Recipe for Excess

Some drink manufacturers are on a mission of mercy: they want to cure hangovers. After all, who hasn’t needed a pick-me-up after a rough night?

The panoply of folk remedies speaks to the need, as do the number of powders, pills, and other prevention gimmicks currently available in non-liquid form. But somewhere between cracking raw eggs into a cup of vinegar, chugging pickle juice, and downing the hair of the dog that bit you, there’s got to be a happier, more palatable medium.

And it’s that need that is being addressed by these kind people we’re writing about here. They’d also, obviously, like to make a buck. Whether or not you as a retailer can also make some money on rehab in a bottle, depends strongly on the kind of business you’re in. Obviously a clientelle of college students is a better fit than a nifty business of symphony- goers. Beer and spirits sellers might want to give the category a longer look than corporate cafeterias. But the products are popping up in places as varied as health food stores, drug stores, and groceries, in addition to traditional convenience and package channels.

The main benefit is a functional product emerging from several different categories into an area that might very well justify some shelf positioning.*

“We see a lot of them in the market,” said Shelea Woodworth, the specialty brands manager for County Distributing, an Anheuser-Busch distributor in central Missouri. “They’re starting to appear more and more. We’re seeing them in door displays with the racks. I’ve even noticed in the last four or five months that they’re increasing.”

Woodworth’s anecdotal information is refl ected in the slow trickle of recovery products onto the market over the past few years, and it’s come from different directions. On the functional beverage and enhanced water side, vitaminwater revive has been a strong-selling SKU for quite some time, while Function Drinks basically launched itself off its initial Urban Detox label. Meanwhile, products that conform to the look or feel of energy drinks have also come into the cooler, including Healthy Innovations’ Resurrect and Fuze Beverages’ Rehab. Others are promising cures from foreign lands, like the fast growing Mexico City brand HOT Hangover Tea and the no-holds-barred Alcohol Killer, sourced from the Slovak Republic.

With the recovery-oriented functionality coming from so many different directions, some retailers have wrestled with where to place them. While products from Glaceau and Function have a natural home with the rest of their lines, where, for example, would one put something called Mister Re, or AH+?

“They always put us next to the energy drinks, and that’s a mistake,” says HOT founder Isidoro Haiat. “We don’t even have any caffeine. They should put us in the functional-type category, by the Gatorade, or else next to the alcohol.”

HOT recently signed a distribution deal with 7-Eleven in several large urban markets; nevertheless, Haiat is looking forward to getting the product into the beer cooler, where it’s sold in many of his Mexican channels.

“People pick it up in the cooler,” he says. “They say, ‘if I’m gonna get drunk tonight, I’m going to have one right away.’” While that kind of placement offers a direct link, it also offers a reflection on the chief reservation many retailers have about recovery beverages – their association with alcohol.

“We got a lot of pushback early on,” says Resurrect founder Kevin Serafini, who put out one of the first recovery drinks in 2005. “Getting larger retailer accounts was hard because we had associations with liquor or drinking. It was new, which is often a problem, but also, when we first came out we had “anti-hangover” on the front of the can. It did well with the independents – the DSDs who sold to a lot of college kids – but the chains didn’t like it.”

After taking the anti-hangover badge off Resurrect, Serafi ni managed to get it into larger venues, including Harris Teeter. But the purification aura has also made it a fi t for health nuts, he says, in much the same manner as Urban Detox, which has fans in both healthy living and party-hearty crowds.

Having access to healthy living-types might be one way to generate sales, but in general, the products all seem to work in the same way – a mix of herbs and extracts to help the liver, and occasionally caffeine, ginger, or vitamins to help with the effects of a rough night. Some offer powerful antioxidants to roll back liver damage, while others have a diuretic effect and are best accompanied with lots of water (another fi ne incremental sale).

“It’s not magic but it does work,” says Haiat. “The extract helps your stomach be soothed and not vomit.” For those who are suffering from a hangover right now, those might be the magic words. But it’s not yet accepted that these products will be sales magic. While drinking – and its inevitable consequences – is something of a human constant, the category is still evolving, according to retailers.

“We’ve looked at a bunch of them, but nothing has caught our eye,” said Josh Campbell, the Beverage Sales Manager at Pennsylvania-based Sheetz. “We do carry the vitaminwater product, though.” How many more recovery drinks come into Campbell’s stores, and the stores of others, will depend on consumer buy-in. Beverage Spectrum itself, after all, writes about hundreds of beverages that are useful for fighting a hangover’s symptoms, if not its ultimate cause. “It’s an uphill battle, educating the consumer,” says Serafini. “But people are going to drink regardless, and we want to help them and their livers.”

See? Mission of mercy.

* Important side benefit:

The death of this typical exchange during “happy talk” period of local newscasts, circa Dec. 29, any year:

Sue, the blonde co-anchor: “Well, Gene, we know you party-hearty! Tell us, what’s your strategy for beating that New Year’s Day hangover?”

Gene, the hairy ex-jock sportscaster: “I take down a plate of scrapple and chase it with a shot of Tabasco and a glass of salted milk. How about you, Bob?”

Bob, the other blonde co-anchor: “I eat a bottle of Tylenol and pray for mercy. But our producer, Sally, swears by two Cokes, a multivitamin, and an entire package of raw bacon.”