Americans may not be the healthiest bunch on the planet, but they seem to be emphasizing health and wellness more than ever. In the annual New Year’s Resolution Study from Allianz Life Insurance, a record 57 percent of Americans surveyed identified health and wellness as the top priority for 2021.
Similar studies have seen similar results. Little Rock-based entrepreneurs Ryan Parker and Darrick Collier Jr. are devoted to helping make health and wellness a permanent part of Arkansans’ lifestyles. After all, they say, healthy employees generally mean happy employees, and happy employees generally lead to a healthier bottom line for any business.
Parker is an Arkansas distributor for the Enagic Co.’s Kangen water filtration system that turns tap water into ionized, alkaline water for drinking. He earned a Ph.D. in kinesiology and sports medicine from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and spent time as an assistant strength-and-conditioning coordinator in the NFL with the Cowboys and Chiefs. Parker also is the former owner of Anytime Fitness, a forerunner of the fitness club boom in Central Arkansas. He was ranked among the top 50 greatest trainers by Shape magazine while operating Anytime Fitness and is a competitive bodybuilder earning several titles, including Mr. Arkansas.
Collier not only co-launched a startup around his Breakout Bar line of healthy snacks, but he came up with the recipes himself. An Air Force veteran who earned his executive MBA from Washington University in St. Louis, Collier is a former civilian intelligence officer who worked in counterterrorism for the federal government. The Illinois native made the move to Little Rock when he took a position as general manager for Fidelity Communications’ Arkansas systems. But he’s now devoted full-time to Breakout Bar.
Ryan Parker and Kangen Water
Americans are drinking more water than ever — the bottled water industry is expected to top $317 billion by 2024, and bottled water supplanted coke (lowercase ‘c’) in 2017 as the most consumed drink in the United States, according to BeverageDaily.com.
With a steadily growing emphasis on health and wellness, consumers are demanding water that caters to this trend. It’s not just about the water anymore; it’s what’s in the water that counts. Or, for many, what’s not in the water. One of the trendier health-and-wellness products to hit the market over the past decade, alkaline water remains popular as Americans grow more conscious about just what they’re ingesting into their bodies. And the Kangen system from Japanese firm Enagic is an industry leader.
As with any new approach, there are skeptics. But numerous studies have backed up the technology behind Kangen, and prominent Kangen users include Tony Robbins, Tom Brady and Steven Tyler. Another prominent believer in the benefits of alkaline water is noted scientist, author and inventor Ray Kurzweil, who actually tested the Kangen technology and found it to do everything it promised to do. After researching the purported health benefits of alkaline water, Kurzweil became an alkaline water drinker himself.
And more than 6,600 physicians in Japan have recommended the Kangen system. The Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare even authorized Enagic’s Osaka factory as a medical device manufacturer.
For Parker, the Kangen method produces a high-quality water that helps return the body to its original form. The word “kangen” in Japanese translates roughly to “return to origin.” Parker embarked on his own return trip about 12 years ago when he was still competing in bodybuilding competitions across the South.
“I was always looking for that edge. I was always looking for something that would give me a leg up,” he said. “You’re always looking at how you look compared to the contest before. So, you’re always trying to figure out ways to get a little bit leaner, lose a little bit more body fat, just sleep better in some cases. The older I get, the more I realize just how difficult life is just trying to be healthy.”
During this period, an old friend told Parker of a new technology out of Japan that he thought could help.
“He’d been telling me he’s going to bring me this machine — he says it’s called a calming water generator. It’s from a company called Enagic out of Japan. And I was like, ‘OK, you know, I’ll look at anything.’”
The more Parker looked, the more he liked. He researched Kangen and discovered that it was being used more as a medical device in Asia. Doctors were touting its positive impacts in the treatment of cancer, diabetes, skin disease, geriatric diseases and more.
“It’s really just about the balance of acid and alkaline,” he said. “The first thing that they do, if you’re rushed to the hospital, is check your pH and put you on an IV because you’re dehydrated and possibly overly acidic.”
Parker said Kangen systems pay for themselves through savings realized in associated health-care costs. Americans spent more than $11,000 per person on health care in 2019, according to the federal government. Kangen’s handcrafted systems run about $4,200, and the filters, good for 10,000 gallons of water, cost roughly $120.
“People come to me after a couple of weeks going, ‘Man, I’ve slept better than I’ve ever slept. I haven’t taken acid reflux medication since I’ve started drinking this water, you know. What is going on?’ I started getting testimonials from people I posted on Twitter, and Tony Robbins posted back to me and said, ‘I love Kangen water, got a machine in every one of my homes. It’s one of the best things that I could recommend.’”
At his clubs, Parker introduced Kangen water to customers who would come back to share how chronic conditions such as Type 2 diabetes had been much better since they started drinking the water.
“I’d ask them what their doctors were saying, and they were all on board because the doctors understood that they’re there at the end of the day to do no harm and to focus on what was most important.”
Parker believes traditional western medicine is set up to treat symptoms rather than the root cause of a condition.
“Let’s say you have high blood pressure. You take a high blood pressure medication. Your blood pressure goes down. What happens when you stop taking the drug? Does it go back up? Well, sure. Because it’s not healing. It’s not healing the body. What it’s doing is suppressing the symptom, which is the high blood pressure. It lowers that, but if you stop taking it, your blood pressure goes back up. We’ve got to focus on the root.”
Enagic has opened seven U.S. offices including one in Dallas where anyone can fill a container with Kangen water for free. Parker stressed that there’s no downside to trying Kangen water. The worst thing that could happen is you drink more water.
“There have been so many studies done on this, but the most important study is — just drink the water. I mean, I’ve told people, ‘Hey, I’ll give you the water to drink. Doesn’t cost you anything at all. After 30 days, if you don’t absolutely feel better, go back to drinking what you were drinking.”
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Darrick Collier and Breakout Bar
Darrick Collier is not one to sit still, so it makes sense that he founded what would become Breakout Bar in 2014 while he was finishing up his MBA in Missouri and also holding down a full-time job.
Collier’s idea to handmake, market and distribute healthy snacks made from all-natural ingredients turned into a startup venture launched in St. Louis, and it’s there that Breakout’s nutritious snacks — bars and bites that come in four flavors — are made from scratch. But Collier’s path led him to Arkansas, and this summer he’ll open Breakout Bar’s first brick-and-mortar storefront at 11121 North Rodney Parham, Suite 1B, in west Little Rock.
Breakout products are currently sold online at BreakoutBar.com and at various retailers throughout Central Arkansas and neighboring states, and Collier is planning to expand the brand into the wellness arena.
“I consider myself a fitness person, a wellness person, a mindset person,” he said. “We want to take all of that and just help people get healthier. But we’re going to do it from an inside-out perspective through a fitness and nutrition mindset.”
Collier said the spinoff venture will carry the Breakout name, look more like a studio than a gym and include wellness coaches on site. But it wasn’t long ago that even considering something like product expansion seemed far-fetched. But the leadership skills he cultivated through his military training and corporate experience helped him traverse the startup minefield.
“One year, there was a reason per month that we should have shut down, and that’s no exaggeration,” he said. “There’s always a reason to quit. I think that’s probably the biggest lesson — understand that it takes time and be patient.”
Collier entered the entrepreneurship arena because he believed something was missing still from the healthy snacks market. So, he began creating his own recipes and hand making his snacks. Breakout Bars come in four flavors of bars and four different flavors of bites (think cake balls.) The bars are packaged 12 to a box, and boxes of bites contain 12 packets of two bites each. All products sell for $29.99.
Several factors distinguish Breakout Bars from similar, mass-market products, Collier said. They’re micro-batched and made by hand, the ingredients really are all natural, each product contains at least 18 grams of protein. Plus, he added, they simply taste better and may be the first all-natural nutrition bars to taste like they were homemade.
Collier believes feeling one’s best and “living your best life” requires a balance of healthy fats, complex carbs, protein and micronutrients. Breakout’s chocolate-chip cookie dough bites, for example, are made with organic oats, whey protein isolate, cashew butter, raw honey, prebiotic fiber, cacao powder, cacao butter, vanilla bean, vanilla/almond extract, cinnamon, sea salt and cayenne.
Collier said the healthy ingredients that make up his snacks are what nature intended. And after years of slowly building a customer base, more consumers are buying in. But it was a little bit of a slog at times, as Collier and his team worked to gain traction while facing the obstacles inherent with a small startup.
“We’ve definitely gone through a lot of our history figuring things out,” he said. “We don’t have enough money for this, so let’s figure this out. We can’t afford to buy this; let’s figure this out. For example, sometimes our wrappers show up, and they aren’t cut. So, now we have all of these wrappers that we can’t use, but we have product that we need to put in them. But now we’re low in wrappers. It’s basically like navigating a bunch of different issues that pop up and then trying to create a process so that if it pops up again, the people who are responsible can basically very efficiently and effectively handle those things.”
The products are made in the company’s own kitchen (after years of scrambling to borrow and rent makeshift and temporary kitchens), but Collier remains highly involved in every step of the process with help from his team. And that includes continuing to hit the streets and pitch Breakout Bars to more stores.
“Even though I don’t make the products on a day-to-day basis anymore, I’m still the person who orders almost all of our ingredients. I’m the person who does most of our budgeting and financing. I’m the person who does a lot of our sales efforts, the person who still does other marketing efforts and probably two or three other things too. So, each day for me is never quite the same. I rarely ever get into any form of a routine because there’s always a different direction to go.”
Collier advises aspiring entrepreneurs to roll with the mistakes — because they’ll come. Just learn from them, he said.
“Be patient with yourself. Being patient with myself has been probably one of the things that has kept me going other than my faith in God.”
As he prepares to open his first storefront, Collier is planning another fundraising round this year.
“I have the track record behind me that we can keep the company alive. But keeping it alive isn’t the same thing as thriving, and now I want us to thrive,” he said.
For more information about Collier’s venture, visit BreakoutBar.com.