Sadly, there hasn’t been one that drinking can’t beat.
Nevertheless, hangover relief remains one of the industry’s fastest-emerging subsets, a category where shots, slim cans, energy drinks and cocktail mixers are all fighting to create a dominant style. Problem is, it’s a functionality that can only truly be proven after a hard night out and a concentrated effort to remember to apply the medicine at the proper time.
For a long time, that has been the purview of products like sports drinks, and more recently, coconut water. In fact, as the hangover supplement business broadens, mainline remedies continue to make some of the best headway in the category.
Take Rockstar Recovery, for example, which became such a sleeper hit in the energy drink category that it walked off with BevNET’s Best Energy Drink of 2010 award. Straddling both zones didn’t leave it behind; in fact, with distributors, having the functionality tied to a strong brand name like Rockstar created less of a consumer education issue.
Since its debut last year, Recovery has added two new flavors. Another energy/recovery hybrid, IronClad, made by Shadow Beverages, has also moved past its initial single-chain exclusivity into wider distribution.
Still, there are other, purer plays than energy; some products are relying on good old fashioned promotion to build an audience. Two companies that have taken that approach to boost their brand image are Code Blue and Function Drinks. Code Blue has a strong sampling and celebrity focus, which includes high-profile investors and the fluid networking abilities of its founders, Jeffrey and Steve Frumin, who seem to know everyone who has ever walked on a red carpet.
Function, meanwhile, has long based much of its potential on its first SKU, Urban Detox. Last summer, it garnered extra press for a seasonal, 100 day-long party gauntlet called “Function: Party Crasher.”
While both of those products have gotten extra press in recent years, their growth has in some ways shown some of the category’s peripatetic nature: Code Blue, for example, started out with a very strong hangover-related focus, but has edged closer to marketing itself as a product intended to help consumers recover from workouts, rather than from parties. Ubran Detox has also had it’s non-hangover functionality emphasized in the past.
It’s a change that seems to be necessitated by the size of the market and the use occasions: having a hangover supplement is only going to help post-hangover – presumably a less frequent occurrence than a workout. And with many of the elements the same, particularly the electrolyte focus, those categories, like energy and recovery, seem to have an overlap.
So where does that leave the true hangover drink?
In quite a few instances, it leaves it in shot bottles at the front of the store, fighting it out for counter real estate alongside energy shots and relaxation drinks. If the favored method of accessing functional liquids becomes the shot, then these products will be well positioned. That’s the bet being made by brands like Cheerz, Last Round, and NoHo, all of which are in a shot that may be consumed either before or after the night in question.
Still, even with those options and the others listed in this roundup in place, the industry is without a doubt searching for that true “hangover killer app” that will allow a night of fun boozing to remain a less-than-painful memory the morning after. That remains the functional problem for a much-desired functionality. And likely the key to the kingdom for a category that nevertheless continues to grow, as drinkers pursue their own consequence-free holy grail. •