Not Just a Nutty Idea

It’s getting hard to figure out how much more of a good thing the good folks at Gatorade are going to be able to come up with.

They’ve co-opted the weather: it’s Ice, Frost, and Rain. They’ve labeled it by intensity: it’s X-tremo, it’s Fierce, it’s got Endurance, it’s got that X-Factor (does that mean that in France, it’s Gatorade Je Ne Sais Quoi?). It’s not just Original, either. Now, it’s added enhanced water, and that’s the kind of thing that has served to Propel it even farther into the stratosphere of category dominance.

So rather than tinker with their formula, they’ve decided to ascribe it to a particular time of day, with plans to launch Gatorade A.M. – the same product, but with ‘morning friendly’ flavors – in the New Year.

And when you’re on a roll, why not keep on going? Besides the numbers, which are so dominant it’s hard to imagine why anyone else would even bother – a glance at just about any convenience cooler or supermarket shelf will tell you that when it comes to sports drinks, Gatorade has created a divine monarchy.

That doesn’t mean that its ability to address hydration needs is necessarily God-given, though, and plenty of secular studies are addressing whether the electrolyte mix Gatorade has used as its meal ticket for so long are really the best possible way to maintain or restore fluids during athletic exertion.

The most bizarre of these studies was a recent exercise trial at Indiana University in Bloomington, where researchers found that when cyclists drank low-fat chocolate milk after exhausting themselves, they biked longer and harder four hours later than those who drank sports drinks. Other studies have linked adding caffeine or protein to the electrolyte mix as keys to achieving optimum re-hydration. And many athletes swear by water, soda, Red Bull, or, if we believe the Babe Ruth mythology, beer and hot dogs. The point is, the more science digs into hydration, and the more consumers delve into it themselves, the more varied the need state appears, even with regard to exertion.

But it’s tough to argue with success. Gatorade scientists obviously have their own counter-studies at the ready, and the Gatorade formula is tried and true, according to company representative Heather Mitchell, who makes it clear that we won’t be seeing caffeine and chocolatefortifi ed Gatorade Buffet anytime in the near future.

Nevertheless, there are challengers out there, and given the increasing levels of interest in what effects particular additives or formulations might have on the functionality of beverage products, it’s important to survey the field. A glance at the product roundup on the facing page shows that there are plenty of products that haven’t yet given up their pursuit of the category leader.

It also reveals a subset of natural products that are fast growing in popularity: coconut water. And if that seems out of place, consider the science: according to their manufacturers, coconut waters, made by harvesting the watery fluid inside an immature coconut, are naturally high in electrolytes like potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous while avoiding much of acidity that can accompany other drinks.

“It’s just the next step in sports drinks,” says Tiffany Wattanaporn, vice president of family-owned Taste Nirvana, which is launching four coconut water SKUs at retail next year. “It’s nature’s way of doing it.” Wattanaporn isn’t alone in making those assertions. Producers like Zico (one distributor called it “the most exciting product I’ve seen in a long time,”), Amy & Brian and Vita Coco – which expects to sell more than 2.5 million of its Tetra-Pak cubes this year, according to owner Michael Kirban – are all banking heavily on the growth of the coconut water market.

“It’s really getting some good press, and people are just talking about it as a natural alternative to all the products out there,” says Kirban. “And it’s one, single ingredient, and people like that simplicity.” So that’s it, right? Game over? Start stocking up? Well, again, look at your cooler. Feel the power of marketing. Sure, in looking up at the mountain of market share they’ll have to climb to approach the category leader, these guys might all be (coco)nuts. But on the other hand, having them around does mean you won’t have to drink Gatorade MOO….