2016 was a breakthrough year for Hal Robson-Kanu, and not only because he scored one of international football’s most memorable goals.
His strike against Belgium at the European Championship – a Cruyff turn and finish that Johan himself would have been proud of – sent Wales into a major semi-final for the first time and propelled Robson-Kanu into the spotlight.
But around that time he also had a business epiphany that persuaded him to set up his own health drink company, the Turmeric Co.
Three years on from launch, the 31-year-old – whose real first name is Thomas; Hal is short for Henry, one of his middle names – says the Turmeric Co now has tens of thousands of customers, including the England rugby team and professional football clubs.
“I fell into it, but it became a real passion project,” Robson-Kanu tells City A.M.
“Football is physically demanding but mentally you have a lot of downtime. I’ve been able to channel that into the business.”
How Robson-Kanu ‘destroyed 100 blenders’
Since his teenage years, Robson-Kanu has relied on home-made turmeric-based “shots” to aid recovery, reduce inflammation and improve general well-being.
The former Arsenal schoolboy player turned to natural remedies after medication prescribed after knee surgery gave him nasty side-effects, including blood in his urine.
He and his family dug out books on herbal and Ayurvedic medicine from the local library, hit upon using turmeric as a base and, gradually, honed a recipe that also contains watermelon, pineapple and black pepper.
“Within a few weeks of using it I noticed the difference,” he says.
“I was recovering from training without any pain and inflammation, I was able to get back to playing restriction free and ultimately completely changed my perception of nutrition and health.”
It also opened his eyes to better eating. “Up until then my diet consisted of chicken, pasta and baked beans, so my body was really nutrient deficient.”
Robson-Kanu came to rely on his turmeric shots, but the process had its drawbacks.
A decade or so of the family operation had “destroyed over 100 blenders” and inflicted “lots of stained fingertips”.
So he was delighted when, in 2016, he found turmeric shots for sale in Harrods. Excited, he took some samples home, but the product left his household deeply underwhelmed.
“When we drank it we all spat it out,” he says.
The shots were heavily diluted, contained only a small amount of turmeric powder – not the raw root – and therefore lacked the purity and potency of his home-brew.
“We realised that what was being sold on the shelves was just completely not what customers would buy a turmeric shot for.”
Making extra shots for team-mates
Robson-Kanu realised there might be a market for the drinks that had fuelled his rise to the Premier League.
The family were already making extra shots for some of his current and former team-mates, so they had an idea of what worked and what didn’t.
From their west London base, they worked on scaling up production and built a full supply chain to ensure the freshly made drinks could reach customers within 24 hours.
In 2018, the Turmeric Co began selling its shots, which cost £31.50 for a box of 14.
As with many start-ups in their early years, the business is not profitable yet but Robson-Kanu can point to a firm upward trajectory.
It has tens of thousands of customers in the UK and Ireland, is stocked in David Lloyd health centres and has just added Plymouth Argyle to a portfolio of professional sports clients that includes England Rugby, Swansea City and British Gymnastics.
“The business is growing really rapidly and we’ve got phenomenal interest,” he says, adding that international expansion is now under consideration.
Part of the Turmeric Co’s strategy involves spreading the gospel about concepts such as functional foods – those that have enhanced benefits beyond their nutritional value – and bioavailable – efficiently absorbed – ingredients.
“We’re on a mission of educating consumers around the benefit of natural nutrition,” he says.
Robson-Kanu hoping for more Euros magic
Perhaps most persuasively of all, Robson-Kanu can also point to his own use of the product, and his successful football career with Reading, current club West Bromwich Albion and Wales as proof of its effectiveness.
“Within a year I made my first-team debut. Within another year I made my international debut, and then a year after that I made my Premier League debut.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I’d been playing with the pain and restriction that I was told by doctors I’d always have throughout my career.”
Robson-Kanu says his range of drinks, which also includes ginger and beetroot varieties, “were our secret weapon” in West Brom’s successful promotion campaign last season.
He is pragmatic about their receding chances of staying in the Premier League – they are nine points from safety with five games left – but, with his current contract expiring in June, says he is happy at the Hawthorns and keen to carry on playing.
“I’m 31 now; I’ve never felt better. I feel fitter and stronger each year.”
There is also the chance of creating more history with Wales at this summer’s delayed Euro 2020: “It would be phenomenal.”
Beyond that, he hopes to stay in football. “When you’ve had a career in the game you do have a responsibility to give back,” he says.
And then there is the Turmeric Co. “People really want to support what we’re doing because of how aligned it is to a positive cause,” he says. “On that, I’ll just take it as it comes and go with the flow.”
Thomas Robson-Kanu is founder of The Turmeric Co. and a functional nutrition expert @theturmericco https://theturmeric.co/