For Max Baumann, the anxiety and irritation was palpable.
Baumann, preparing to depart for Australia, with pristine blue waters, surf and safari only a few hours away, found himself surrounded by throngs of panicked tourists, wailing toddlers and bleary-eyed businessmen, all caught in the manic rush of Los Angeles International Airport.
And while Baumann may have had the luxury of knowing that he would soon be swimming the seas in the Land Down Under, he realized that not everyone would be traveling to a paradise vacation. For those on their way to, say, Cleveland, Baumann wondered if there was a way that people could find their way to a calmer state of mind.
Five years later, Baumann has become one of leading figures in the market for relaxation drinks, a category of non-alcoholic beverages infused with ingredients intended to reduce stress, and, for some brands, inducing sleep.
The dawn of the relaxation category came on the heels of a booming market for energy drinks, and while relaxation products are not expected to come close to approaching the $8 billion in sales for the energy category, the products represent mounting consumer demand for more than just a simple beverage.
“As we’ve seen throughout, the rise of energy drinks really opened the door for the concept that your beverage can do more than just quench your thirst,” said Jonas Feliciano, Global Beverage Analyst, Euromonitor International. “Consumers… are looking for drinks that not only satiate thirst, but for beverages to say something about them and also do something for them. Relaxation drinks are just a natural step toward that.”
Yet despite significant distribution wins for brands like Just Chill (tied in with L.A. Libations) and Marley’s Mellow Mood (it’s in Wal-Mart, 7-Eleven, and others) as well as coverage ranging from NBC’s “Today” show to The Wall Street Journal and “The Dr. Oz. Show,” some in the beverage industry wonder about the long-term potential for the relaxation drink category, particularly as it relates to consumer use occasions.
“It seems like there’s much more enthusiasm around the category than there is sales of the category,” said Ken Sadowsky, the executive director of the Northeast Independent Distributors Association (NIDA), and a long-time observer of functional beverage categories. “I think there’s a lot more education that needs to be done by the brand owners, because of the lack of understanding of what the beverages’ reason for being is,” Sadowsky said.
Part of the concern stems from the belief that when it comes to relaxation drinks, consumers are not necessarily making purchasing decisions and evaluating brands based on efficacy, according to Feliciano. Unlike caffeine, B-vitamins, taurine and guarana, all of which are commonly included in energy drink formulations, consumers aren’t as well-versed in relaxation ingredients.
With the notable exception of melatonin, which, according to FDA guidelines, can only be used in formulations marketed and sold as supplements, the key additives in many relaxation beverages, including L-theanine, valerian root, 5-HTP and GABA, are esoteric and vague to mainstream consumers.
And because formulations are not easily understood, the term “relaxation” is one that consumers define for themselves, independent of ingredients — creating meanings that are often at odds with how brands position and market their products. .
“What we found is that when you say it’s a relaxation drink, people immediately think of the drowsy connotation because of the word relaxation,” Baumann said.
So what is a relaxation brand to do? For Just Chill, it’s about changing the description of the drink altogether.
“We scaled away from [relaxation], and we’re carving our own [phrase], which we call a ‘chill drink’ — it helps you stay cool and calm,” Baumann said. “So we’ve been finding that when we describe the drink that way, people are not expecting it to be a knockout drink, and they’re getting more of that ‘Cool Hand Luke’ mentality. You’re relaxed, you’re completely awake and you can function in the world in a more poised manner.”
Pursuing the lifestyle angle, Just Chill is in the midst of forming what it calls its “Poised Panel,” a group of key influencers and brand advocates that will “teach people how to stay cool and calm, no matter what the situation or what they’re about to do,” Baumann said. The panel will reach consumers via a digital platform that includes a dedicated website, video content and a social media presence, all intended to present Just Chill as a lifestyle beverage for consumers looking to get more out of their day.
A core member of the panel is Dr. Michael Gervais, a California-based, “high performance” psychologist who had worked a range of professional sports teams, athletes and organizations. Gervais, who has also mentored Felix Baumgartner, the daredevil behind Red Bull’s Stratos campaign, is perhaps best known for his work with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, who won this year’s Super Bowl.
Baumann said that Just Chill will announce more members of the “Poised Panel,” in the coming weeks. Gervais, who will join Just Chill as an equity shareholder, and has the potential to earn a larger stake depending on the performance of the brand, also will have a role in recruiting new members to the panel, Baumann said.
Using celebrities to develop the category isn’t a new idea. Just Chill’s biggest competition, Marley’s Mellow Mood, has achieved awareness and brand recognition via its use of reggae legend Bob Marley and its association with his perceived laid-back lifestyle.
Sadowsky said he sees the potential for a well-known individual to have a positive effect on distribution and sales of relaxation drinks, but said that finding the most effective spokesperson might be challenging. Regardless, he said that educating consumers about the specific benefits of relaxation drinks remains the best way to increase visibility and demand for the products.
Sadowsky did note that shot brands like Dream Water have a leg up on competitors that market full-size beverages because of the intuitive nature of taking a dose (of liquid or pills) for the purpose of relaxation or sleep.
Baumann concurred, noting that shot and melatonin-infused products have a more easily defined and understood — but different — function: they are intended to help you sleep. Still, he expressed optimism that Just Chill’s “Poised Panel” would pave a critical path toward greater understanding and education of the brand, and, at the same time, differentiate the brand from sleep-focused products.
“There are people who are looking for the melatonin drinks like Neuro Sleep and Dream Water, Baumann said. “They get the concept very easily, and the occasion use is big. I think there’s going to be, over the next couple years, an education within certain areas of relaxation drinks that’s [about being] less uptight and more poised. That’s really going to get the consumer to understand when to drink the product and how to describe it when their friends ask them what they’re drinking.”