Determined Detox

Much like its target market after a night on the town, recovery drinks have had a little trouble getting momentum. While Function continues to lean on its Urban Detox platform, other detox and hangover recovery drinks have suffered short lives. Don’t try to find H-O-T (Hang Over Tea); the brand is no longer distributed in the U.S. The page for Healthy Innovation’s Resurrect daily detox and recovery drink also comes up blank, and Rehab, a once-promising hangover recovery product developed by FUZE, has been sold to the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas and is now only distributed in a tiny number of stores.

While that might suggest that the category is something of a non-starter, marketers continue to tough it out and launch new detox and recovery products. In the past two years, companies have launched 77 different beverage products that made hangover, recovery or detoxification claims, according to Kristin Walker, a senior analyst at Mintel. While the 2009 total was down from its peak of 52 in 2008, she said overall interest in recovery products remains strong. Detox beverages, though, face specific challenges from similar categories. Gatorade, for example, has long been a morning-after staple in college dorms, and fast-growing coconut water is often toted as a fine elixir for last night’s party-goers.

Still, Walker said she thinks recovery drinks can edge customers away from other categories, and marketers have taken two divergent approaches to doing so. Some brands try to keep a new-agey distance from the concept of binge drinking. Others, however, whole-heartedly embrace the culture of Jager-bombs, beer bongs and tequila shots.

NOHO, GTOX and Resurrection Anti-Hangover clearly identify their primary consumer as the hard-drinking crowd, primarily by including the word “hangover” on their labels. On its web site, GTOX, which comes in a shot form, features customer testimonials like “I was so drunk I thought I needed Jesus. Instead, I drank a GTOX, and in the morning I was saved.” Resurrection Anti-Hangover’s label features a Technicolor frowny-face – presumably the scrambled expression of someone who doesn’t use the product –and NOHO issued a press release following its Las Vegas launch saying “The party started at noon and ended…. well, we don’t really ever stop!”

In an ironic twist, NOHO held that event at the infamous Sunday morning Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel “Rehab Pool Party.” Despite that fact that the event bears the name of one of its competitors, Sean Stephenson, NOHO’s vice president of sales and marketing, said Rehab is a great venue – especially for a brand like his. His company aims to create a lifestyle around NOHO, one that embraces all-night parties saturated in alcohol. NOHO currently offers two SKUs, a 2 oz. shot and an 8 oz. can, and they are actually aimed at different kinds of drinkers. The shot is meant for high-volume beer drinkers who may not want to down 8 ounces of an insurance policy. Stephenson’s company has placed the shots in convenience and liquor stores, he said, often with a NOHO suction rack on beer cooler doors. At the same time NOHO has used the company’s connections with the night club world to push the 8 oz. can as an on-premise cocktail mixer.

NOHO, GTOX and Resurrection Anti-Hangover, Walker said, have tapped into a broader trend of in-your-face marketing. Whether due to the economy or just a quirk of modern culture, American consumers currently seek a degree of escapism that these and other brands have catered to.

On the other end of the spectrum, Code Blue, Hoist and Potion Herbal Remedy have joined Function: Urban Detox in muting their connection with intoxicants. The packaging for Potion Herbal Remedy’s Detox shot mentions hangover just once – at the end of the explanatory paragraph on the back. Even that singular mention comes couched in claims that the shot helps muscles recover and removes toxins from the body. Hoist pegged itself to the tagline “Feel Better Faster,” with a block of text on the side of the can that strongly alludes to hangover prevention, but never specifically mentions the affliction. And Code Blue, upon relaunching, scrubbed all mentions of “hangover” from the product’s packaging.

Of course, Code Blue isn’t shy about its purpose in its supporting materials. In Boston area liquor stores, Code Blue appears with neckers asking customers if they’re hung over. Similarly, Hoist uses its web site and Facebook page to urge consumers “Live for the night. Plan for the morning.”

These brands, Walker said, have positioned themselves as general rehydration products and allowed consumers to decide what they’re best used for. Mintel’s database even lists Code Blue as a sports drink, she said, which may be a good place for the brand, as it has been marketed at high-end gyms like The Sports Club/LA. While brands that put their hangover-beating claims right up front may be hooking into a cultural moment, Walker said, that moment will eventually pass.

Even when it does, a rift may remain in the detox category over when the drinks should be consumed. Potion Herbal Remedy, Urban Detox and others urge customers to consume their products when sunrise feels like sandpaper across the brain. Other products position themselves as alcohol accessories.

“The only way to cure a hangover is to prevent a hangover,” said Stephenson, an adherent of the idea that once a hangover has set in, all the sufferer can do is ease it. Resurrection Anti-Hangover and GTOX share this view, and both urge customers to down their drinks at the beginning of the night or right before bed.

That split in methodology manifests in the products’ ingredient lists. Morning-after drinks focus on electrolytes and herbals said to reduce headache and swelling. Night-of drinks focus on minerals, herbs and neutraceuticals aimed at speeding liver function and bolstering the body’s ability to deal with alcohol.

Documentation on which route works and why are hard to come by, according to Damaris Rohsenow at Brown University’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies. She and colleagues at Boston University have studied the effect of hangovers for years, she said, and “We have seen no studies validating these beverage products for treating hangover.”

Studies have validated some of the category’s components. Sugars don’t help, according to one study, but vitamin B6 administered the night of drinking can. Prickly pear, a core ingredient in Urban Detox, also achieved positive results, as did an extract from the Chinese kakka plant and an herbal from India called Liv.52.

Rohsenow said she has considered studying hangover recovery more deeply, but doesn’t think she can. Her funding mostly comes from government sources, she said, which require researchers to describe their study’s potential societal benefits. While it might be profitable to help people escape headache, nausea and soreness following a partially-remembered night, she said she doesn’t think bureaucrats would see it as having a positive impact on society.

Outside of liquor marketers and the folks behind recovery drinks, it might be tough for anyone to argue that studying ways to mitigate hangovers is a good thing. But, for marketers and retailers, the idea could be profitable. So, even without scientific backing, Walker, of Mintel, said she expects the category to continue to grow and evolve.

“We’re actually seeing some interesting activity with teas,” she said.

So Maybe H-O-T will have a chance… someday.Bond Laboratories, Inc.
Bond Laboratories, Inc. announced the addition of Cherokee Distributing Company as the latest distributor for its Fusion Premium Beverages and Resurrection Anti-Hangover.

Code Blue. Code Blue relaunched in October in New York, Boston and online. The product now comes in an aluminum sleek can. The company also reformulated to include Milk Thistle, D-Ribose, Sustamine, N-Acetyle-Cysteine, and Prickly Pear Extract. The new taste of Code Blue is derived from Prickly Pear and Agave Nectar with natural citrus flavors. In December 2009, Code Blue was awarded “Best Functional Beverage” and “Best Product Relaunch” by BevNET.

Function Drinks. Starting in 2010, Function repackaged its products, including Urban Detox, with a new look. The company also launched a new Function Blog.

Hoist. Hoist has signed a deal with Stagnaro Distributing, a MillerCoors and other beverage distributor, servicing 8 counties in Southwest Ohio and 10 counties in Northern Kentucky.

NOHO. NOHO launched its anti-hangover drink in May, and has since expanded its markets to include Las Vegas, Sacramento and Philadelphia. The product is available on-premise in 8 oz. cans, and at stores in 2 oz. shots.

Biba Beverages. Biba recently signed a distribution agreement with Bellavance Beverages, an Anheuser Busch distributor in Nashua N.H. The brand has also appeared at events like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training, as well as at Urban Epic Triathlons in Freeport, Maine and Boston as well as the Boston Marathon.

GTOX. GTOX earned national placement at GNC, as well as local placement at Spec’s Liquor stores in Texas.

PurBlu Beverages. PurBlu Beverages introduced Detox with its Potion Herbal Remedy line of 2.5 oz. shots. The line is distributed by McLane.

Rebound Remedies LLC. Rebound Remedies LLC launched Intervention Hangover Recovery Formula, an all-natural beverage designed to address hangover symptoms. The line comes in two flavors: Triple Citrus and Pomegranate-Blueberry.

Rockstar, Inc. Rockstar, Inc. rolled out Rockstar Recovery in January. The 16 oz. non-carbonated beverage combines caffeine and B-vitamins with electrolytes. Rockstar has positioned the product as post-exercise rehydration and energy drink, and plans to sample Rockstar Recovery at extreme sports events across the country.