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Profile: PRANA ON founder Billy Simmonds on the power of plants

More Australians are adopting plant based lifestyles for health, animal welfare, environmental and economic reasons, but for Billy Simmonds, former Mr Universe champion and founder of PRANA ON, the journey to a plant-based diet began with performance.

“Believe it or not, my nutrition ideas were formed working at Go Vita. I worked at the Southport store when I was about 16 and met an amazing group of people with an abundance of energy; they ate healthy, nutrient dense foods, superfoods and different types supplements. I thought, ‘Wow this is really interesting.’ Now the very store I worked in is one of our biggest supporters.”

“Once I left home [about 17 years ago] and started to put food on my own table, I became a vegetarian and later stopped eating animal products all together,” he said.

“I started from the perspective of looking to improve my own performance. I had good bio-feedback, felt really energetic and I could train for a lot longer. I started to think about what I was eating and where it came from, and I wasn’t happy with what I’d seen of animal agriculture.”

Billy didn’t know any other vegetarians and flew under the radar with his nutritional approach, but taking out the Mr Universe title in Hollywood was a game changer. “People were coming up to me afterwards saying, ‘Wow, here’s a guy on a plant-based diet who’s done this!”

“I started to research nutrition more and my education kept growing. Mr Universe was a big achievement; I was also a power lifter setting a couple of world records; I’ve had a really interesting athletic background and all on a plant-based diet,” Billy said.

“There was nothing on the market with a full, clean plant-based range that met my needs as a body builder and power lifter. I became a student of nutrition to understand how all these supplements worked and I thought, ‘This is something I’m going to have to do myself.’”

Billy started selling a single product out of the boot of his car to friends, fans and followers in about 2012.

“I had one flavour, in one size. It was infused with amino acids and formulated for performance to support muscle growth and repair. They were getting great results and it just spread really quickly,” he said.

“I wanted to make products I could believe in, you could trust were 100 per plant-based, with great flavours, great textures and would really take plant-based nutrition to the mainstream.”

The company evolved to employ 60 staff and manufacture all of its products with 100 per cent green energy in Australia, and is exporting throughout Asia and the Middle East. It’s now vegan certified by Vegan.org, which means its processes and ingredients are audited.

“We’ve gone away from sports nutrition to fitness nutrition; fitness is so broad now and there are all these new exciting ways for the brand to cross over into different modalities of fitness. We want the brand to be accessible to everyone living active lifestyles,” Bill said.

“We’re introducing new brands for categories where we can take our expertise in plant based nutrition into new channels and health and supplement retailers.  kaaya is our new brand offering healthy weight management for women and men. It’ll help health food retailers win some of that business back from pharmacies.”

Billy said all PRANA ON sales representatives undertake studies in plant based nutrition to help position the company as the authority in the industry.

“I live and breath a plant-based lifestyle as we do in our company, from having our staff educated in plant-based nutrition to contributing to various animal welfare projects and events, and Animals Australia for awareness campaigns. For me, this is what I believe in. You don’t have to be a vegan, but I wanted the brand to be a vessel to educate people about plant-based nutrition. It’s a really inclusive brand for everyone looking for healthier options, equally loved by those following paleo or keto approaches.”

And what’s in a name? “Prana means the breath of life; a source of energy. It’s an acronym for ‘plant-based, raw, alkaline, natural and organic nutrients’. PRANA ON is what it is, and [turning] prana on is what it does.”

“I wanted to introduce a word of consciousness into the fitness community; it can be very egocentric. For me it’s been really important to understand energy and vibrations. We use sacred geometry on our packaging and each product represents one of the different chakras.”

Billy is also a passionate educator for volunteer organisation In Defence of Animals, speaking to high school children about nutrition, making compassionate choices and thinking critically about adulthood, with donations for his talk provided to animal sanctuaries in the local area.

A version of this article originally appeared in Go Vita’s Go Mag.