WHEN GONZALO FERNANDEZ-CASTANO and Thorbjorn Olesen reach for a snack during their final rounds at the Masters this afternoon, they can say a silent word of thanks to Dave McGeady.
He is the man behind Wyldsson, the Irish start-up which is putting good food into the bags of the world’s top golfers.
The Irish, English and Scottish rugby teams, Leinster and Munster, and Kobe Bryant’s LA Lakers are all eating McGeady’s products as well.
It’s a high-powered client list for the 33-year-old former investment banker who struck out on his own after he was made redundant.
The secret to his products’ appeal is simple, evolutionary rather than revolutionary. By scouting out high-quality ingredients that taste good in their natural state, he’s been able to elbow his way into a sports nutrition market worth an estimated €2.7 billion globally.
He explains: “The issue for me was that so much of the stuff in shops and supermarkets has so much hidden junk in it, sweeteners and high fructose corn syrups and preservatives.
“A lot of people, like me, try to avoid that stuff but the problem is that there just aren’t many products out there that don’t have the junk in it but still taste good.
“Take trail mix for example. No one really likes it because it’s packed full of things that are too sweet like candied fruit, or there are too many raisins or too many peanuts. You might buy one every once in a blue moon and you wouldn’t finish it. It goes into the cupboard. Nobody’s bothered with it.
I thought, what if you tried to make a better version of it, if you found better quality ingredients and made the best version you could make? Would that taste good?
That was exactly what he did. Wyldsson’s equivalents combine carefully-selected nuts and seeds alongside rarer ingredients like organic Persian mulberries, Inca berries, Californian pomegranate — and Belgian chocolate.
The product line has expanded to include gluten-free muesli and porridge oats as well as gigantic tubs of various nut butters.
Source: Wyldsson via Facebook
Going the natural route is a costly business though, and by the time such carefully-crafted products go through middle men and hit the shelves of supermarkets or health food stores, the vast majority of casual consumers have been priced out.
Instead McGeady sells direct through the company’s own website to keep the price down. Their ProMix tubes come in at €18.99 for a box of 10, with cheaper refill bags also available, while the bumper 1.2kg tub of roasted almond butter also costs €18.99.
The marketing strategy has been as organic as the food to this point. The athletes themselves have been more than happy to spread the message by word of mouth and in the age of social media, that counts for a lot. Now the majority of Wyldsson’s customers are not professional athletes but ordinary folk who are looking to eat a bit better.
Source: Wyldsson via Facebook
“You’ve got to be realistic,” McGeady says. “You can develop the best product in the world but if it doesn’t taste good, people aren’t going to eat it.
Even pro athletes, they’re human beings – nutrition is really important to them but so is taste. They put themselves through such incredible workouts and lead such a distant life that food is actually one of the few areas of pleasure that remain for them. You can’t take that away from them as well.
It was veteran caddy Colin Byrne, bagman to Ernie Els among others, who opened the door into the golf market. Byrne had plenty of first-hand experience of golfers’ nutrition and for every player like Alex Noren, who used to ask him to prepare homemade trail mix when he was caddying for him, there was John Daly fuelling his rounds with cans of Coke and M&Ms.
They met for a coffee and Byrne quickly invited McGeady out to Abu Dhabi with a suitcase full of samples to show the players the products for themselves. That is where he first met Fernandez-Castano and Olesen, his two customers at the Masters this week, and the golf roster also includes Noren, Shane Lowry, Paul McGinley, Padraig Harrington, Mikko Ilonen and Matteo Manassero.
“Golfers don’t really know what to eat to be honest. It’s incredible.
“When you think of the amount of effort that people put into designing the dimple of a golf ball or Teflon-coated tees, and you can imagine that variation between a Teflon tee and a normal one is tiny in terms of performance, whereas nutrition can have detrimental drawbacks if you get it wrong but there isn’t all that much guidance for golfers.
There has been very little research, no research. Some golfers get it really wrong, and have been getting it really wrong for quite some time.
Research is the next step. Later this month Wyldsson and the University of Limerick are teaming up for a study, funded by Enterprise Ireland, which will investigate the impact of this kind of specialised nutrition on golf performance.
By monitoring a group of professional and elite amateur golfers on the course and in UL’s specialised biomechanics lab, McGeady will find out if his products really stand out from the crowd when put to the test.
“We’re supplying the science behind what Dave would like to know for his product to develop,” Dr Mark Campbell explains.
“It would be nice to know what the glycemic index [rate of sugar release] of the product is and how it fares when people are actually competing so he can say it’s just as good as X, Y or Z, or better.”
“It has been a lot of old fashioned hard work,” McGeady explains, but it has been worth it so far.