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Startups How a Toronto startup plans to transform ‘massive’ vitamin industry

For Andrew Lenjosek, it comes down to a matter of trust – and he'd like you to trust his algorithm.

The young business school grad, working as a financial analyst in New York City – a career that didn't lead to the healthiest living – had taken an interest in the world of vitamins and nutritional supplements. But walking into vitamin stores teeming with bottles, where an entire aisle can be given over to multivitamins, could be a disconcerting experience.

"People go the store, and take the advice of a salesman who's going to pick the highest-margin product or the best-branded product," he says. On the other hand, others might show up with a shopping list provided by a nutritionist.

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"We love the idea of people going to medical professionals. We don't like the fact that it costs $100 to $200 an hour to get that advice."

So, returning to Toronto, Mr. Lenjosek and his business partner, Alex Hyssen, a former sales analyst, set about launching Køge Vitamins, which charts a third course: If salespeople are unreliable and nutritionists are expensive, then what about impartial recommendation software, designed with nutritionists?

One part customized online-shopping platform and one part product recommendation service, Køge steps customers through a detailed battery of 25 to 30 questions. It starts with the basics of age, weight and gender, and then moves into lifestyle factors: How much sunlight do you get? How much exercise does your job give you? Moreover, what are you eating?

"Diet is one of the biggest ones. That's by far and away number one," says Mr. Lenjosek.

Then, drawing from a roster of about 100 different vitamins and supplements – everything from Indian ginseng to green tea extracts to selenium to grape seed extracts – Køge recommends a regime. If a customer accepts, Køge will fulfill the custom order, packaged in a month's supply of thirty little sachets, each containing a day's worth of pills. (Mr. Lenjosek points out that pills in sachets last longer than pills in bottles.)

As for the vitamins themselves, quality control is one of the company's central pitches; in the vitamin world, it's all too possible for products to be offered in insufficient concentrations to make a difference, or to be constituted of too much inert placebo material. Køge is sourcing its products through an established, Health Canada-certified (though as-yet unnamed) manufacturer in Montreal with which Mr. Lenjosek found a simpatico in values – especially, an earnest belief in the value of vitamins.

And Mr. Lenjosek is confident that that attitude is widespread. He pegs the vitamin market at $28-billion a year, with 140-million people regularly taking "lifestyle" vitamins.

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"We're aiming at people who already take vitamins. They're in the 20s, their 30s, their 40s. It's a massive market."

Special to The Globe and Mail

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