Solutions for Sleepyheads: the Relaxation Family Tree

Over 70 million Americans can’t sleep, says Adam Platzner, and that sounds like a business opportunity to the head of sales and marketing for Dreamwater, a relaxation drink line that has gradually acquired distribution in several large retail locations, including Wal-Mart and Duane Reade.

Of course, he’s not the only one with that idea. In the past three years, there have been hundreds of drinks that incorporate sleep aid, relaxation, or other kinds of mental de-stressing into their functional formula. It’s a growth industry that business research group IBIS World indicated has reached about $500 million worldwide.

That number might sound like it’s a category on the cusp, but the flip side is that the international market is much stronger – GABA products, one sub-sector of the relaxation beverage industry, have been an established category in Japan for years. Meanwhile, GABA came to the U.S. a few years ago as part of an exclusive deal with Jones Soda and proceeded to flop.

U.S. consumers didn’t quite figure GABA out – and for the most part, the relaxation category hasn’t quite figured U.S. consumers out, either.

Therefore, as an aid to retailers and distributors, we now present the family tree of the relaxation category:

The “70 Million Insomniacs” subcategory

These sleep aids are designed to produce few other effects beyond a solution to the problem that Platzner described. Typically a 2 oz. to 4 oz. shot, although a few companies (Dreamwater included) also have full-sized drinks, they use melatonin and other elements to quickly bring on sleep. For many of these products, the direct functionality has led to them being sold largely through nutritional supplement distributors, although some, like RelaxZen, are attempting beverage DSD. So is Neuro Sleep, which is a full bottle that contains melatonin, unlike its linemate, Neuro Bliss.

The “Chopped and Screwed” subcategory

Several of the earliest relaxation drink brands, like LEAN, Purple Stuff, and Drank have tried to beguile consumers with popular culture touches that reference hip-hop; Lean, for example, has even tried to get its new releases in synchronicity with current hot releases (New product? Yella. Hit song? Black & Yellow). Regardless of the song association, by now, the notion that these products are tapping into the vibe of the drug-influenced “chopped and screwed” scene in Texas is well-known; the products retain something of a recreational aura.

The “Down but not Out” subcategory

Dwelling outside the melatonin sphere, these products don’t work as knockout drops but are marketed on the basis of herbal and chemical remedies that can bring on relaxation, reduce stress, and even improve mental performance without caffeine. These drinks, which include Vacation in a Bottle (ViB), Just Chill, Neuro Bliss, and even RelaxZen “Sport,” range in packaging sized from a shot to a full-size soft drink. These are the ones the media is thinking of when it starts talking about “anti-energy” drinks.

There are outliers, of course, and recombinations. Beauty Sleep, for example, combines sleep induction with antioxidants. And AriZona’s Relax FastShot also comes paired with an Awake FastShot.

There are also issues: chief among them is the problem of classification. With melatonin used widely in these products, the FDA has begun taking a hard look, and recently required Drank to reclassify itself as a dietary supplement; with the wrong person passing out behind the wheel, stock could get recalled very quickly.

That’s something that Platzner is already trying to avoid.

“We’ve deliberately positioned our product on the over-the-counter analgesic aisle as a sleep enhancer,” he said. “We’re not telling you to go out and use it at a nightclub or at lunch.”

One other potential land mine? The emergence of soft drinks based on THC, an active component in marijuana. While those products are only for sale semi-legally in state-licensed marijuana dispensaries, one bad incident – especially with some relaxation products, like Mary Jane’s Relaxing Soda, which claims to imitate marijuana’s effects, although it doesn’t contain any — could throw a cloak of negative publicity over the whole category.

And that wouldn’t be relaxing at all.  •