AUSTIN, TEXAS — Adopting a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet helped twin brothers Amin and Amir Bahari shed significant amounts of weight during high school, but late-night donut cravings in college threatened to derail that hard-won progress. Seeking healthier options led the pair to launch Elite Sweets, today the top-selling donut brand on Amazon.com.
The startup’s flagship product is a grain-free, high-protein, low-sugar donut, formulated with almond flour, eggs, whey protein and fiber, and sweetened with allulose and erythritol. A reformulation is underway to lower ingredient costs and extend shelf life.
Each individually packaged donut packs 12 to 13 grams of protein and 1 or 2 grams of sugar, with 190 to 240 calories. Flavors include birthday cake, cinnamon sugar and chocolate.
“Our business, our mission, our focus is to bring innovation,” said Amir Bahari, the company’s chief operating officer. “The protein muffins, bars and cookies have already been done.”
Elite Sweets recently was selected as one of nine early-stage brands to participate in CoLab, a 12-week program led by Mondelez International’s SnackFutures unit, offering workshops, one-on-one mentorship and $20,000 grants. Mondelez will provide tools, technologies, access to company leadership and industry expertise while gaining insights, capabilities and potential investment opportunities. The program will culminate in a final showcase for brands to pitch to key stakeholders.
“This partnership helps further our mission of creating better-for-you products and creating a better snacking future,” said Amin Bahari, chief executive officer of Elite Sweets. “With the help of Mondelez, we want to become the next Oreo and become a generational lifestyle brand.”
The brothers began developing the concept several years ago, as University of Texas at Austin students, with friends and former college football players Caleb Bluiett and Timothy Cole Jr. In an apartment kitchen, Amir Bahari created the initial recipes, which the team tested at area gyms, collecting feedback and iterating for months prior to recruiting a veteran food scientist to hone a market-ready product.
“We have no culinary background,” Amin Bahari said. “When Amir first started making it, that was to prove it out. We definitely wouldn’t be around today if that was still our product.”
Elite Sweets products are marketed as keto-friendly, with 1 to 6 grams of net carbohydrates, depending on the flavor. Products formulated for the popular ketogenic diet have popped up in nearly every aisle of the grocery store, from emerging and established brands alike. Interest in the high-fat, low-carb lifestyle has surged as consumers seek personalized solutions for managing weight, improving physical and cognitive performance, and treating or preventing specific health conditions. Several estimates pegged the global market size at $9.6 billion in 2019, projected to reach approximately $14.8 billion by 2027. While followers of the diet represent a small segment of consumers, broader intent in reducing sugar intake signals staying power for such products.
“At the end of day, we believe we’re setting the standard for what a better-for-you donut is, and we’ll continue to build the brand and set that standard,” Amin Bahari said.
The donuts are available online through the brand’s website, elitedonut.com, and Amazon.com, as well as dozens of supplement shops and fitness centers nationwide. The founders plan to expand the brand’s retail footprint in the years ahead. Future product development may focus on extensions such as donut holes and plant-based offerings, as well as additional flavors.
“Being Elite Sweets, we want to be a better-for-you sweets company, starting with the better-for-you donut,” Amir Bahari said. “Our plan for retail is to focus on sales, get as much distribution as we can, then once we feel we are at a good point with distribution, we’re going to start launching other low-sugar, protein-packed products.”