance marketing veterans with a proven track record or bringing successful market-leading brands to market. Brands like Vitamin Water, Red Bull, Dermalogica and Wellness Foods as well as some of the top recreational Cannabis brands in Canada, so we know how to market in a heavily regulated space. And our creative team is one of the best in Canada, having one multiple awards, including Cannes Lions.  

Driven by our team, our products are innovative and defensible. While everyone in the space is making a variation of a mushroom coffee, tea, and supplements, our products are differentiated with a proprietary moat. 

For years, We’ve been conducting  R&D at our US-based lab on what problems these ingredients can actually move the needle on, stacking them with synergistic botanicals and creating new form factors/delivery methods. We’re creating products based on research and insight into consumer need: the mushroom is not the value proposition in and of itself. Our products solve specific problems for a specific consumer segment. We’re calling this Mushroom 2.0; we’re targeting the wider wellness consumer outside of the early functional mushroom adopters, and applying these novel ingredients to specific use cases and occasions. 

As consumers begin exploring our products, our community platform boosts their experience by pairing product with learning opportunities including shared experiences, resources, history, and best practices. 

As for action, we take our values of community, nature, and intention to heart. We value Indigenous stewardship in the way we connect to psychedelics, from nurturing an open and enquiring mind to encouraging clear intention. We aim to honour and celebrate the efforts of those who have carried the torch in this space by working with partnered Indigenous groups to feature a collection of Indigenous art across our products, with a portion of the product profits going back to support Indigenous peoples. The end goal of this program would be to fund a scholarship opportunity for Indigneous youth artists to inspire confidence, opportunity, and personal growth.

We’ve seen a lot of activity in the capital markets when it comes to this space, with several companies going the RTO route recently. What’s your capital strategy?

Honestly, we’re just heads down on creating our products. We recently completed a private financing round with strategic investors and some of the top funds in the space, including Vine and JLS.  We’ll be looking to raise an A round in 2021 to help scale sales and expand our product offerings. But there’s no go-public plan right now. 

We’re building sustainable cash flow positive business units that drive our growth right from the start. We have immediate paths to revenue and profitability via our functional line of products, with expansion opportunities depending on where the regulations go. Our goal is to drive revenue,  build for the future, create value for investors and bring competitive products to market via a well thought out strategy, a powerhouse team and world-class partners. 

How close are you to having a product in-market?

We’re soft-launching our first product Mojo in December, with two more to follow in Q1 and Q2 next year including our MyMyco grow kits.  Mojo is the world’s first productivity gummy; 

engineered with a stack of mushroom-based adaptogens, botanicals and nootropics to provide you with an all-natural, sustained 6-8 hour energy boost, focus and clarity, without jitters or a crash; clean bio energyTM.  

It’s an exciting time; we have the right team and a unique product line that we’re really proud of.

Lots more updates to come in 2021!