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Medifast launches sports nutrition products

Owings Mills-based Medifast is getting into sports nutrition with new products.

Medifast Inc. is getting into the sports nutrition market with the launch of a new line of bars and shakes in partnership with a university and a nonprofit, the Owings Mills weight loss plan company said Wednesday.

The Dual Fuel brand will be sold online through partnerships with Rutgers University and The V Foundation for Cancer Research, with a portion of sales benefiting each partner's charitable cause.

The line will start with two bars and two ready-to-drink shakes. Medifast, which sells weight-loss products and meals online or through weight-control centers or personal coaches, hopes to expand distribution to additional universities as well as sports retailers and online sites.

The company is tapping into the fast growing sports nutrition segment to expand Medifast's customer base by appealing to younger consumers, athletes and people trying to live a more active and healthy life, said Michael MacDonald, Medifast's chairman and CEO, on Wednesday.

"We view this as a natural extension to make us more of a company focused on healthy living than purely weight loss," which still accounts for 90 percent of the company's revenue, MacDonald said.

Medifast started expanding beyond weight loss products in 2014 with weight maintenance snacks. MacDonald said sports nutrition is a logical next step and a good fit for Medifast, as it seeks to expand offerings in the healthy living category to its weight loss clients, he said.

"We wanted to start out making a world-class product with athletes first," MacDonald said. "Over time we will move these products to our own networks and our own customer base and expand it to the consumer market."

MacDonald, who played basketball at Rutgers, said he was a friend of Jim Valvano, the Rutgers alumnus and North Carolina State basketball coach who started the V Foundation and died of bone cancer in 1993. Working with the university and the foundation made sense, he said.

"We wanted to work with a Big Ten university," he said. "In the future we want to go to other universities."

The sports nutrition bars are made with whole grains and either peanut butter or cocoa and contain a mix of carbohydrates and protein designed to boost energy and fuel recovery after exercise. The bars contain no artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners or preservatives. The protein and electrolyte shakes, in Chocolate Milkshake and Vanilla Blast flavors, were created in partnership with the Rutgers athletic department and are NCAA compliant.

The product line is being sold online at rutgers.dualfuelnutrition.com, with a portion of the sales going to the R Fund, a university benefactor for student-athletes, and at jimmyv.dualfuelnutrition.com, with a portion of the sales going back to the V Foundation.

Medifast shares were down 7 cents to close Wednesday at $28.86 each amid the broader market sell-off.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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