Eighteen months after launching wellness brand Welo, Jack Baker and Stef Prodea still thrill at the sight of their probiotic drinks and bars on store shelves and marvel at how quickly their dream of launching a company has become a reality.

“It still gets us so excited seeing that people enjoy them,” says Prodea of Welo’s expanding line of cold-pressed probiotic juices, nutrition bars and fermented drinks. The best part, she says, is “being able to create a brand that helps people – that benefits their health and benefits the planet, really creating positive change.”

The company first got traction in the Greater Toronto Area, targeting millennials ages 15 to 35 with cold-pressed probiotic juices located in the produce section of grocery stores like Sobeys and Urban Fresh.

Sport Chek is the latest retailer to come on board with national distribution of Welo’s plant-based, gluten-free and low-sugar probiotic bars in Matcha Almond, Peanut Butter Chocolate and Coconut Cashew flavours.

All told, Welo products are now available in more than 300 locations from Quebec to British Columbia, including Sobeys and Longos in Ontario and Whole Foods nationally. And Baker and Prodea are hard at work expanding their share of the Canadian market, while preparing for eventual entry to the U.S., with the help of Fuel Injection funding and support from Innovation Guelph.

Working with the Innovation Guelph team – mentors Jane Dummer, Steve Barrett and Niel Palmer – has been “amazing,” says Prodea, for keeping the company focused on long-term goals amidst day-to-day challenges and for providing a wide range of expertise, from food trends and regulations to raising financing to manufacturing operations.

With Fuel Injection support, Baker and Prodea are now updating Welo’s Mississauga-based plant to ensure food safety compliance and regulatory preparedness as well as ramping up promotions in Quebec and Western Canada.

Dummer, a registered dietitian and food consultant, cites the duo’s ability to make products that taste good and deliver nutritional benefits using readily available ingredients as key to their success. “They are very good at recognizing an opportunity but also pivoting in practical ways. They understand their market, what’s happening in their market and how to position their products.”

With the global market for probiotics growing steadily, Baker sees plenty of room for the Welo brand to run.

Welo aligns with consumer demand for functional foods that confer specific benefits, hence the fit with Sport Chek, he explains, “catering to consumers with active lifestyles who are looking for ways to support that lifestyle with functional ingredients like probiotics.

“Probiotics help support a healthy digestive system and a healthy gut is linked to all the systems in the body. The ceiling is high and I think it’s only going to grow as information and research substantiates the benefits of a lot of these products.”